A former Temple University student who says he was denied a master's degree because of his political views was actually a marginal learner who turned in an awful thesis, the school's lawyer said in federal court yesterday.
There was no conspiracy to violate the free-speech rights of former graduate student Christian DeJohn, university attorney Joe Tucker said. DeJohn's history thesis "just wasn't good enough," he said.
DeJohn, 37, of Wyncote, is suing the university and two of its professors, saying he was denied his degree because of his views on the Iraq war.
Because of that denial, DeJohn is in "personal and professional limbo," unable to pursue his desired job as a teacher, his lawyer, David French, said during opening statements in the jury trial.
DeJohn entered the master's program in January 2002 but took a leave of absence after the first semester to serve in Bosnia with the Pennsylvania Army National Guard.
While away, he said, he received antiwar e-mail from a mass list-serve at Temple that included professors. DeJohn asked to stop receiving the e-mail.
"He did not dispute anyone's right to write the message," French said.
When DeJohn returned to school from the deployment, he says, he lost the support of the history department faculty - specifically professors Richard Immerman and Gregory Urwin, who are named as defendants.
DeJohn was insulted behind his back in e-mails between Immerman and Urwin that called him "a fool and a liar," French said. And the critique of DeJohn's thesis included personal attacks, French said.
Tucker countered that DeJohn's thesis was "a monstrosity" that did not meet technical or academic standards, and that Urwin is known as a demanding professor and exacting editor.
To this day the thesis has not been approved because DeJohn refuses to accept guidance on it, including recommendations from a professor not named as a defendant, Tucker said. Tucker also disputed whether DeJohn had received the antiwar e-mail.
DeJohn is being represented by lawyers from the Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian legal group based in Scottsdale, Ariz.
DeJohn previously testified before a state legislative panel investigating whether Pennsylvania's public colleges and universities are hospitable to divergent intellectual and political views.
The panel concluded last fall that political bias is rare at state universities, but recommended that schools review their academic-freedom policies.