Former ODU Professor Faces Sexual Assault and Harassment Allegations


Photo Courtesy of Allen J. Schaben, Los Angeles Times via Getty Images; W.W. Norton

By Paula Phounsavath, Editor in Chief

Originally published June 15, 2020.


Many women and faculty members have come forward telling their story.

A former ODU Creative Writing professor, Blake Bailey, is facing numerous sexual harassment and assault allegations from students and faculty members. Bailey, a once–established author and biographer of the novel, “Philip Roth: The Biography,” has been accused of inappropriately touching, harassing and assaulting—including threatening and attempting to rape—graduate students and English faculty members during his residency from 2010 to 2016.


An investigative report by the Virginian-Pilot had received anonymous tips to look into Bailey’s time at ODU after The New York Times came out with allegations dating back from the 90s. The Pilot reported a graduate student, who never identified themselves out of potential retaliation from the University, stated that they were inappropriately touched by Bailey by tightening his grip on the student’s arms when they were at a bar.


The student recalled, “I was scared, so I told him, ‘You’re making me uncomfortable.'”


The graduate student then used their self-defense by dropping their weight while ripping themselves from Bailey’s grip.


Bailey was “sorry” that the graduate student “misinterpreted” his actions.


There were also many incidences of a distinguished linguist professor Dr. Bridget Anderson, faced with her encounters with Bailey. She confirmed with the Pilot about the encounters from when he was a professor all in her journal entries. In April 2010, they and other graduate students were at an annual creative writer’s retreat in Sandbridge.


Things were seemingly fine, initially, until the night progressed. During the evening after the graduate students left, Anderson and two other English professors, Kevin Moberly and John McManus, were in a hot tub, Bailey chimed in.


He then tried to grab her crotch area.


Anderson screamed and jumped away from Bailey, as he grabbed her again and pulled her back to him. Moberly then forcibly separated Bailey from Anderson.


“I had to struggle to get out of his lap,” Anderson recalls to the Virginian-Pilot.


During a faculty meeting in 2012, Bailey tried to put his hand on Anderson’s leg they were both sitting down. She got up and left the room, only to be cornered by Bailey in the mailroom. She pulled a knife out of self-defense.


It was then that Bailey completely stopped talking to her, including facing her.

The survivors went to report to Dr. Luisa Igloria, the master’s program departmental chair, but while the complaints were well-aware of, the University did not implement much into these complaints–despite a number of complaints to the chair, various faculty members and rumors quietly swirling around the English department.


Many more female students had reported Bailey to their professors, but the University often brushed these allegations under the rug and gave Bailey a warning.


Bailey then left the University in 2016.


The Editor-in-Chief has reached out to Dr. Bridget Anderson for a comment but has received no response yet.


The University’s and the College of Arts & Letters’ Response


Once the story from the Pilot came out, the University response to Anderson’s accounts of Bailey. According to the response, it says that the incident between Anderson and Bailey was “consensual,”


A few days later, the ODU’s English department had over 220 signatures from current faculty members demanding an apology for the University’s poor response, “We, as faculty, students and staff, wish the public to know that the official statement released by ODU does not represent the beliefs of the community.”

The letter demanded,


“1. issue an apology to Dr. Anderson, Liz Agento, and the unnamed women who were disparaged by ODU’s social statement published in The Virginian-Pilot on June 10, 2021


2. terminate the university’s partnership with the firm Kaufman & Canoles, P.C. and seek legal counsel that better exemplifies the values of ODU’s mission statement


3. investigate accusations against Bailey thoroughly and with the utmost care and support for the survivors


4. propose a detailed plan of action written with the input of women and other gender minorities at every rank at ODU on how to make amends to past victims of sexual misconduct at ODU and to ensure the support of future victims who come forward.”


President Broderick issued an “apology” towards the survivors on Monday in regards to the allegations against Bailey, “On behalf of the University, I apologize to Dr. Bridget Anderson, Elizabeth Argento and any other victims for the pain they have experienced.”


The president also says that he shall implement a “task force” to reform the policies for the workplace, “The goal of the task force will be to review all of our existing policies and practices for a safe and equitable workplace and to examine the ways we empower and educate our faculty, administrators, staff and students in these matters.” He continues, “The task force, in addition to reviewing our practices and procedures, will recommend best practices to address findings.”


On Wednesday, ODU’s Assistant Vice President for Strategic Communication & Marketing Strategic Communication & Marketing, Giovanna Genard, released a statement regarding the “task force” co-chairs,


“President Broderick today announced that Dr. Mona Danner, professor and chair of the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice, and Dr. Kate Hawkins, vice provost for faculty affairs and strategic initiatives, have agreed to chair the task force to review our policies for a safe and equitable workplace and to examine ways to strengthen those policies and further empower and educate our faculty, administrators, staff and students in these matters.”


This is not the first time Bailey has been accused.


Back in 2015, allegations surfaced from two women who came forward that were taught by Bailey when he was a middle school teacher in the 90s.


The New York Times reported that he groomed his eighth-grade students for sex. The story also said that Bailey raped Valentina Rice, a publishing executive.


Even then Bailey denied the allegations.


Cynthia Vacca Davis, a former creative writing graduate student at ODU and a current adjunct faculty member at Christopher Newport University, wrote an op-ed on the Medium back in April of working with Blake Bailey during a writer’s workshop one semester. She was not assaulted, nor harassed by the disgraced author. However, Davis was surrounded by a toxic work environment that contributed to his abuse of power.


“The Blake Bailey I knew was cocky and brash with a head so big you marveled that he didn’t topple beneath the weight.” She wrote in her op-ed.


We reached out to Davis to discuss her time in the creative writing department in 2013 when Bailey was around. Davis had her initial workshop with professor Micheal Pearson, but Bailey was an option she chose for another writer’s workshop that semester. She emphasized that Bailey never failed to brag about his success and best-selling autobiography to his students.


She recalls, “He was on his on way up at his career at that time and we didn’t have a lot of notable names in the program.”


“He’s a terrible teacher,” Davis tells us when she recalls that specific event she wrote for her op-ed. She submitted a humorous piece for a workshop day. Bailey snide her work and that Davis should quit the humor and turn to, “the darker elements of life.”


During his time at ODU, Bailey would often assign his students to write about their traumatic experiences, this is a modus operandi that most perpetrators would do to pinpoint who is emotionally vulnerable. Bailey, of course, did this teaching method to his students, which served as a shooting target for his victims.


My sense was that they’re [the University] keeping him because of the name recognition. — Cynthia Davis


As a result of accusations from the NYTimes, Bailey was dropped by his publishing company, W.W. Norton, in April 2021.


His former publisher stated, “These allegations are serious. In light of them, we have decided to pause the shipping and promotion of ‘Philip Roth: The Biography’ pending any further information that may emerge.”


Bailey is now with another publisher.


While Bailey was often seen as a “literary star,” there seems to be a fine line between separating the “art” from the “artist.” Although Davis is a creative writer, she says it’s still such a big question for how the University should separate the two boundaries.


“These are questions that we all have to ask ourselves, it comes in a full circle.” She says. “I’m very lukewarm that he got a new publisher and that the book (“Philip Roth: The Biography“) is going to survive because the book is problematic with its misogynistic tone. That is a very fraught question, but it’s worthy of consideration.”


The Editor-in-Chief’s Note: The Mace and Crown have been given permission to obtain documents and quotes from the survivors from the two published Virginian-Pilot stories, the University and the faculty members’ response. Names have already been redacted in the University’s statement from the Virginian-Pilot. Dr. Jeremy Saks, the M&C advisor, was one of the English professors added his signature on the English department’s response. Paula Phounsavath, the Editor-in-Chief of the Mace & Crown has also written her signature on the response.

Statement in support of ODU survivors of sexual misconduct, harassment, and assault, which can be signed by ODU students and faculty here.
Editor’s Note on 12/20/21: The first published version of this story included two PDFs: the University’s statement, and a letter from English department faculty demanding an apology. They are no longer inserted as PDF forms, but have been attached through hyperlinks to the respective sentences that they refer to. A final document link leading to the statement that students and faculty can sign has been hyperlinked as well; in the original print it was not hyperlinked and included instead as the full link. These changes have been made for clarity and a better reading experience.