Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

Temple’s Speech Code Goes Down


Yesterday was a good day for academic freedom. Judge Stewart Dalzell issued an order permanently enjoining Temple’s former speech code. I say “former” only because Temple dramatically changed its policies on the eve of the summary judgment deadline in the case — yet still tried to justify the old policies as constitutional. The case is notable not just for its outcome but also for the sheer dizzying array of arguments the university used to try to salvage a policy that obviously violated binding precedent. In its court papers, Temple has: -equated their (adult) students with (minor) high school students and argued the same free speech standards should apply in high school and college; -denied any knowledge of how certain policy documents even made it to the college’s website; -compared college students to public employees and argued they had free speech rights only when speaking on a matter of “public concern” outside the classroom; -argued that prior allegations of sexual harassment justified extreme and sweeping sexual harassment policies; and -argued that broad sexual harassment policies were justified by a series of highly-ideological academic papers written in the early Nineties — papers that actually had nothing to do with sexual harassment at Temple. The last justification was my favorite. Temple’s corporate representative testified that the university’s overbroad sexual harassment policy was enacted partly in response to an article written by a professor at the University of Illinois — an article decrying a crisis in sexual harassment on campus but defining sexual harassment so broadly as to render the term entirely meaningless. Critically, Judge Dalzell also denied Temple’s bid to dismiss the plaintiff’s claim that Temple retaliated against him because of his political and ideological viewpoint. As the Judge noted, “It is clear that, between November, 2001 and August, 2003, something happened that significantly altered the [Defendant's] appraisal of [the Plaintiff].” A trial is set for April 25 to determine whether that “something” was unlawful. Yet no matter what happens on April 25, every student at Temple is more free today as a result of Plaintiff Christian DeJohn’s lawsuit. (Full disclosure: The Alliance Defense Fund represents Christian, and I am one of his attorneys in the case).


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