Stephen Kershnar (PhD in 1991, University of Pennsylvania) is an American philosopher and attorney, who has written many books and delivered lectures making "devils advocate" defenses of widely condemned practices, including minor-adult sex. He is a distinguished teaching professor in the philosophy department at the State University of New York at Fredonia. His research interests include Applied Ethics, Philosophy of Law and Political Philosophy and he is the author of over eighty articles and book chapters and of nine books.
In February 2022, Kershnar, having already explained his position as an ethical argument, contingent upon the material harmlessness of minor-adult sex (which - as a philosopher, he does not take a position on) attracted wide opprobrium on social media after appearing to defend minor-adult sex. The campaign of naming and shaming by Libs of TikTok - the same social media outfit that drew attention to Allyn Walker, was aided considerably by selective quoting. This followed a number of, until then, not widely circulated video interviews he gave to various internet personalities. This controversy led to a surge in woodchipper/boulder/gun type memes on alt-right Twitter and did not appear to draw liberals or the mainstream left into the debate. The Kershnar controversy was documented widely throughout the right-wing mainstream and alternative media. Colleagues, Dr. Carrie Fitzgerald and Dr. Laura Geraci responded:
His straightforward and factually erroneous oration on TikTok [Inline correction: his interviews were shared by the interviewers on YouTube, not Tiktok - Newgon], a very visible social media platform that targets our primary student demographic, is troublesome, offensive, and dangerous, with the potential to normalize attitudes and behaviors that cause great emotional, psychological, and cognitive damage to survivors of child sexual abuse [...] his public statement invalidates the trauma experienced by survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Sex with children is not just another sexual orientation or preferance. It is abuse, it is illegal, and it has lifelong impacts for survivors
Kershnar was suspended from campus "pending investigation". He received support from the Academic Freedom Alliance:
The Academic Freedom Alliance supports Professor Kerschnar’s right to hold and state his opinions and calls upon the university to live up to its contractual and constitutional requirements to protect Professor Kershnar’s ability to teach and research without interference. We call on the university to issue a public statement clearly reaffirming Professor Kershnar’s academic freedom.
Soon after the AFA's letter, FIRE also came out in support of the embattled professor, supporting his freedom of speech and further, listing signatories including Fredonia Professor Neil Feit, in favor of his right to hold unpopular opinions in-post. He also found support from the right-leaning National Association of Scholars. The controversy eventually died down after Kershnar's University Senate made similar statements in favor of academic freedom.
SUNY Fredonia has never said what the alleged threats to Professor Kershnar’s safety are (and its daily crime log reflects no reported threats at all), what measures its purported “investigation” entailed, or whether the investigation ever concluded. If it is still ongoing, SUNY Fredonia’s investigation has now outlasted the Warren Commission’s investigation into the assassination of JFK, the U.S. Senate inquiry into the sinking of the Titanic, the Iran hostage crisis, and the federal government’s investigation into the Challenger disaster.
- Jesse Watters piece
- Forbes article
- Brain in a Vat: Follow up, by the publishers of one of the Kershnar interviews
- Bizarrely, what appears to be the last full version of the original censored video was lost in the attack on FreeSpeechTube and was at freespeechtube.org/v/171b, should the content of the site be recovered.
- S. Kershnar Everybodywiki.
- Professional bio - Web archive due to likelihood of dismissal
- Thaddeus Russell Interview
- Brain in a Vat: Sexual Taboos with Stephen Kershnar (now censored from YouTube)
- FOX News
- Correction - Videos originally circulated on YouTube
- ‘Reprehensible’ Comments By Professor Stir Outrage
- AFA Letter of Support
- FIRE Letter
- FIRE Faculty support letter
- College Fix
- Fredonia Leader: University Senate Statement
- SUNY Fredonia professor who appeared to condone pedophilia wants back on campus
- Kershnar's complaint, 2023