The student and teacher — as well as professors, classmates and academy administrators — appeared in Philadelphia Wednesday where attorneys for Fleming and the academy argued over whether the professor should get his job back. The judge is expected to hand down his decision in the coming weeks.
Students reported their professor was frank and graphic in discussing sex acts. One wrote that Fleming’s disdain for the academy felt excessive. Some said they were unnerved by his hugs. Some found his blunt “life lessons” refreshing; others, sickening.
“The most memorable life lesson is when he went into detail as to how transgender surgery works,” DeSantis said. “How the male appendage is cut off.”
A handful of midshipmen testified and struck a softer tone under questioning from Fleming’s attorney and the administrative judge. Naval Academy administrators had faulted Fleming for rubbing the back of Midshipman Andrew John Buckley.
But Midshipman Richard Jin said he was when Fleming purposely called him the wrong last name, say, Kim, Jong or Lim.
“I attempted to correct Professor Fleming three or four times,” Jin told the court. “There was one incident where he told me to f--- off.”
In his 16-page letter, DeSantis also accused Fleming of obscene, sexually explicit and “x-rated” discussions. When questioned, he said he was referring to Fleming’s talks on transgender surgery, the use of condoms and an academy policy forbidding sex in the dormitory. The judge asked him if he grew up in a religious family and attended a religious high school; DeSantis said “yes.”
The young man also said he felt Fleming had unfairly given him a “C” in the class. The judge asked about his grades and De Santis said he had been an “A” student.
Fleming has appealed his firing to the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, which hears federal employment cases. He wants to return to the classroom. He did not testify.
Academic Dean and Provost Andrew Phillips testified that Fleming earned high marks for his classroom instruction. The dean, however, said he couldn’t overlook the professor’s behavior.
“I grant that the professor can be — often is — a very effective teacher of writing,” Phillips told the judge, “while at the same time he’s disrespectful.”
Since 2013, administrators twice sent Fleming for counseling and issued him two letters of reprimand. Fleming sent a shirtless photo of himself to students in 2015 and again two years later. Fleming has said he was trying to make relevant the 200-year-old poem “Ode on a Grecian Urn” and the theme of reality vs. an ideal.
“He’s made it quite clear that he intends to continue that behavior,” Phillips testified. “He doesn’t see anything wrong with what he’s done.”
“The student body is shifting,” she told the judge. “I’m speaking in huge generalities, they are more — I’ve had students in my class say, ‘That makes me uncomfortable.’ I say, ‘Good! Good! Tell me why...’ — more sensitive maybe?”