Student wins $1 in free speech suit

Former grad student is ready to continue fight against Temple.

One dollar is the symbolic award given in free speech cases.

Christian DeJohn, a Pennsylvania Army National Guard sergeant and former Temple graduate student won his free speech case against the university Aug. 4, when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled that Temple’s former sexual harassment policy did indeed violate students’ First Amendment rights.

“I think [the ruling] sends a strong message. I think it’s going to help protect students’ First Amendment rights,” DeJohn said.

DeJohn first took Temple to court in 2006, filing eight complaints – six retaliation claims against former history department chair Dr. Richard Immerman, history professor Dr. Gregory Urwin, former President David Adamany and the university. The other two claims challenged the constitutionality of the then-standing sexual harassment policy.

A federal judge immediately dismissed DeJohn’s claims of retaliation against Temple, its administration and professors. DeJohn said the university unjustly prevented him from obtaining his degree based on his political beliefs and status as a U.S. military veteran.

The judge, however, did rule that Temple’s sexual harassment policy, which contained language similar to that of the Equal Opportunity Act, was overly broad and unconstitutional. Though the university amended the policy before the case went to court, the judge permanently enjoined the previous one, preventing Temple from reverting back to it.

Temple appealed the ruling in April 2007, but lost the case in August 2008.

“We think the ruling is wrong,” said university counsel George Moore, who oversees all legal affairs of the university. “We think it’s wrongly decided. The court misapplied the law [and] the court didn’t focus on the pertinent facts.”

Moore said that in any case, the ruling will not have immediate impact on Temple or its current policies.

“The adverse consequence of this is that the plaintiff’s attorneys, who make a living out of these kinds of challenges, for whatever purposes that they have in mind, will be able to submit a petition to have Temple pay the attorneys’ fees for having brought this impertinent lawsuit. They haven’t submitted that petition yet,” Moore said.

Attorney Joe Tucker, who represented Temple in court, could not be reached for comment. Nate Kellum, David French and David Hacker, three attorneys that represented DeJohn, could not be reached for comment either.

DeJohn said the ruling is by no means an ending.

He said he is currently considering filing slander suits against Tucker, Urwin, Immerman and Adamany for statements they made about him in court and during his tenure at the university.

“This is a beginning of the next part of the fight,” said DeJohn, who has asked for President Ann Weaver Hart to address the matter in a press conference.

“Why on earth would he be expecting to hear from President Hart? What is the purpose of her communicating with him?” said Moore, who does not understand why DeJohn would request to hear from Hart.

“I am loath to discuss something that has not yet materialized,” said Urwin, who was the secondary reader of DeJohn’s graduate thesis. “I don’t know if he has found a gullible benefactor who is willing to bankroll such a frivolous suit.”

“I stand ready to do whatever is necessary to defend my good name both in court and out,” said Urwin, who was recognized for his valor in aiding a World War II veteran in the Stars and Stripes American military newspaper recently.

DeJohn said he still wants his degree from Temple, having completed all of the requirements for it. He said Temple has been sitting on his thesis, which he paid to have evaluated three years ago.

“They can’t come up with a coherent reason why they’re not evaluating it,” he said.

“We don’t give degrees to people who sue,” Moore said. “We give degrees to people who satisfy the academic requirements.”

Morgan Zalot can be reached at


  1. I used to work at Temple University, and I am aware of their unfair treatment — and tactics to deal with — employees and students who are perceived as a threat to their system in some way.

    In his margin notes for Sgt. DeJohn’s thesis, Temple professor Gregory Urwin refers to SGT DeJohn as a “crackpot.” Has anybody seen Urwin dressed up in costume for Civil War battle re-enactments?

    For an eyeful of a real crackpot, visit his website at

    I hope Sgt. DeJohn gets his thesis — and at the very least, a refund for the money he spent at that benighted university.

    Comment by tara bluestone — August 24, 2008 @ 11:20 am

  2. Sgt Dejohn should get his thesis whether they think he is a crackpot or not. That is an opinion that is simply irrelevant to the case at hand. Any student who fulfills his requirements at any university in the United States deserves to be granted the degree he has earned. Opinion about someone’s personality should never be a factor in that decision. If that university can not see the real issue at hand here then they should be closed down for such unfair treatment.


  3. No Justice for DeJohn
    by: William Creeley, March 13, 2009

    This morning, in a federal courtroom a few blocks from FIRE’s Philadelphia headquarters, the landmark case of DeJohn v. Temple University neared its long-awaited completion.

    This may come as a surprise to Torch readers, who understandably might have assumed that DeJohn had been decisively concluded back in August of 2008, when the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit issued a precedential ruling declaring Temple University’s former sexual harassment policy to be unconstitutional. But unfinished business remained: namely, determining the precise amount of attorney’s fees Temple must now pay, with taxpayer money, to student Christian DeJohn’s lawyers. Being on the losing side in this litigation, Temple must pony up, and today’s hearing seeks to set the rate at which DeJohn’s lawyers will be compensated. For comparison, note that Georgia Tech was ordered to pay over $200,000 for violating its students’ freedom of religion.

    Thus, shortly after today DeJohn will have likely reached its legal conclusion. But the case’s namesake —Sergeant Christian DeJohn of Wyncote, Pennsylvania, a student in Temple University’s Master of Arts in Mili tary and American History program and a member of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard —will still be suffering.

    That’s because Christian’s bravery in standing up for his First Amendment rights has exacted a clear toll from him, both personally and professionally. As a direct result of his stand against Temple’s unconstitutional speech code, Christian is currently stranded in academic limbo. Despite having completed all necessary coursework towards obtaining his master’s degree —the full 26 credits, with a 3.2 GPA to boot —Christian’s progress towards receiving his degree screeched to a halt shortly after he filed his lawsuit against Temple. Since filing it, Christian can’t get an honest review of his completed thesis from anyone in Temple’s History Department, leaving him high and dry.

    We’ve covered the exceedingly unprofessional treatment Christian received from his professors in this space before, but a quick review is in order to understand exactly how Christian got stuck in this situation.

    After serving overseas in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where he suffered disabling hearing loss, Christian returned to his studies at Temple in 2003. At this point, Christian’s professors were aware of his conservative political views, for Christian had asked not to receive the anti-war e-mails being sent around the History Department while he was serving his country abroad. Upon his return, Christian engaged in spirited political debate with his professor in his Comparative History of Modern War class. This kind of intellectual exchange is precisely what colleges are for, but Christian was quickly marked by his professors for his political views.

    Soon enough, Christian suffered what seemed like obvious retaliation for daring to voice his feelings on controversial topics in class. Specifically, his master’s thesis was trashed by the professor assigned to review it. Although FIRE, like the courts, does not typically weigh in on grade disputes, given the highly specialized expertise required to properl y adjudicate the merits of competing grade claims, it is difficult not to see the incredibly unprofessional and nasty comments prompted by Christian’s thesis as anything other than evidence of personal animus. Read Christian’s complaint and judge for yourself:

    [Professor Urwin] commented that the thesis was “agonizing” and that DeJohn must suffer from “Alzheimer’s disease.” Urwin also wrote notes in the margins of DeJohn’s thesis. He wrote that DeJohn sounds like a “crackpot,” that his arguments are “absurd,” that the thesis read like “a comic book for 5-year olds,” that it was “amateurish,” that it was “exaggerated melodrama,” “juvenile melodrama,” and “juvenile rhetoric,” “monotonous agony,” “juvenile argumentation,” a “hissy fit in print.”

    Professor Richard Immerman called Christian a “gnat,” and his professors are on record as saying at the time that they hoped he would “self-destruct.” Again, it’s difficult to see how mean-spirited comments like that could be considered as constructive criticism, academically speaking. At any rate, Christian filed his complaint, which included both a retaliation charge, based on evidence like that excerpted above, and a First Amendment challenge to Temple’s sexual-harassment policy.

    As Christian’s case proceeded, the district court ended up dismissing Christian’s retaliation claims. Despite the fact that the presiding judge indicated orally that it certainly seemed as though the judgment of Christian’s paper was politically motivated, and a court order notes that “[i]t is indisputable that, between November, 2001 and August, 2003, something happened that significantly altered Prof. Gregory Urwin’s appraisal of Christian DeJohn,” the lower court eventually found that the law on retaliation in this circumstance was not clearly established enough to pierce the professor’s qualified immunity defense. As such, the retaliation claims were dismissed.

    So while the speech code challenge proceeded to the Third Circuit, resulting in the landmark decision that now bears his name, Christian’s academic progress has consequently been completely stonewalled.

    At present, Christian probably cannot secure an honest review of his thesis from any faculty member in Temple’s History Department. After he submitted a revised thesis to a new professor in the department put in charge of reviewing the thesis, the professor refused to review it.

    This is appalling, but because of his willingness to take a public stand to defend the right to speak one’s mind at a public university, Christian now finds himself essentially unable to complete his degree.

    Needless to say, Christian is frustrated —and justifiably so. He wrote me yesterday, on the eve of today’s hearing about attorney’s fees:

    Nutty situation, huh? The “losing” attorney, Joe Tucker (who is on retainer with Temple at taxpayer expense and gets paid either way) may get who knows, $300,000 for all his work on this, while the prevailing party that took a stand for academic freedom is left with…

    – no prospect of an MA degree (at least at Temple),

    – $50,000 in student loans,

    – personal credit destroyed by Temple through a “computer error,”

    – character assassination by Temple in the media,

    – a mere $1 “symbolic victory,”

    – and, six years into the case, zero accountability or resolution from Temple’s President Ann Weaver Hart (who has been ducking me and the media from the start) and her employees who created the mess.

    And the kicker? This persecution of a student and veteran with the audacity to actually exercise his First Amendment rights is being funded by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s taxpayers, who are unknowingly footing the bill, since all this is occurring at a state-funded school.

    That’s why I’m fighting for accountability from FIRE’s old friend President Hart, et al.

    Hard to blame Christian for being at his wits’ end.

    (Incidentally, Christian calls Temple President Ann Weaver Hart “FIRE’s old friend” because, in an ironic twist, Hart was President of the University of New Hampshire at the time of FIRE’s infamous “Freshman Fifteen” case. That’s the one in which student Tim Garneau was kicked out of student housing —and was stuck living in his car while the case was resolved —after he posted fliers that joked freshman women could lose the “Freshman Fifteen” by walking up the dormitory stairs instead of taking the elevator.)

    The bottom line is that Christian should have had his degree years ago and should have been given a chance to resume normal academic progress. Were it not for speaking his mind, Christian could have sailed through like any other student. Maybe he could have even obtained a doctorate by now!

    Instead, Christian went to court to defend not only his own right to free speech, but also the rights of his fellow Temple students.

    Indeed, because of the precedential ruling handed down in his case by the Third Circuit, Christian’s personal bravery means that students at every public institution in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware are that much freer to engage in protected speech on campus without fear of punishment via unconstitutional speech codes.

    But no good deed goes unpunished, they say, and Christian’s shameful treatment at the hands of Temple University confirms this bitter maxim.

    However, FIRE supporters can still make a difference for Christian, just as Christian has done for his fellow students.

    As Christian’s legal case comes to a close, I ask that Torch readers who would like to see Temple do right by Christian take the time to write President Hart a brief note, politely asking that Temple’s History Department grant Christian DeJohn’s thesis a review by an objective, third-party panel. Giving Christian’s thesis a fair hearing would be the honorable thing for Temple to do.

    William Creeley is the director of Legal and Public Advocacy with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).

  4. A Temple Alum Reacts to DeJohn’s Dilemma
    July 6, 2009

    by William Creeley, Foundation for Individual Rights in Education

    This past weekend, FIRE supporter Kenneth H. Ryesky took particular interest in our recent update on Sgt. Christian DeJohn’s unfortunate situation. As a graduate of what is now Temple University’s Fox School of Business, Ryesky was disappointed to learn that his alma mater has as of yet failed to address the academic limbo in which Christian now finds himself stranded. In response, Ryesky—a practicing attorney—decided to pen a letter to Temple President Ann Weaver Hart, urging her to do the right thing and ensure that Christian’s thesis receives an honest review on the merits.

    With his gracious permission, we’re pleased to be able to share Mr. Ryesky’s letter here on The Torch.

    TO: Ann Weaver Hart, President, Temple University

    Re: Sgt. Christian DeJohn

    Dear President Hart:

    If there is one word that is inextricably associated with Temple University, it is “diversity.” Temple’s cultural diversity is used in Temple’s promotional literature, you yourself do not hesitate to tout the cultural diversity of the Temple community in your speeches, and I myself have spotlighted Temple’s cultural diversity when participating at several Temple student recruitment functions in the New York City area over the years.

    Temple’s diversity is special because it goes beyond comparing the student body to a color chart such as those commonly available in the paint section of the hardware store — Temple’s diversity has also been diversity of ideas and diversity of thought. And freedom of expression has always played a key role in Temple’s diversity of ideas and thought. During both of my stints as a Temple student, there always was a diverse spectrum of ideas presented in the classrooms, and in the halls, and on the streets and walkways of the Temple University campuses. Notwithstanding my frequent disagreement with many of the positions presented, I consider this diversity to be one of Temple’s great strengths.

    As matters currently stand, Temple University now gives the appearance that it is retaliating against Sgt. Christian DeJohn for asserting his rights of free expression. This is certainly an impression that Temple ought not allow itself to make to the world, for it is diametrically at odds with Temple’s diversity. Sgt. DeJohn’s course work should be fairly and objectively evaluated on its merits, in a matter which does not give the appearance of any improper bias, and by the same impartial standards merited by the course work of any other student.

    As a Management major at what is now Temple’s Fox School of Business, I was taught the principles of Management by Exception, which essentially means that managers should allow organizations to function normally unless and until an exception occurs where the organization’s routine functions fail to adequately handle a given case. At that point, management must intervene to redirect the organization to the appropriate courses of action.

    As you and I know, the great bureaucracy that is Temple University occasionally functions inefficiently, occasionally requires regrouping time in order to correct its dysfunctions, and occasionally requires attention and intervention from the higher echelons. In other words, Temple, like other large organizations, requires Management by Exception.

    Given that Temple’s routine handling of Sgt. DeJohn’s situation has in fact gotten to a point which has necessitated intervention by an outside authority (and an appellate-level judicial authority at that), perhaps some specific attention from Sullivan Hall is now warranted, to ensure the proper handling by the University of a student who obviously is intelligent, motivated, and likely destined for future achievement.

    At stake is more than Sgt. DeJohn’s personal career. At stake is Temple’s essential core attribute of diversity.

    Yours very truly,

    Kenneth H. Ryesky, Esq.

    BBA 1977, JD 1986

    I know I speak for both Christian and all of us here at FIRE in thanking Mr. Ryesky for his eloquent support—indeed, letters from citizens like him help FIRE secure favorable outcomes for the students and faculty we assist at our nation’s universities. We rely on concerned alumni, parents, trustees, donors, and citizens who have both the common sense to recognize when universities mistreat members of their community and the courage to stand up and tell those in power that such behavior is entirely unacceptable.

    While Christian, now training in the Mojave Desert, waits for word from Temple’s Provost regarding the status of his thesis review, it’s encouraging to recognize that many readers stand in support.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.