Outspoken Naval Academy professor investigated

An outspoken English professor at the Naval Academy has been removed from the classroom following complaints from midshipmen, academy officials confirmed Monday.

The academy would not elaborate on the nature of the complaints about Bruce Fleming, a popular professor who has often been critical of the academy. Academy spokesman Cmdr. John Schofield said it would be inappropriate to discuss the details of the complaints against Fleming, as an internal investigation is ongoing.

"Professor Fleming deserves an expectation of privacy and a fundamental presumption of innocence in this matter, as do all midshipmen, staff and faculty at USNA who may be subject to any investigation," Schofield said.

On Monday, Fleming said he has been told the complaints were made by two midshipmen regarding a poem he presented in a class, and also comments he made in class that were critical of the Navy's sexual assault prevention and education program.

Fleming said he feels he has been "singled out" and plans to file a complaint with the academy's Office of Special Counsel on the grounds that a "low-level disagreement" between students and a professor was treated as a sexual harrassment complaint.

Fleming also disputes the academy's assertion that he was put on administrative leave. He said he agreed not to teach Monday while his superiors interviewed students regarding the complaint.

Recently, he's been quoted in The Baltimore Sun and other news outlets in the wake of a high-profile hearing into alleged sexual assaults involving three former members of the football team. Fleming criticized the academy's stringent rules against sex among midshipmen as well as the sexual assault prevention program.

Fleming also has criticized other Naval Academy policies, including admissions standards for athletes and minorities, and has questioned the necessity of having service academies. He frequently pens guest columns and essays for popular media outlets.

Fleming has taught at the Naval Academy since 1987, including courses on literature, drama, film and creative writing. He holds a doctoral degree in comparative literature from Vanderbilt University, a master's from the University of Chicago and a bachelor's from Haverford College, according to his academy biography. He has written several books and earned a research excellence award from the academy in 1994.

On the website ratemyprofessors.com, Fleming is often described as a tough professor who cares about students and challenges them to become better writers.

pwood@baltsun.com

twitter.com/pwoodreporter