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The Importance of Life and Safety and The Role of Research and Learning

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff:

Earlier today, Dr. Allyn Walker and Old Dominion University jointly announced that Dr. Walker has decided to step down from their position as assistant professor of sociology and criminal justice at the conclusion of the Spring 2022 semester. As previously explained, our decisions were made to protect the life and safety of faculty members and others on campus and beyond. A joint statement was released earlier today.

Understandably, questions have been raised about the potential impact of this situation on academic freedom and free speech, and I want to address those briefly. Debate and disagreement are at the heart of research and learning. ODU faculty members in many disciplines are engaged in cutting-edge research that, by its very nature, tests boundaries and challenges accepted wisdom. Some of it may be controversial, and controversial research is often misunderstood and mischaracterized.

However, faculty members must be free to pursue their work, while - at the same time - others must remain free to comment upon it from both inside and outside of the academy. Clearly, we have more work to do in order to generate greater understanding of research without acts of intimidation or threats of violence. We can all agree that we condemn intimidation and threats as in opposition to the ideals of our University and society itself. Especially in an academic environment, controversial ideas should be debated, not silenced.

Over the last few weeks, the vast majority of Monarchs engaged in civil discourse, even those among us for whom personal experience made the subject of child sexual abuse especially painful. We protected freedom of speech. We rejected violence. And, we took the necessary steps to protect life and safety - a prerequisite to the exercise of the academic and other freedoms we cherish. Here, at ODU, safety will always be our first obligation to each of you.

I am confident that, whatever the subject of discussion, we will continue to demonstrate our compassion, concern, and support for each other, as well as our commitment to fearless inquiry, civil discourse, and free speech. I encourage all of us to proudly share our views, carefully listen to each other, and thoughtfully consider the viewpoints of others. Together, we will move forward as caring Monarchs in an inclusive and supportive community, which has long defined the ODU experience.


Warmest Regards,


Brian O. Hemphill, Ph.D.
President

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