An assistant professor at Old Dominion University is facing calls for his firing after an interview where he discussed his highly controversial views of pedophilia. Allyn Walker, who teaches sociology and criminal justice at Old Dominion University, believes that it is not immoral for adults to be sexually attracted to children. He insists that “minor-attracted persons” are wrongly stigmatized for “an attraction they didn’t ask for.” As will come to no surprise to readers on this blog, I believe that Walker’s views are protected by free speech as well as academic freedom principles.[Update: Walker is now on leave from the university].
The controversy was triggered after Walker gave a Nov. 8 interview with the Prostasia Foundation, a San Francisco-based child protection organization, on Walker’s book, “A Long Dark Shadow: Minor-Attracted People and Their Pursuit of Dignity.” Walker explained the use of “minor-attracted persons” or MAPs rather than “pedophile:”
“A lot of people when they hear the term ‘pedophile,’ they automatically assume that it means a sex offender, and that isn’t true. And it leads to a lot of misconceptions about attractions towards minors…From my perspective, there is no morality or immorality attached to attraction to anyone because no one can control who they’re attracted to at all…In other words, it’s not who we’re attracted to that’s either OK or not OK. It’s our behaviors in responding to that attraction that are either OK or not OK…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 they didn’t ask for. … So, their behaviors are moral. But they’re still being subjected to this same idea that they’re bad people and they’ve often internalized that for themselves.”
The interview caused a firestorm of controversy and Walker issued a statement that “I want to be clear: child sexual abuse is an inexcusable crime. As an assistant professor of sociology and criminal justice, the goal of my research is to prevent crime.”
The backlash was so great that ODU officials felt it was necessary to declare that it was not in favor of pedophilia:
“Following recent social media activity and direct outreach to the institution, it is important to share that Old Dominion, as a caring and inclusive community, does not endorse or promote crimes against children or any form of criminal activity.”
I would have preferred a statement simply reaffirming that the school honors academic freedom and free speech. It does not have to agree with the views of faculty members to support the right to express those views. Indeed, as a public university, it is bound by the protections of the First Amendment.
Nevertheless, a Change.org petition signed by more than 1,600 people as of Monday called on ODU to oust Walker over concerns that such teaching “in the sociology and criminal justice department … will effect the next generation in a negative way.”
Walker could successfully challenge any such termination. It is certainly understandable why people are upset about these views. Even the thought of being sexually attracted to children is deeply upsetting for most of us. That view is being heard loudly across the media platforms this week. However, that is the value of free speech. Each of us can use our own free speech rights to confront and to condemn such views. Universities are places for intellectual exploration. We often challenge orthodoxy and each other. Some views may be offensive or obnoxious. However, the diversity of thought is the very essence of our education mission.
Professor Walker has caused a raging debate. Have at it. Denounce him. Better yet, debate him. But do not try to fire him.