The United States Naval Academy has agreed to a legal settlement with a tenured English professor after a federal investigation uncovered evidence that the Naval Academy violated his First Amendment rights. The professor, Bruce Fleming, had filed a complaint in 2009 with a federal agency, the Office of Special Counsel, claiming that top ranking Naval Academy officials denied him a raise based on his public assertions about the college’s race-conscious admissions policies. In a widely circulated newspaper column, Fleming had written that the Naval Academy used an admissions process for minority students that was so much less demanding, it likely violated federal civil rights laws.
The settlement by the Naval Academy, the undergraduate college for the Navy, admits no wrongdoing. However, a news release by the Office of Special Counsel appears to indicate that the investigation produced evidence that the Academy violated Fleming’s First Amendment rights. The Office of Special Counsel, which investigates federal whistleblower complaints, confirmed that it found evidence that the institution "illegally denied [an] employee a merit-pay increase because of public statements."
Fleming, who had criticized the college’s affirmative action policies for several years, issued a statement after the settlement. According to Fleming, "[t]he reason I felt it important to pursue this issue is to ensure that an institution whose military members swear to uphold the Constitution do not infringe the civilian rights to free expression the military is meant to protect." We applaud Fleming’s efforts to speak out when the college punished him for his protected criticism. Whistleblowers like Fleming are critical to ensuring that our government complies with the law.