Cambridge Lecturer Convicted of Downloading Child Porn

Within their first few weeks on the British campus, all the philosophy students at Cambridge had heard the stories about Peter Smith. He taught logic to all the freshmen. He'd even written the textbook. He'd also had sex with prostitutes, back in 2003, in the same study where he met with his students. In exchange for the liaisons, the lecturer would write explicit reviews online. So it was still shocking, but not totally surprising, when Smith was arrested last May and accused of downloading thousands of pornographic images of children.

Last September, Smith resigned from his teaching post. Earlier this month, the 67-year-old Cambridge lecturer was convicted on the child porn charges and ordered to complete 180 hours of community service, as well as a program for sexual offenders. The professor will also be on the sex offender registry for five years, and can't touch a computer with Internet access for three.

The exact terms of the Internet ban are unclear, however. Smith updated his 6-year-old blog, LogicMatters, as recently as last week.

Smith was arrested after an investigation of a Luxembourg website identified him as a customer. The judge spared Smith jail time because he had been diagnosed with cancer in 2005, soon after the death of his father, reports a student newspaper at the university, The Cambridge Student.

Many students have long seen Smith as "a pathetic figure," according to one of his former female pupils, who graduated in 2010. A Cambridge fellow -- a teacher who lives with the students in the college -- told her about Smith's backstory soon after she arrived.

It's kind of strange now, she says, that they were "giggling about it." One of the reviews
Smith had written about a particular prostitute complimented her on "really good eye contact." As a perhaps unfortunate coincidence, Smith made very intense eye contact as he strode up and down the lecture hall, she says. "It was a little creepy."

The subject Smith taught also had the disadvantage of being particularly dry. Logic was "the great passion of his life," she says, but "he was a really boring lecturer." She admits that she only attended three of his classes.

The news that Smith downloaded over 4,000 pornographic images of children between 2009 and 2011 revived old questions about whether the university was correct in permitting him back on campus nine years ago. As punishment, he was given a 14-week suspension, and had to resign as the fellow of one of the colleges, and so move out of college housing. But he resumed his teaching duties.

Many students were upset by this decision. "Doctor Deviance: Disgraced Don Gets a Res-Erection," read the front page headline of student newspaper.

"He wrote the first year book on logic. He was the expert," explains his former student. "He was just the right guy for that job. I don't think they wanted to replace him."

But this latest incident has led students to probe the university about whether they acted in the best interests of its students. The Cambridge Student asked the administration whether they regretted the decision to allow Smith to return in 2004, whether he would have any future involvement with the university, whether any of the images had been downloaded on university computers, and whether they were conducting an investigation to figure that out.

The university replied: "Dr. Smith's resignation from his Fellowship was accepted by the then Master in July 2003. Dr. Smith retired from his position at the Faculty of Philosophy in September 2011."

Students accused the university of "closing ranks to protect their own."

"I don't think the university was so shocked when it found out. They knew he was a creepy guy," says his former student. "But creepiness with adult women is different from creepiness with children."

In general, she says, "the whole thing's quite sad."



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