Honorary UCL professor resigns after sexist comments

Honorary UCL professor resigns after sexist comments

Sam Fearnley reports on Tim Hunt’s resignation from UCL

Following controversial comments he made about female scientists, Sir Tim Hunt has resigned as an honorary professor in the Faculty of Life Sciences at UCL.

The university sent out a statement confirming his resignation yesterday, which explained that the university was committed to gender equality and that “…comments he made about women in science at the World Conference of Science Journalists on 9 June…” were incompatible with UCL’s ethos.

Sir Tim Hunt received global media scrutiny and attracted complaints after his speech at the World Conference of Science Journalists in South Korea, where he remarked that when women scientists are in the lab “three things happen… You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you and when you criticise them, they cry.”

UCL’s statement was amended today with the addition of the following, “The title of UCL Honorary Professor is reserved for individuals who are closely linked to one of UCL’s academic departments (or Institutes) and who are from a non-UCL academic/research institution. The appointee should be of an academic standing equivalent to that of Professor at UCL. It does not carry a salary, and does not ordinarily involve teaching or research at UCL, with activities undertaken in consultation with the relevant Department”.

The degree to which UCL coerced Sir Tim into relinquishing the honorary title is unclear, though it does seem he was forced into taking action.

Sir Tim, a Nobel Laureate (awarded for research into cell division), spoke on BBC Radio 4’s today programme to apologise, saying it was a “stupid thing to do in the presence of all those journalists”. He later said that he stood by the comments.

Sir Tim’s wife, professor of immunology at UCL, has made no comment on the controversial speech.

Former chief scientific advisor to the president of the European commission, Professor Anne Glover, said, “Tim Hunt seems to have been speaking about his personal problems in relating to women. What he describes is not my experience and I have never had a student – male or female, straight or gay – cry when their research was criticised.”

The story has attracted focus from around the world, and many people (including academics at UCL) have taken to social media to vent their frustration.


Mr Hunt does, however, have one fervent supporter: Katie Hopkins voiced her agreement with his viewpoint yesterday via Twitter.

The official statement from UCL can be read here.

Feature image credit:  JW, March 2009

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