The U.S. Naval Academy is appealing a judge’s decision to reinstate a fired English professor who has been a longtime critic of the academy, officials said Wednesday.
Bruce Fleming, a civilian who is a tenured professor, was fired last year after the academy alleged “conduct unbecoming a federal employee” in the classroom.
Andrew Phillips, the academy’s academic dean and provost, wrote to Fleming on Wednesday that he had been reinstated with all pay and benefits he is entitled. Phillips wrote for Fleming to report to the academy on Monday to receive assignments “such as scholarly research and writing and service to the school.”
Phillips wrote his duties will not include teaching or advising students, because the Navy has determined “your presence in the classroom and engaging with midshipmen in any advisory role would be an undue disruption to the academic environment.”
Accusations against him included allowing students to tell jokes of a sexual nature in class, discussing sexual matters in class, emailing a partially clothed photo of himself to his students and touching students on the neck, shoulders and back in class without their consent.
But Mark Syska, an administrative judge with the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, wrote in his order for reinstatement last month that a student who was a primary witness in the case “had severe credulity issues.” He also wrote the purported victims in the case, who were students, “did not generally take offense or have any actual issue with the appellant.”
“The appellant appears to be a rather unique professor at the academy,” Syska wrote in his order, noting that he is “irreverent, theatrical, fashion-conscious, outspoken in his criticism” of the academy both in the classroom and his writings.
Fleming and his attorney, Jason Ehrenberg, have contended the academy is simply trying to punish him for criticizing the academy and his teaching style in an affront to the academic freedom that is supposed to come with tenure.
“The military either doesn’t know or doesn’t care about tenure, because that’s not the way the military works,” Fleming said in a recent interview.
In response to the appeal, Fleming wrote in an email Wednesday that the academy was trying to drag the process out as long as possible.
“They will lose the appeal,” Fleming, who became a professor at the academy in 1987, wrote.
Fleming has criticized academy’s administration for years, publishing op-eds in prominent newspapers and other publications. In 2005, the academy’s superintendent privately rebuked him for a Navy trade magazine that criticized the admissions process. In 2017, he wrote an op-ed criticizing Vice President Mike Pence and other graduation speakers for portraying graduates as “superior to those people they are supposed to defend.”