A professor at the U.S. Naval Academy says he was unfairly fired while on Walter “Ted” Carter’s watch and has had his position on the faculty restored by an administrative judge’s ruling.
The Navy has appealed the case further, and the tenured professor, Bruce Fleming, said that although he is being paid by the academy, he won’t be allowed to teach again unless he wins the appeal.
Carter, former superintendent of the Naval Academy, is the sole finalist for the University of Nebraska system’s presidency. He has begun a 30-day review period before the NU Board of Regents decides whether to hire him.
The American Association of University Professors also objected to the way the Naval Academy fired Fleming last year. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln is currently on the AAUP’s censure list.
Carter said Tuesday that the Naval Academy followed its own process precisely. “The academic dean (Andrew Phillips) is the one who removed him from the classroom, not me,” Carter said in an interview.
UNL and the AAUP have differed on the university’s handling of a UNL graduate student-faculty member who two years ago flipped the bird at and ridiculed a student for recruiting for the conservative Turning Point USA.
The instructor, Courtney Lawton, wasn’t brought back the next school year, but she had completed her doctorate by then. The AAUP said she wasn’t given adequate due process when she was removed from the classroom or when she wasn’t invited back.
Fleming said Tuesday that Carter “doesn’t know squat about higher education” and that “it’s astonishing that a major university is considering” him for president. Fleming said many of the Navy’s practices are far different from those at a university like Nebraska.
Carter said Tuesday that he has never met Fleming and that it’s unfortunate that Fleming felt compelled to “try to malign me.”
Fleming said (and provided documents to support his claim) that he won his appeal to an administrative judge with the federal Merit Systems Protections Board. Fleming said the Navy has appealed to a Merit Systems panel, though.
Fleming admitted that he has been a pain to Naval Academy superintendents during many of his 33 years as a tenured civilian professor at Navy. He said that he has written articles that challenge the quality of education provided by the academy, and that superintendents have hoped to fire him for a long time.
Carter, 60, is a decorated aviator, graduate of the Naval Academy, schooled in fighter jet flying at the Top Gun academy and the record-holding American aviator for flights onto aircraft carriers.
One Navy civilian professor and friend of Carter’s, Christine Copper, described Carter in an interview over the weekend as “a great man” who is funny and humble.
As for the faculty’s general opinion of Carter, Copper said: “There wasn’t a lot of angst in the kingdom.” Copper did, however, allude to the Fleming situation.
NU Regent Jim Pillen of Columbus, who headed the 23-person presidential search committee, said he was aware there had been a problem involving a Naval Academy professor.
Pillen said he was “astonished at the number of contacts” from people who praised Carter. “Everything has been off-the-chart positive.”
There will always be an exception to widespread opinion, he said.
Sign up for The World-Herald's afternoon updates
Receive a summary of the day’s popular and trending stories from Omaha.com.
Carter said Fleming’s case was not about freedom of speech or academic freedom. It was about protecting a student who complained of Fleming’s practices, Carter said.
Some of the complaints against Fleming alleged that he referred to two students as “right-wing extremists”; discussed sexual matters barely related to class readings; emailed photos of himself to students in which he was only partially clothed; touched students on the neck, shoulders and back; showed photos of his son’s date and made derogatory comments about her; purposely mispronounced an Asian student’s name; and used profanity in class.
But the judge wrote that a faculty panel found Fleming for the most part well-liked by students. The judge, Mark Syska, wrote that Fleming is “irreverent, theatrical, fashion-conscious, outspoken in his criticism of the academy” and other things.
But Syska said the main complaining student seemed more upset by a C grade from Fleming than anything else. Syska questioned the veracity of some of the student’s complaints and his interpretation of some others.
The AAUP advised Carter last year of its commitment to academic freedom, tenure and due process. The AAUP said the academy’s procedures in Fleming’s case “fall far short of the AAUP-supported principles and procedural standards. ...”
Carter responded to the AAUP that his institution’s process “is different from that practiced by the AAUP, (but) it does provide for a full and fair inquiry into allegations of faculty misconduct.”
Removals of faculty members, he wrote, “only occur when the facts and circumstances of the case justify the action.”