Christian M. DeJohn, 36, is a published writer with an extensive portfolio including work for The Washington Times and has been honored for distinguished service in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. He has served in the U.S., Germany, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Egypt. He has also got the credentials to become a military historian, well, not quite.
DeJohn can’t become a military historian until he has his master’s degree in hand. Last May, DeJohn was supposed to receive that degree, but Temple University, where he studied military and American history, has delayed his graduation again. Most recently he has been told to rewrite most of his master’s thesis from scratch.
Unfortunately, DeJohn thinks his graduation difficulties have to do with his willingness to confront professors within the History Department for classroom rants, email invitations to anti-war rallies and to point out obvious imbalances in class material.
“I think it has everything to do with my willingness to speak out,” DeJohn said.
After earning a bachelor’s in political science from American University, in Washington D.C., DeJohn went on to Temple University in Philadelphia in January 2002. Just a few short months later, DeJohn, who is a sergeant in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard was called to active duty, interrupting his studies.
DeJohn sent a letter to Temple applying for emergency leave of absence which was granted.
By law, granting a leave of absence is required of colleges and universities under Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes in Title 51, Part V, Chapter 73. It says that when Pennsylvania Army National Guard members are ordered to active duty “the educational institution in which the member is enrolled shall grant the member a military leave of absence from their education. Persons on military leave of absence from their educational institution shall be entitled, upon release of military duty, to be restored to the educational status they had attained prior to their being ordered to military duty without loss of academic credits earned, scholarships or grants awarded or tuition and other fees paid prior to the commencement of the military duty.”
While serving in Bosnia, DeJohn said he received emails from the History Department, inviting him to anti-war events, “sit-ins” and demonstrations.
“I responded to these e-mails by asking if the Department was aware that even as antiwar demonstrations were being held, several Temple graduate students on active duty were risking their lives overseas. I also described some of the difficult conditions under which my fellow soldiers and I were serving in Bosnia, and some of the risks we faced, and I stated that I did not feel it was appropriate for the University to send such messages to Temple students serving overseas,” DeJohn said.
Much to DeJohn’s surprise, when he returned from overseas the following year, he had received a form letter from the graduate records department notifying him that he was no longer a student “in good standing and are dismissed from the University” because he did not “hold an approved, paid Leave of Absence.”
After fighting the school, DeJohn was readmitted, resumed classes and continued working on his master’s thesis, which is about a little-known scandal concerning American tanks during World War II.
“As of this time, I have completed all the required courses and credits (26) towards a Masters’ Degree in Military and American History, but am encountering major difficulty in getting my work evaluated and approved, and my graduation has been delayed three times. Though I have enrolled for four semesters of ‘Thesis Research and writing,’ I have received little guidance from the leadership of the History Department, despite numerous requests for help by mail, e-mail, and phone. I do not even have an advisor officially assigned to help me complete my degree,” DeJohn said in testimony on January 9 before the Pennsylvania State House Select Committee on Academic Freedom.
DeJohn has heard from other students who have earned Master’s degrees that thesis evaluation usually takes one-to-three months, but Temple’s History Department has had his thesis for more than 10 months.
“Last March (2005), my primary reader told me that he was ready to sign off on my MA thesis. I did extensive research using original, first-hand historical letters, diaries, memoirs, and official classified documents,” DeJohn said.
But then his secondary reader disagreed. He “trashed my work.” “Oddly enough, this professor is the same one with whom I politely disagreed when he injected anti-military diatribes into his class, and who had assigned me extra work for a completed class, which he had approved and for which I had received an “A-,” explained DeJohn.
While his work was not being assessed, students who began the program much later than he were being evaluated and graduating from their programs. DeJohn wrote to University President David Adamany to plead his case and to explain what legal responsibilities Temple University has to veterans.
Adamany’s response was a letter in which he said “Temple acknowledges that it has a special obligation to assist in making transitional arrangement for members of the Armed Forces…That said, I do not concur with your assessment that Temple has in any way violated federal or state law.”
On January 20, 2006, in a front page story in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Adamany announced his resignation from his position as president of Temple University. The story said “rumors about Adamany’s job security had run rampant since November” and made no mention of the recent academic freedom hearings at which Adamany testified or of DeJohn’s situation.
Adamany was unavailable for comment, but Communications Director Ray Betzner said that Adamany’s decision was unrelated to the hearings. Temple is launching it’s first comprehensive [fundraising] campaign which could take a few years, and Adamany thought “it would be best for continuity purposes to have one president throughout that time” so he is stepping down, according to Betzner.
Betzner also provided a response to the AP story by Martha Raffaele which included the statement: “the University vigorously disputes the implication of anti-Armed Forces bias in the history department at Temple, particularly in the subdiscipline of military history. Temple’s history department has a record of scholarship and fairness that is unimpeachable.”
The Inquirer article also said that Adamany has “been an indisputably divisive figure, however, frequently antagonizing the faculty and veteran administrators with his confrontational style, micromanagement, and frequent references to Temple’s need for more academic rigor.” At last May’s meeting of the Board of Trustees, Adamany talked about the need to establish minimum standards for membership in Temple’s graduate faculty, according to the Temple Times online edition. The article summarized a proposal to require graduate faculty members to have a history of scholarly activity and create four-year appointments (term limits for teachers?), at which point they would be reevaluated.
“Students ought to be assured by the University that those who supervise research activity are themselves active in and knowledgeable about research,” said Adamany.
DeJohn also indicated to the committee, after being asked by a member, that he sought help from his legislator to no avail. While DeJohn did not name his representative, he made reference to living near his Jenkintown, PA office and said that the representative is a member of the House Select Committee who was at Temple for the hearings.
Representative Lawrence H. Curry (D-part of Montgomery/Philadelphia counties) was the alluded-to committee member. Rep. Curry was mentioned in an Associated Press story by Martha Raffaele on January 20, 2006. “The student’s professors told state legislators in a hearing recently that their decision was based on academic reasons and not on DeJohn’s military status,” said Curry, according to the article.
DeJohn believes that his graduation difficulties stem from his complaints and confrontations with the professors who “control whether I graduate” and because of an anti-war bias among academics. “I am convinced that my extensive difficulties in competing my MA program at Temple are a combination of both ignorance of their legal obligations—and the rights of deployed service men and women—on the part of Temple University professors and administrators, as well as a manifestation of Temple University professors’ widespread personal opposition to the ongoing Global War on Terrorism, and to the men and women fighting it,” DeJohn testified.
Support has come to DeJohn through emails from strangers. One email, from a couple in Massachusetts thanked him for serving the country, condemned the way soldiers are being treated and drew a parallel to the treatment of servicemen after Vietnam. “I am delighted that someone has the backbone to stand up for what he or she believes is right. It is often much easier to simply go along to get along than to point out an injustice or simply unfair treatment by people in positions of power,” the couple wrote.
DeJohn has also suffered financially throughout this time. He is still trying to sort out issues with his student loan company, because his loans defaulted after the company was incorrectly notified last May that DeJohn had graduated from Temple. When he told the committee this, Representative James R. Roebuck Jr. (D-part Philadelphia county) told DeJohn he would personally help with the student loan issues. He also cannot be hired for well-paid federal positions as a military historian without his degree.
Julia A. Seymour is a staff writer for Accuracy in Academia.