ODU Prof Out After Minor-Attracted People’ Backlash

Academic freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.

NBC News (“Virginia professor to step down after backlash to research on ‘minor-attracted’ people“):

An academic in Virginia whose research on “minor-attracted people” sparked threats and a petition calling for their removal announced their resignation Wednesday, university officials and the scholar said in a joint statement.

Allyn Walker will remain on leave until they step down as an assistant professor of criminal justice and sociology at Old Dominion University in May.

“We have concluded that this outcome is the best way to move forward,” university President Brian Hemphill said in the statement.

He added that he hoped the move will help bring “closure” as the school continues efforts “toward healing and civil discourse.”

Walker, who said in Wednesday’s statement that their research was intended to prevent child sexual abuse, attributed the backlash to their trans identity and mischaracterizations promoted online and by some media outlets.

The petition, signed by nearly 15,000 people, was started after Walker gave an interview about their book, “A Long, Dark Shadow: Minor-Attracted People and Their Pursuit of Dignity,” published by University of California Press in June.

The publisher described the book, which studies people who are attracted to minors and don’t act on the attraction, as “challenging widespread assumptions that persons who are preferentially attracted to minors — often referred to as ‘pedophiles’ — are necessarily also predators and sex offenders.”

Walker said in the interview: “I think we have a tendency to want to categorize people with these attractions as evil or morally corrupt. But when we’re talking about non-offending MAPS, these are people who have an attraction that they didn’t ask for. And one that frequently they would do anything to change. But they find that they’re unable to change those attractions. And most importantly, the people in my study did not act on them.” (MAPs is short for “minor-attracted people.”)

In a joint statement with Walker, ODU states,

Today, Old Dominion University and Dr. Allyn Walker are announcing that Dr. Walker has decided to step down from their position as assistant professor of sociology and criminal justice at the expiration of their current contract in May 2022. Dr. Walker will remain on leave until that time.

“We have concluded that this outcome is the best way to move forward,” ODU President Brian O. Hemphill, Ph.D., said. “We hope today’s action helps bring closure for our Monarch family. As we move forward, I encourage all members of the Monarch family to continue our efforts toward healing and civil discourse.”

“My scholarship aims to prevent child sexual abuse,” Dr. Walker said. “That research was mischaracterized by some in the media and online, partly on the basis of my trans identity. As a result, multiple threats were made against me and the campus community generally. I want to thank Old Dominion University for giving me the opportunity to teach and to conduct my research, and the ODU Department of Public Safety for monitoring the threats against me and the community.”

Dr. Walker continued: “I am particularly grateful for the outpouring of support from many among the ODU community, as well as others in my research fields who have publicly affirmed the value of my work in advancing child safety. My Department Chair, Mona Danner, my colleagues, and my students all have been especially supportive. And, finally, I am thankful for the assistance of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) during this time.”

“The safety and security of individual Monarchs and our collective campus are of the utmost importance,” President Hemphill said. “For ODU, these will always remain top priorities as we pursue our mission in a caring, inclusive, and supportive community, one that respects academic freedom and remains willing to discuss controversial ideas in an atmosphere free of intimidation or violence.”

So, Old Dominion, a public, doctorate-producing university, has succumbed to public pressure and forced out a scholar for publishing a book with one of the most prestigious academic presses in the country? And it “respects academic freedom”?

The entire point of academic freedom is to protect controversial ideas that are supported by rigorous research. While I have no claims to any expertise whatsoever in their field, Allyn has not only gotten an incredibly controversial project accepted by a prestigious press but, presumably, survived the peer-review process.

Now, to be clear, I had never heard of Allyn before this controversy arose and have no knowledge of their reputation as a teacher or scholar, And it’s quite possible they were on a one-year contract rather than the tenure track. Still, it seems cowardly, indeed not to have stood by Allyn and, at very least, let them finish out the contract.

As to the controversy itself, it seems perfectly uncontroversial to me that there are people who have inappropriate sexual attractions and manage to get through life without acting upon them. For most of human history, homosexuality was forbidden and I’m sure that large numbers of gays and lesbians either did the best they could to live a heterosexual existence or live as “confirmed bachelors.” Given how reviled pedophiles are, I would imagine that there are some substantial number of closeted ones.

FILED UNDER: Academia, Education, Higher Ed
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Michael Reynolds says:

    So we treat pedophilia like a disease, but we don’t want to study it or understand what causes it? Of course. Perfect. It’s probably the green bile, the falling damps and an imbalance of the bodily humours. Unless of course it’s witchcraft.

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  2. James Joyner says:

    @Michael Reynolds: Yeah, I honestly don’t get it.

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  3. Scott F. says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    If we study it, this morally black & white thing could become gray. And we don’t do gray. It’s good versus evil, Us versus Them, right versus wrong.

    Otherwise, it’s “Human sacrifice! Dogs and cats, living together! Mass hysteria!”

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  4. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Michael Reynolds: @James Joyner:

    Me 3. One would think a better understanding of pedophilia is at the heart of stopping it.

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  5. Andy says:

    I went to FIRE hoping for more, but was disappointed. As a big free speech guy, it always bothers me to see that principle not honored, especially at a university. But that seems to increasingly be the norm.

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  6. James Joyner says:

    @Andy: Yes, FIRE seems mostly interesting in promoting itself rather than its ostensible principles in this matter.

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  7. Sleeping Dog says:

    Old Dominion’s action begs the question, what is the purpose of the academy if not to delve into that which causes discomfort in order to understand and make sense of it? It not as if, he is advocating for adult-child sexual intimacy.

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  8. gVOR08 says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    So we treat pedophilia like a disease, but we don’t want to study it or understand what causes it?

    Conservative Psychology 101. Any statement that does not condemn evil in every breath is approving of it. Something to do with a Manichean point of view. And to actually study it, my gawd, that’s the same as doing it.

    As for studying the origin of diseases, God caused them, to punish the unclean. What else is there to know?

    Given the pervasiveness of projection in conservative thought, should we consider drawing conclusions from their obsession with pedophilia and homosexuality?

    And with a handful of exceptions, why are all the anecdotes about people actually losing jobs to cancel culture about the right driving out what they see as leftists?

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  9. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    The revised definition of academic freedom: Being liberated from hearing things you (especially if you are an administrator) don’t want to hear.

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  10. Gustopher says:

    An earlier WaPo article about when they were put on leave contains something of the complaints.

    It’s as bad as you would expect, and dangerous too.

    “People really misunderstand why I do this work,” Walker said. The research, they said, involves talking to people “who have unwanted attractions and never want to harm a child, but they’re unable to get the help that they want because they’re scared” of the reaction.

    “Getting them the help they want and need will protect children,” Walker said.
    But Foster said after looking at the book that it gave pedophiles “a pat on the back” for not acting on their attractions. “The language that they’re using is basically a slap in the face to anybody who has been groomed as a child,” Foster said.

    She and others objected to those ideas being taught to students. “We don’t want our next generation of criminal justice and sociology students to normalize pedophilia,” she said.

    Pedophilia has existed as long as humanity and we aren’t getting rid of it. To the extent that this research is giving a pat on the back to those who don’t act on it — to those who resist one of the strongest biological urges humans have because theirs is wired up badly and cannot be acted upon without hurting someone — by all means pat them on the back. They did good.

    Dr. Joyner writes:

    Given how reviled pedophiles are, I would imagine that there are some substantial number of closeted ones.

    And closeted to themselves. Which means they are trying to live a “normal life”, which might involve having kids, being around kids, etc.

    A bit of destigmatization of the attraction (not the acts), to the point where they can feel comfortable talking to therapists, and getting some help for living with their unfortunate and dangerous attractions, would be good.

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  11. Gustopher says:

    But, also, maybe if you’re researching pedophilia, maybe don’t literally look like the right-wing’s worst nightmare of LGBTetc. There’s going to be scrutiny and attacks, and the right wing is going to try to make an equivalence between garden variety queer folks and pedophiles, so maybe tone it down and make that harder.

    No rainbow glasses.

    Dr. Walker’s image is being circulated next to the word pedophile, and is being used to attack all queer people. Maybe conservative glasses and a nice boring suit are more in order. Lots of way to be proud of who you are and remain visible without scaring the normies.

    Different jobs have different uniforms to protect against likely dangers. Sometimes you wear steel toed boots and a hard hat to avoid factory mishaps, other times a boring suit to keep the focus on the research.

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  12. John430 says:

    You lost me after that first sentence when the singular “he” was switched to a plural “them.” Insipid and ridiculous.

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  13. Ken_L says:

    Apparently conducting research into people who felt the urge to act like Jeffrey Epstein but were sufficiently moral to resist the temptation is dangerous. No doubt it’s the thin end of the slippery slope that started when liberals legalized sodomy, and will inevitably end in perverts being able to marry prepubescent boys and girls, just like they do in Stone Age Muslim countries.

    The extent of American sexual hangups ceased to surprise me a long time ago. The university’s actions are typical of what in other circumstances would be labelled “wokeness”, but in fact reflect nothing but extreme risk aversion on the part of managers whose priority is the institution’s brand image.

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  14. Gustopher says:

    @John430:

    You lost me after that first sentence when the singular “he” was switched to a plural “them.” Insipid and ridiculous.

    You were lost long before then.

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  15. john430 says:

    @Gustopher: You remind me of a scene from “Silence of the Lambs” wherein the insane murderer refers to his female prisoner in the hole as an “IT”.
    Hello, It.

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  16. Gustopher says:

    @john430: Actually, I will never refer to someone as “it” even if “it” is their preferred pronoun. I think that “it” is dehumanizing, and when people are referred to that way, people start getting stacked up like chord wood. Anyone who prefers “it” I just use “they” for.

    Beyond that… whatever, man, you want to be called they/them, crow/crows, xe/xir… I’ll try to remember. If it’s really stupid, I might even remember it better. Respecting people’s stupid choices is part of what makes society function — religion, vegans, pronouns, love of country music that isn’t murder ballads, etc.

    The fact that it seems to trigger people like you makes it better. I’m motivated by spite. I’m a more tolerant person because I know it irritates people like you.

    Also, in Silence of the Lambs, the person in the hole was never shown to prefer “it” as a pronoun. The scene would be very different if Hannibal was respecting their pronouns.

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  17. JKB says:

    Yeah, no. This is not suppressing “academic freedom” but rather the loss of a poorly educated academic. Their proposal of “minor attracted individual” for pedophile does not improve the body of human knowledge, but rather seeks to introduce an obscuring term. Pedophilia has a specific definition of sexual attraction to pre-pubescent children younger than 11 yrs old (or minors, which is a legal definition). It is separate from hebephilia, attraction to early pubescent children, 11-14, and ephebophilia, attraction to late pubescent teenagers 15 yrs or older. “Minor Attracted People” seeks to introduce the generic and obfuscate the specific. That’s not scholarship for a real academic, but perhaps for the many “degree hunters” who get their PhD not for future scholastic investigation but to get a sinecure in school.

    Now if the university employee professor had sought to introduce more nuanced view of the field that has been obfuscated by people throwing around pedophile for those who sexually abuse those legally minors, they might have perhaps introduced “Pre-Pubescent Abusing People” (PPAP), and “Early Pubescent Abusing People” (EPAP) for those who acted upon their sexual attraction. But instead, the PhD sought to obfuscate and confuse rather than clarify and elucidate. Evidence of an undisciplined mind, regardless of who conferred their PhD.

    *Late Pubescence offenses would be even more nuance to differentiate between those who engage in sexual abuse of a late teen and those who consensually engage with a late teen still deemed “ward of the state” so the state takes offense.

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  18. Ken_L says:

    @JKB: JKB your comment is irrelevant to the work of the academic in question. His book is not concerned to examine any of the “philias” you describe. It focuses on the experience of people who are attracted to minors – which as you correctly note is a longstanding legal term – but resist the impulse to act on that attraction. Your fixation on sexual abuse could not be more disconnected from the contents of Walker’s book.

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  19. Gustopher says:

    @JKB: I don’t understand your point. You seem bothered by the use of Minor-Attracted Person, but then promptly demonstrate that a generic term is needed by classifying Minor-Attracted People with a suspicious level of detail which makes me wonder if you also know the exact age of consent in every state.

    Anyway, the research is into what enables these people to not act on their attractions, not in finding new and exciting words. This is important research, if you think we should be trying to reduce the sexual abuse of children of any particular age.

    The less inflammatory term may also make it easier for Dr. Walker to talk to people who are attracted to children, but who believe that they aren’t pedophiles because they haven’t touched any children — the exact people that they want to talk to.

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