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Organization of professors: ODU didn't handle research controversy correctly

The American Association of University Professors' ODU chapter said they weren’t happy with the way the university handled the controversy around Dr. Allyn Walker.

NORFOLK, Va. — Author's note: The video above is on file from Nov. 16, 2021.

It’s been almost three weeks since controversial Old Dominion University professor Dr. Allyn Walker was placed on administrative leave, after saying the word “pedophile” shouldn’t be used to refer to people who are attracted to children.

The local chapter of the American Association of University Professors said they’re not happy with the way the university handled the situation.

The controversy around Walker centers around the argument in their book: not everyone who is attracted to children will abuse them.

In a 29-minute interview with the Prostasia Foundation, Walker said "Minor Attracted People" or "MAPS" should be used to describe people who are attracted to children, but aren't acting on that attraction.

"It’s less stigmatizing than other terms like 'pedophile.' A lot of people, when they hear the term 'pedophile,' they automatically assume that it means sex offender -- and it isn’t true, and it leads to a lot of misconceptions," Walker said in the interview.

Since the 54-second clip from that interview went viral on social media, both the university and Walker have issued statements on social media.

Walker said in part: "I want to be clear: child sexual abuse is morally wrong and an inexcusable crime. As an assistant professor of sociology and criminal justice, the goal of my research is to prevent crime."

The University said "An academic community plays a valuable role in the quest for knowledge. A vital part of this is being willing to consider scientific and other empirical data that may involve controversial issues and perspectives..." 

RELATED: ODU professor placed on administrative leave after comments on pedophilia

Walker will be on administrative leave until their contract expires in May of next year.

The ODU chapter of the American Association of University Professors said this situation didn't unfold how it should have.

They wrote in a letter that the university needs to work on communication, due process and protections of academic freedom.

The local chapter wants to work with the university to ensure faculty are fairly protected from media and public outrage. They said faculty should not be placed on leave just because the public doesn’t understand their research.

"The administration should serve as the protective barrier between faculty, their research, and the public; faculty and administration need to work as one body to counter uninformed outrage, mischaracterization, and misled notions of academic freedom," the letter reads.

They go on to say, when Walker’s work was published over the summer, the university was given a memo that detailed how the book could be misconstrued and provided talking points to refute any misconceptions.

The chapter said those talking points were not used once Walker's interview clip gained traction on social media.

RELATED: ODU professor stepping down after controversial comments on pedophilia

The AAUP’s ODU Chapter President, Dr. Daniel Richards, said the organization stands in solidarity with Walker and is working with university administration to "ensure that faculty in the future are protected against mischaracterization of our research and that social media reactions and threats do not have the power to quickly nullify one of the core principles of American higher education: the freedom to research challenging topics for the betterment of society."

Richards went on to say Walker's work is part of a larger movement in their field, to try and reframe child sexual abuse as a preventable public health problem.

In November, Old Dominion University said Walker’s administrative leave was motivated by the school's obligation to maintain a safe and conducive learning environment.

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