Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

The Naval Academy’s War With a Professor Who Sends Shirtless Pics, Offends Women and Minorities—and Somehow Came Out on Top

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Because my undergraduate college was just across the street from the US Naval Academy (and because occasionally there was a class or course with students from toth institutions), I found a Washingtonian article by Benjamin Wofford of interest. (I wonder whether he’s related to Harris Wofford — a grandson?) The article begins:

The US Merit Systems Protection Board—the judicial dustbin where the United States does battle with employees it wants to fire—is one building no bureaucrat ever wants to see. The jig may well be up by the time you arrive: Terminating a civil servant is so comically burdensome that the very fact of anyone assembling here means Uncle Sam has judged him worthy of the exertion. Certainly that was true last year when the court heard the case of US Naval Academy professor Bruce Fleming.

The Academy’s commandant had arrived that day in his Service Khakis—gold clipped belt, shined black shoes, collar insignia denoting rank. Across the aisle, in a Corneliani jacket and yellow bow tie, was the flopping marlin the school had spent years trying to spear: Fleming, a longtime English teacher. Or, as the Navy would argue, a threat to order and discipline, a corrupting influence, and, reading between the lines, a profound pain in the ass.

A grudging civility hung in the air. After three military investigations, one department inquiry, a three-year-long federal lawsuit, and one whistleblower complaint, most everybody knew everybody by now. This time, the Navy had brought allegations on behalf of five students: that Fleming had discussed oral sex and transgender surgery in class, lobbed a political epithet at two midshipmen, touched one inappropriately, and, among other things, deliberately mispronounced an Asian student’s name and told the student to “f— off” (Fleming denied the last accusation). The charge that had garnered the most attention was a photo: a shirtless selfie Fleming had sent to students.

Some of the allegations would set off alarms anywhere, not least at the storied service academy, where future officers are shaped by the Honor Concept and Uniform Code of Military Justice. Fleming, though, barely raised a brow behind his tortoiseshell glasses. Over years of fighting the Navy, he’d proven impossible to fire, even as he’d acknowledged—proudly, in fact—many incidents the brass described.

It was true, for instance, that he’d told a student to fix his lisp—he said he had been “doing the Navy a favor” by pointing it out, according to the findings of one Academy investigation. And he’d happily admitted discussing anal sex in class. He was fond, too, of lampooning Academy traditions, such as the famous Herndon ritual, in which shirtless plebes climb a greased obelisk. “Talk about homoerotic! This is, like, jacked-boy mud wrestling!” he exclaimed before outlining to me his theory of Annapolis’s culture of sexual repression.

Fleming called this most recent attempt to fire him “the most skewed, the most horrible, the most demeaning” ordeal of his career. He described Academy officials to me as “assholes” and “shits.”

This year, the Naval Academy was ranked highest among public liberal-arts college in America—an honor owing to its unique arrangement in which military and civilian instructors teach side by side. Fleming, beloved by his defenders as a refreshingly contrarian voice in a chauvinistic military culture, is exhibit A for anyone who sees preserving that arrangement as important. Yet he’s also the worst spokesman imaginable for just about any cause.

Which is strange because, after all these years of sparring with the higher-ups, a larger cause is precisely what he has inspired.

Fleming is 65 but looks closer to 45, a feat he owes to a lifetime of physical fitness. Mornings often consist of an hour of jogging in place while classical music pipes from his record player. His pedigree is impressive—Haverford degree at 19, dozens of books on an array of topics. A notoriously harsh grader, he simultaneously inspired a measure of devotion: Students who took to him were sometimes called the Fleming Faithful.

Not even the most faithful, though, would ever confuse him with a naval officer. Fleming spoke frankly and cursed frequently, interspersing his lectures on Tennyson and Shelley with what he called “life lessons” about things like condom use and gay relationships. He discouraged students from standing for “attention on deck” when he entered. He dressed in a different Italian suit every day, letting students try on the jackets. A male model well into his thirties, he began his courses with . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 April 2020 at 2:46 pm

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