Jonathan Dimbleby has tendered his resignation from his honorary fellowship at the University College London, protesting the college's treatment of Tim Hunt after the Nobel laureate made some comments about female scientists.
According to Dimbleby, UCL disgracefully rushed to judgment when it forced Hunt to quit his honorary fellowship at the institution. Urging other fellows to aid in changing the college's mind, the writer and broadcaster said Hunt had made a very poor joke, which backfired and the Nobel prize winner had apologized for, but the offense is not enough to force a distinguished scientist to resign from his post.
"The college has a long and honorable tradition of defending free speech, however objectionable it may be," he said, adding that, to him, UCL's reaction was highly fueled by reactions from social media.
Hunt had earlier earned the ire of many when he said that female scientists are disruptive in the lab during a conference in South Korea which incidentally had a lot of women in the audience. Since then, he had admitted to saying an "idiotic joke" but maintained that his statements were not fully reported.
Though Hunt claimed that he has hundreds of female scientists supporting him, he still became the subject of a Twitter campaign using the hashtag #distractinglysexy, where females scientists from around the world responded to his comment with a lot of sarcasm.
Dimbleby believes, however, that it is silly to think that serious female scientists would be put off from pursuing their careers just because Hunt made his comments.
UCL stands by its decision though to accept Hunt's resignation.
"UCL was the first university in England to admit women students on equal terms to men, and the university believes that this outcome is compatible with our commitment to gender equality," it said in a statement.
Still, Dimbleby is not alone in defending Hunt. Scientist Richard Dawkins and London mayor Boris Johnson also said that there was an overreaction to the incident.
It didn't appear that way though to Michael Arthur. The UCL provost said that Hunt's comments contradict the basic values of the college, even if they were not meant to be taken seriously.
"Our commitment to gender equality and our support for women in science was and is the ultimate concern," he reiterated.
Photo: Steve Cadman | Flickr