Rear Adm. Julius Caesar, left, and Naval Academy English professor Bruce Fleming ()
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A Naval Academy alumni event grew contentious Tuesday when a two-star admiral clashed with an academy professor on issues of diversity and admissions standards.
Bruce Fleming, an English professor who has taught at the academy for 24 years, said affirmative action and the pursuit of a competitive Division I football team led to the "corruption of the morale of the Naval Academy," in remarks as guest speaker to the Greater Washington Chapter of the Naval Academy Alumni Association.
"We'll do anything to get non-white" students, Fleming said, referring to the academy's diversity goals. Fleming, who served on the admissions board in 2002 and 2003, charged that the school has a two-track admissions process, which admits minority applicants with lower grades and test scores and sometimes sidetracks the congressional nomination process altogether, a process he labeled "racism."
Fleming continued: "You have students who have been let in, basically, only for their athletic ability or for their skin color."
His comments irked at least one graduate in attendance.
"I stand before you today, the person you talk about in writing," Rear Adm. Julius Caesar told Fleming before a few dozen alumni during the question-and-answer period that followed Fleming's remarks. "I'm so glad that you didn't sit on my admissions board."
In a civil tone, Caesar, who is black, took issue with Fleming's sole focus on admissions metrics — what Fleming called "predictors" — and criticized him for not examining whether the academy was producing better officers.
"Some of those kids, who didn't have predictors, did make it," Caesar said. By his own account, he had been one of them.
Caesar, a '77 grad, grew up in what he called the "inner city" of Cleveland and lacked stellar test scores and grades. He attended the year-long Naval Academy Preparatory School and played football for Navy. Caesar is a vice director at Joint Forces Command.
"When you talk, I want you to look around at some of those folks who have made it," he told Fleming. "There are people out there — and there are a lot of them — that have gone on to command ships, that went on and [have] done things in business and everything as well, and I'll just caution you to think about those."
He added, "All the things you said, they said 30 or 40 years ago" about minorities applying to the Naval Academy.
Fleming dismissed this as so much "hooyah." He countered that it's more expensive to educate students who come in with lower grades and test scores and that it's hard to justify setting aside spots for these applicants because they have a lesser likelihood on going on to be good performers. This, he said, would amount to rejecting those with a higher likelihood of success.
Acknowledging he was "standing in the lion's den," Fleming told the audience, "You don't have to have gone to the Naval Academy to be a good officer. That is BS. The ROTC guys and gals and the up-through-the-ranks people are, according to what I see, just as good an officer."
A Naval Academy spokesman responded that the academy does not have separate admissions procedures for minority applicants. "Every candidate competes equally in a single highly selective and competitive admissions process," Cmdr. Joe Carpenter wrote in a statement, adding that 85 percent of the minority students in the class of 2014 received their appointments from sources other than the secretary of the Navy.