By Pamela Wood, The Baltimore Sun
9:29 PM EDT, September 17, 2013
An outspoken Naval Academy professor will return to the classroom Wednesday after the academy closed an investigation spurred by complaints from midshipmen.
Academy officials declined to provide details of the complaints against English professor Bruce Fleming, saying he should be afforded privacy and a presumption of innocence.
"The investigation concluded and determined that Professor Fleming should return to his normal teaching duties," Cmdr. John Schofield, an academy spokesman, said Tuesday.
Fleming said he had been told that two midshipmen complained about comments he made in class that were critical of the academy's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program, and also complained about a poem he taught in class.
Fleming said the complaints should have been handled as a low-level disagreement between students and a professor, but instead were investigated as possible sexual harassment. He said he has filed complaints with the federal Office of the Special Counsel and the academy's Faculty Senate.
Fleming said the situation is a teachable example of the Naval Academy not following its own procedures.
Fleming, who has been an outspoken critic of academy policies, has taken issue with the academy's handling of his comments before.
In 2011, the Office of the Special Counsel found evidence that the academy illegally denied Fleming a merit raise because of comments published in an article in The Capital newspaper in Annapolis. In the article, Fleming said the academy used a two-tiered admissions system that favored minority applicants.
In light of a recent high-profile hearing into alleged sexual assaults involving former Navy football players, Fleming has been quoted in The Baltimore Sun and other news outlets criticizing the academy's strict rules on sex among midshipmen, as well as the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program.
David Ausiello, a 1997 academy graduate, said that while Fleming's views might be unpopular, the professor encourages debates that prepare midshipmen to become well-rounded naval officers.
"I would hope that with diversity being what it is, that the Naval Academy embraces diversity, and in the same mindset, they should embrace Bruce Fleming. His diversity adds to the color and the fabric of the Naval Academy," said Ausiello, who spent eight years in the Navy and now works in Washington. "I would hate to think of the day that he wasn't teaching there."
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