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Bruce Fleming still not teaching at Naval Academy, rips ex-superintendent

English professor Bruce Fleming in 2014 on the campus of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

MARY F. CALVERT/THE WASHINGTON POST

By SELENE SAN FELICE | The (Annapolis, Md.) Capital | Published: November 3, 2019

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (Tribune News Service) — Bruce Fleming won his year-long fight in court for reinstatement as a professor at the U.S. Naval Academy. But he didn’t teach this semester, and it’s not clear whether he’ll ever return as a professor.

In the meantime, he’s still making waves at the academy by publicly criticizing former Naval Academy superintendent retired Vice Adm. Ted Carter.

Fleming, a tenured civilian English professor, was taken out of the classroom and was forbidden from contact with students in January 2018. A seven-month investigation into his conduct ensued, and he was taken off the payroll.

The Merit Systems Protection Board, which makes decisions on personnel actions for federal employees, reversed Fleming’s removal and ordered back pay in July. He is one of the Naval Academy’s most senior professors, teaching there since 1987 and earning $130,000 per year. He lost his job while Carter was superintendent; Carter is now the finalist for the position of University of Nebraska president.

Fleming criticized that decision.

“Carter does not respect academic freedom and actively attacked it at the Naval Academy. I fear for what he would do at the University of Nebraska,” Fleming said.

“They’re starry-eyed at the idea of getting an admiral. The military operates by completely different rules than the civilian world. That’s especially true for academia, which is based on freedom of expression. The military is a top-down command structure where subordinates have to do what they’re told. That’s the opposite of free-market ideas in a civilian university.”

Carter said Fleming’s firing had nothing to do with academic freedom and was about accusations from midshipmen, and that he plans to run the University of Nebraska the same way he did the Naval Academy when it comes to teachers and students.

“He’s never met me. I don’t think he knows anything about me,” Carter said. “He’s welcome to his opinion as everybody else with … but he’s got his own issues to deal with that I no longer have a part in.”

Navy officials said Fleming emailed partially clothed photos of himself to students and used “demeaning” language in the classroom. Fleming appealed his removal and successfully made the case for reinstatement in front of an administrative judge in May. Fleming has denied some of those accusations — such as calling some students right-wing extremists — while saying the photo was sent to make a point about the John Keats poem “Ode on a Grecian Urn.”

Fleming has said his teaching style is unique. He does one-armed push-ups to earn students’ respect. He also has said any contact between him and students was never sexual and always consensual.

The academy appealed the order to reinstate Fleming in September. He returned for the fall semester but was assigned to research and writing duties determined by the academy instead of teaching midshipmen.

“It’s clear that they (the academy) think I’m a moral piece of sh*t,” Fleming said. “As far as anybody’s concerned, the hearing cleared my name completely. Nonetheless, the Naval Academy continues to attack me.”

Academy spokeswoman Cmdr. Alana Garas would not say whether Fleming will be teaching in the spring semester nor whether the academy ever plans to bring him back as a professor. Fleming and his lawyer, Jason Ehrenberg, plan to fight the academy’s appeal with a written response later this month. The academy’s petition and Fleming’s rebuttal will be reviewed by an MSP panel, but Ehrenberg said it’s unclear when that will happen.

Fleming said he is getting paid by the academy as his reinstatement ordered, but he’s missing a year of pay and tens of thousands of dollars in lawyer’s fees that the academy won’t have to pay unless they lose their appeal.

©2019 The Capital (Annapolis, Md.)
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