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Controversial professor Bruce Fleming won his appeal — so why isn't he on the Naval Academy's fall class schedule?

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 Capital | Published: August 7, 2019

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (Tribune News Service) — After almost a year of fighting for reinstatement as a professor at the Naval Academy, Bruce Fleming won his case last month. But the outspoken critic of the school might not be teaching for a while.

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

Navy officials said Fleming emailed partially clothed photos of himself to students and used “demeaning” language in the classroom. Fleming appealed his removal and made the case for reinstatement in front of an administrative judge in May.

The Merit Systems Protection Board, which makes decisions on personnel actions for federal employees, reversed Fleming’s removal and ordered back pay last month. He is one of the Naval Academy’s most senior professors, teaching there since 1987, and earning $130,000 a year.

Now, Fleming says, he might not be allowed to teach this fall.

“It’s clear that they want me away from midshipmen because I say things they don’t want midshipmen to hear,” Fleming said.

Though a judge ordered he be reinstated as a professor, Fleming said he hasn’t been put on the schedules for classes or the payroll, he hasn’t been ensured that his Department of Defense ID works and there has been no effort to get him back into an office. He’s running out of time to make up a syllabus and order books, he said.

Naval Academy spokeswoman Cmdr. Alana Garas would not say whether Fleming will teach this fall. The academy is still figuring out the right position for Fleming based on the board’s decision and the academy’s needs, Garas said.

Fleming’s lawyer, Jason Ehrenberg, said the academy has until at least Aug. 17 — two days before the fall semester starts — to prove it is taking steps to reinstate Fleming as a professor. Until then, he said he can’t do anything for Fleming.

“I’m assuming, like he is, that he won’t be teaching [in the fall semester] because they don’t seem to be taking any steps to get him into the classroom,” Ehrenberg said.

“If he’s not teaching this semester I would be disappointed, but I can’t comment on the appropriateness or inappropriateness of the Naval Academy’s actions until they take them. And they don’t have to take them yet.”

If the academy decides not to put Fleming back in the classroom, Fleming said, it would be too late for an appeal to get him teaching this semester.

“It’s clear to me that the Naval Academy is adopting a pattern that is passive-aggressive and clearly doing nothing despite the order of the judge,” Fleming said.

“This completely violates the norms of academic freedom.”

If he can’t teach, Fleming said, he’ll keep writing articles and a book about his situation with the academy.

“It’s a story of more than just one professor. It’s about things like academic freedom versus the military. It’s about how we need future officers to be educated and, frankly, it’s about perseverance against a rather large and ugly foe.”

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