Old Dominion's Removal of Allyn Walker is an Egregious Violation of Academic Freedom
Walker's ouster for pursuing controversial ideas ought to worry everyone who cares about free intellectual inquiry
Allyn Walker, who was a professor at Old Dominion University focusing on sociology and criminal justice, has stepped down after the university placed them (Walker uses they/them pronouns) on administrative leave. Walker had pursued an academic interest in the topic of “Minor-Attracted Persons” (MAPs) or, more colloquially, pedophiles—and it was this research interest that eventually led to Walker’s ouster.
This should not have happened. Walker should still have a job.
Walker wrote a book, A Long, Dark Shadow, about the social stigmatization of “MAPs.” Walker contends that an attraction to young children is a paraphilia (a kink), which is a type of desire that as far as we know remains outside a person’s control. What is under our control is whether we act on our desires. Walker’s book argues that the people who are attracted to children but realize it would be deeply morally wrong to engage in sexual activity with them and so abstain from carrying out their desires are deserving of understanding and compassion from society rather than scorn and vilification.
Walker’s book was initially unnoticed—as most academic texts are—but in recent weeks came to the attention of conservative influencers. Walker did an interview that made some noise and from there Walker’s days were numbered. Outrage grew, ODU was attacked as promoting apologias for pedophilia, and so Walker was placed on leave. This past week, they stepped down.
This is unconscionable. Old Dominion’s decision to place Walker on leave, with the all-but-assured implication that Walker’s contract wouldn’t be renewed, is an egregious assault on their academic freedom. Anyone who defends this decision is an enemy of free intellectual inquiry.
(Curiously, prior to stepping down, Walker seemed to be appreciative of the university’s decision to place them on administrative leave, suggesting that prioritizing safety was the right call. Walker is certainly right that campus safety is paramount, but one might respond that in dealing with a threat one ought to go after the people making threats, not the people being threatened.)