Controversial Researcher Driven from Campus at Old Dominion University

Allyn Walker, a sociologist at Old Dominion University was the subject of this article. Walker’s research covered “minor attracted persons,” and was the subject of Walker’s book, which was published recently by an acclaimed university press. Walker’s research generated instant controversy when it was made public. There were threats and even termination calls against Walker. Walker was quickly placed on administrative leave after the university initially claimed that it respected academic freedom. Walker has now resigned as a faculty member.

Cathy Young said recently that the Allyn Walker case is a “test case for both conservatives and progressives” and it’s true. Old Dominion appears to have failed this test.

The Academic Freedom Alliance alerted Old Dominion University when Walker was removed. This sent a chilling message and pressure to all faculty members who were involved in questionable research. The university did not stop there and let the mob drive Walker from campus. Although Walker’s case is over, it has been settled and the professor will be leaving campus. However, there are still many issues that remain.

Now, the AFA has made public the letter it wrote to ODU’s administration. The AFA does not care about the merits or substance of professors’ work. It is concerned only with universities being places that are open to debate and free inquiry. Threats and intimidation should never be allowed to stop critical inquiry. Universities shouldn’t allow scholars to be defenestrated or ideas suppressed simply because they might be dangerous.

You can find the following letter in your mailbox:

A university cannot allow hostile reactions on campus or off campus that are inconsistent with academic freedom to professors’ scholarly work. Students or the general public may be upset or disoriented by the research arguments, terminology or agenda of a professor. However, this is not grounds for sanctioning them. The possibility that students might make threats against the professor, or the campus to express their anger only increases the responsibility of universities to ensure the professor can continue to fulfill their academic duties. A university that allows such “heckler’s voice to be heard” and suspends rather than protects the professor will encourage intimidation campaigns. A university should take far better steps to respond to credible threats or disruptions that are compatible with academic freedom than those which would disrupt it.

. . .

It is clear that Professor Walker’s questions are very important. These difficult questions should not be asked in a vacuum. Academia is a forum where they can be bravely answered. If the scholar’s reasoning is flawed, it should either be refuted or dismissed. However, the scholar should not be forced to leave campus for asking such tough questions and reaching unpopular conclusions.

The whole article is available here.