Bruce Fleming, an English professor at the United States Naval Academy, is returning to teaching following a two-day period out of the classroom while officials conducted an investigation into the charges several midshipmen brought against him.
"The investigation concluded and determined that Professor Fleming should return to his normal teaching duties," Naval Academy spokesman Cmdr. John Schofield said, while declining to discuss the details of the charges, claiming it would be inappropriate to do so.
Fleming, however, was very willing to discuss the details of the allegations and the investigation. In an email to Military.com, Fleming wrote that several weeks ago two female midshipmen -- a junior and a senior -- took exception to some criticisms he made of the academy's sexual assault prevention program, in particular relative to the recent sex scandal involving members of the Navy football team who were accused of raping a female midshipman at an off-campus party.
The two female midshipmen in Fleming's class took their complaint to the Academy's Sexual Assault and Response (SAPR) office, saying that they had been offended by a poem Fleming had chosen to teach as a metaphor for elements of the sex scandal. On his Facebook page, Fleming identified the "offending poem" as "Kong Looks Back on His Tryout with the Bears" by William Trowbridge.
In his email to Military.com, Fleming claims the two female midshipmen willfully misinterpreted his teachings, accusing him of calling the football players "apes" with racially charged intent and talking about oral sex.
Fleming said the poem's title deals with an actual ape, and his use of the word had nothing to do with the race of the football players accused in the highly publicized sexual assault case. He also said the oral sex charge was completely fallacious and that he merely talked about the ape eating the woman in the poem in a literal sense.
According to Fleming, the SAPR office refused to take the case due to the fact there was no evidence of sexual assault, but somehow the academy's deanery got involved. Fleming wrote that Dean Boyd Waite went to the English department chairman, Prof. Mark McWilliams, recommending an official investigation into the matter. Fleming also claimed that the deanery -- Waite backed by Dean Andrew Phillips -- came after him with gusto because of his previous highly publicized criticisms of the Academy's culture and admissions process.
"I see this as revenge," Fleming wrote.
By Fleming's written account, Waite told McWilliams that the English department could conduct its own investigation or -- if they refused -- "the military side would take over and undertake a far longer and nastier one."
McWilliams elected to conduct a department investigation, during which Fleming would not teach -- a decision Fleming agreed to while also pointing out how it wasted taxpayer money by keeping midshipmen from getting papers back on time. He also said the ruling was disruptive in that four other English teachers in the department had to add to their workload by stepping in to teach his classes in his absence. But according to Fleming, his colleagues didn't teach his classes but used each session as part of the investigation, interrogating his students to see if they had any issues with him.
Late on the afternoon of Sept. 16, Fleming was told the investigation had found no wrongdoing and that -- following a meeting with the administration -- he would be allowed to resume teaching on Wednesday.
However, Fleming has no desire to play nice and fade quietly back into the faculty. He has filed an Office of Special Counsel complaint against Waite and Phillips for "contravening clear regulations to single [Fleming] out for public humiliation, treating what is clearly only a case of disgruntled students as if it were the SAPR complaint that SAPR itself refused."
Fleming also wrote that he intends to file honor code charges against the two female midshipmen "for attempted character assassination, taking a low-level complaint to the most damaging level on purpose."
Editor's note: Ward Carroll served as an English instructor with Prof. Fleming at USNA from '98-'02. Fleming has also contributed as a columnist for Military.com.