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Posted at 1:34 PM ET, 01/26/2011

Naval Academy professor settles free-speech claim

By Daniel de Vise

A U.S. Naval Academy professor has settled a First Amendment claim against the service academy, following allegations he was denied a merit pay increase after he published newspaper articles criticizing school policies.

Both parties voiced "mutual satisfaction" with the settlement terms, which were not disclosed by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel in announcing the settlement Wednesday.

The federal agency's investigation "uncovered evidence indicating that USNA illegally denied the employee a merit pay increase because of his public statements," according to the release.

Professor Bruce Fleming, a frequent thorn in the side of the academy, published an article in the Annapolis Capital in June 2009 arguing that the academy's admissions policies gave minority applicants an unfair advantage. The Post covered the story a short time later.

Fleming, a tenured English professor, said in the June 14 opinion piece the academy operates a two-tiered admission system that makes it substantially easier for minority applicants to get in. Academy leaders strenuously denied Fleming's assertion. Fleming served on the academy's admissions board several years ago.

Three months later, Fleming "learned that he was being denied a merit pay increase that year although his immediate supervisor had recommended him for one," according to the release. "When asked to explain the decision, one official told members of the USNA faculty that the employee should not be rewarded for the manner in which he had expressed his concerns outside USNA. A few months later, the employee was also issued a warning letter informing him that if he continued making inappropriate public statements, disciplinary action could be taken against him."

The academy agreed to the settlement without admitting fault.

The federal release quotes Associate Special Counsel William E. Reukauf as saying that "no federal employee should fear that he will be penalized on the job for expressing an opinion on controversial matters of public concern."

Academy spokesman Cmdr. Joe Carpenter issued this statement:

"The Naval Academy subscribes to and continues to support the academic freedoms afforded faculty under the provisions of the American Association of University Professors guidelines."

He alluded to the faculty group that helps support the considerable freedom and protection afforded tenured professors, even at service academies.

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By Daniel de Vise  | January 26, 2011; 1:34 PM ET
Categories:  Administration, Labor, Litigation  | Tags:  Bruce Fleming investigation, USNA First Amendment case; Naval Academy AAUP, USNA investigation  
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