• August 27, 2015

Accused Alabama Shooter Was a Bright Scientist With Career Ups and Downs

Amy Bishop Police Booking Photo

Huntsville Police Dept.

Amy Bishop, in a police booking photo.

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close Amy Bishop Police Booking Photo

Huntsville Police Dept.

Amy Bishop, in a police booking photo.

Amy Bishop, the Alabama biologist accused of shooting six of her colleagues, three of them fatally, in a faculty meeting last week, has spent her career studying mechanisms that lead to the degeneration of neural tissues.

That career has been moderately successful, at least as such things are conventionally measured, by publications, research grants, and praise from peers. Ms. Bishop and her colleagues recently developed an innovative technique for studying neural cells—a project that has drawn more than $1-million in private investment.

But interviews with her colleagues and reports in the news media suggest that Ms. Bishop has also had a long history of strife.

William Setzer, chairman of the chemistry department at the University of Alabama at Huntsville, where the shootings took place, and an adjunct lecturer in the biology department, told The Chronicle, "She's pretty smart. That was not a question."

But he also said he had heard from colleagues in biology that she clashed with other people. "There might have been some question about how good" a principal investigator and mentor she was, he said. "Yeah, she knows her stuff, and she's a good technical person, but as far as being the boss and running the lab, that was kind of the question."

Ms. Bishop, who is 44, graduated from Northeastern University in 1988 and earned a doctorate in genetics from Harvard University in 1993. She spent much of the next decade working as a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Bruce Demple, then a professor of genetics at the Harvard School of Public Health. In 2003 she won a tenure-track position at the University of Alabama at Huntsville.

Her life had been shadowed by violence, however. The Boston Globe reported this weekend that Ms. Bishop fatally shot her younger brother at their home in Braintree, Mass., in 1986. She and her mother told the police at the time that the shooting was accidental. But the chief of police in Braintree released a statement Saturday in which he said that some police officers at the time of the killing were frustrated that the investigation was stopped.

And on Sunday, the Globe reported that federal law-enforcement officials once considered Ms. Bishop a suspect in a still-unsolved case involving a mail bomb sent to Paul A. Rosenberg, then an assistant professor of neurology at Harvard University. Although she and her husband were investigated, they were not charged with the crime.

According to the Globe's account, Ms. Bishop had feared that Dr. Rosenberg would criticize her dissertation, which was submitted the same month that the bomb was mailed, December 1993.

The Chronicle could not confirm whether Dr. Rosenberg sat on Ms. Bishop's dissertation committee, but he collaborated with Paul M. Gallop, her dissertation adviser, who died in 1996. Dr. Rosenberg declined to comment on Sunday.

Most of Ms. Bishop's published papers concern nitric oxide, a molecule that cells use to communicate with other cells. But at high levels, nitric oxide is toxic. It is believed to play a role in the development of certain cancers—and also neurodegenerative disorders such as multiple sclerosis and Lou Gehrig's disease.

In a 2004 paper that was developed in Mr. Demple's lab, Ms. Bishop and several colleagues described genetic mechanisms that seem to allow some cells to resist nitric-oxide toxicity, at least at moderate levels.

If those mechanisms can be somehow be turned into genetic therapies, they might eventually lead to new treatments for a variety of neurogenerative ailments. That was the premise of a $219,750 grant that Ms. Bishop received in 2008 from the National Institutes of Health. But according to several accounts—including a Chronicle interview with her husband on Sunday—Ms. Bishop's output was not regarded as adequate by the tenure committee at Alabama. She was notified last spring that she did not get tenure, and although she made several appeals of that decision, they were ultimately unsuccessful.

Slow to Publish

Ms. Bishop published only one peer-reviewed paper in each of the years 2004, 2005, and 2006. She published no papers in 2007 and 2008. Last year she published three peer-reviewed papers, one of which appeared in the little-known International Journal of General Medicine. Other biologists who do similar work on neurodegenerative disorders tend to publish at a much faster clip.

Mr. Setzer, the chemistry-department chair, said he had heard from colleagues in biology that Ms. Bishop's publication record was thin and that she hadn't secured enough grants. There were also concerns about her personality, he said. In meetings, Mr. Setzer remembered, she would go off on "bizarre" rambles about topics not related to tasks at hand—"left-field kind of stuff," he said.

Still, Mr. Setzer said he was "mildly surprised" that Ms. Bishop had not received tenure last year. He asked the biology-department chairman, Gopi K. Podila, about it and was told that while Mr. Podila supported her, most of the faculty members in the department did not.

Apart from her problems with tenure, Amy Bishop was quite happy and successful in her relationship with the university over her invention of a new kind of cell incubator, according to a business partner.

The invention, called the InQ, is an integrated machine for growing and examining cell cultures, in a manner that its developers are touting as wholesale advance over the archaic 133-year-old system of Petri dishes.

Its use could drive scientific advances against nerve-related ailments—such as Lou Gehrig's disease, Alzheimer's disease, and stroke—because nerve cells don't survive more than a day or two in a Petri dish, said Richard E. Reeves, chairman of Prodigy Biosystems, which is making and marketing the device.

The idea came about because Ms. Bishop was frustrated by the limits that Petri-dish technology imposed on the types of nerve experiments she saw as critical to her field, Mr. Reeves said.

He added that she responded to that frustration about four years ago by going to her "computer-nerd husband," James E. Anderson, and persuading him to help her invent a better place to work on her experiments.

The result is a machine about the size of a desktop photocopier, with a slot in the front resembling the opening in a compact-disk player. The sample, placed on a tray, is slid inside, where the necessary mixture of nutrients and gases can keep the experiment alive for months. Internal instruments, including a microscope and camera, allow the researcher to work from a remote location by computer, without opening and exposing the sample.

Using the InQ will allow long-term studies of nerve cells outside the human body, which could be critical to breakthroughs in disease research, Mr. Reeves said. The units are expected to sell for about $30,000 apiece. Although Petri dishes cost only pennies, the accompanying incubators and microscopes can cost $50,000 to $200,000 apiece.

David B. Williams, president of the University of Alabama at Huntsville, highlighted the invention in November 2008 in his online blog, as the prime example of why research universities are key to future economic development.

"This remarkable technology," Mr. Williams said of the InQ, "will change the way biological and medical research is conducted."

The university, which owns the invention, brought it to BizTech, a business-incubator company, which used financing from Mr. Reeves's Huntsville Angel Network to create a firm, Prodigy Biosystems, to make and sell InQ. Ms. Bishop serves on Prodigy's Board of Directors.

Mr. Reeves said he could not discuss financial terms, though he said that the profit-sharing arrangements with the university followed a standard model and that Ms. Bishop was satisfied with the relationship.

"She was having issues with her tenure at the university," he said. But, he said of InQ, "this was going well."

Thomas Bartlett contributed to this article.


1. chandrak - February 15, 2010 at 09:40 am

After reviewing the information on Ms. Bishop,it seems that she had other psychological problems but no one ever tried to help her through counseling or other therapies. They should have known when she used to go on in tangents during faculty meetings.

2. anon99 - February 15, 2010 at 10:33 am

It is not as simple when looking at publication rate to compare two researchers. From the sounds of it UAH had a small graduate program and therefore Dr. Bishop would not have been able to publish at the same rate as someone with a bigger lab. While I do not condone Dr. Bishop's actions; I am sure we will find out more in the upcoming days on the events leading up to this horrible event.

3. isugeezer - February 15, 2010 at 10:37 am

chandrak: If every faculty member who went off on a tangent during a faculty meeting were referred for counseling, counseling centers across the nation would be swamped. One of the important skills of academic life is the ability to go off on a tangent--which is often the path of innovative thinking. Of course, an equally important skill is being able to come back from the tangent. :-)

4. optimysticynic - February 15, 2010 at 10:55 am

chandrak and isugeezer: I agree with both of you, which is why context for "going off on tangents" is essential. Not every faculty member who has a melt-down has the history of questionable violence or other social difficulties she apparently had. [Note: there is no need to specualte about what "really happened" with her brother. Fact is most of us have not experienced this sort of trauma in our lives. And for those of us who have, counseling is a good idea as the trauma could easily become a risk factor for later problems.] That said, I think it wouldn't be a bad idea if we re-instituted the values of character and citizenship, and perhaps send some of us off for a bit of counseling... might help all of us!

5. zbicyclist - February 15, 2010 at 11:25 am

"Ms. Bishop,it seems that she had other psychological problems but no one ever tried to help her through counseling"

We don't know that no one ever tried to help her. If they did, they were unsuccessful, but that's often the case with therapy.

6. tabriz421 - February 15, 2010 at 11:26 am

I agree with the above, but would submit that given the very small number of people who actually snap like this, it is perhaps too high an expectation for anyone to be able to intervene...

7. optimysticynic - February 15, 2010 at 12:12 pm

It is often quite difficult to intervene, get someone to "get help", etc. If the target of your concern does not agree re the need for help and, even more so, when your concern is perceived as criticism (as it almost certainly will be), it will not be effective. When someone has defined their difficulties in the social world by externalizing blame (the paranoid position), there is no way that "attempts to intervene" can be anything other than conflictual, understood as one-more-person-against-me, and risky. It is often necessary, unfortunately, to wait until there is "risk to self or others" and then hospitalize without consent...and even then the person is usually quickly released (with a stronger evidence base for their paranoia, in their eyes, and perhaps a greater motive for revenge.) Only someone in a position of complete trust (if there is such a person, which, by definition, there often is not) can take this role. That person, however, is usually in agreement with the in-need-of-help person's interpretation of events; otherwise, that relationship would also have fallen victim to the paranoid perceptions. The more out-of-line the behavior and the more it is in the paranoid direciton, the less likely the intervention (any intervention) is to be and the riskier it is to whomever undertakes it. UAH Bio Dept faculty were probably in a no-win situation. Even if Ms Bishop had agreed to "get help", the helping person is then often inducted into the same paranoid perceptual system, meds are poison, etc. etc. The outcome is almost always bad, often tragic.

8. speterfreund - February 15, 2010 at 01:02 pm

For what it's worth, take a look at the UAH Biology Department website (http://newinfo.uah.edu/biology/faculty.html). It seems clear that Professor Bishop has a research record ccomparable to if not better than the research records of most of her senior colleagues, many of whom have not published in five or ten years and who are, more often than not, not listed as first authors of their publications. Her research record clearly surpasses the record of one of her near-contemporaries, hired a year after her. Records such as those of such faculty members also clearly imply a lack of external research funding, which Professor Bishop received. Grants that do not result in publications generally send a message to funding agencies to stop funding an investigator. This is not to say that Professor Bishop's colleagues were not the recipients of contracts, given their focus on a number of social welfare issues. But contracts lead to reports and programs, not to published research, and as such they are generally omitted from considerations of an individual's scholarly visibility.

The point of these remarks is to suggest that there were a number of terrible flaws in Professor Bishop's advancement to consideration for tenure and promotion. As Professor Lawton suggests, she was not mentored well. At the very least, someone should have taken note of the tangential comments and reported them to the chair, who in his turn should have sought the input of the dean. As far as I can tell, although her research was the criterion of record in the denial of her tenure, it was a red herring, since it equals or exceeds, in its quantity and most of its quality, the research of those who sat in judgment of her case. While I stand with those who deplore Professor Bishop's actions, grieve for the loss of life and shattered lives that resulted, and wish that they had not occurred, I must also conclude that this was a tenure case that was not well handled, and that, while her violence was not a solution to the problem, Professor Bishop was the victim of an extremely poorly run tenure process. I base my opinion on two terms as a department chair, several years of service on my college's T&P advisory committee (advisory to the dean), and more than a year of service as its chair on my institution's standing appeals committee on tenure.

9. masttg - February 15, 2010 at 02:00 pm

"...not listed as first authors of their publications."

Principle investigators in biology are usually listed as the last authors to indicate that they lead the research group. Biology tenure committees in research-heavy departments are looking for faculty whom have developed this lab/ scholarly role.

Her overall publication record does appear to be similar to that of her colleagues.

10. speterfreund - February 15, 2010 at 02:25 pm

Point taken about principal investigators, masttg, but how do you then explain Professor Bishop's decision to bold her name in every instance in which it appears first on the list of authors? Go to http://newinfo.uah.edu/biology/faculty.html, and review Professor Bishops list of publications again. Surely, if her colleagues followed the listing protocol that you describe, then they should have recognized and reacted to what would have been viewed as a shameless ploy to inflate one's research record.

11. hmascience - February 15, 2010 at 03:17 pm

@speterfreund: The bolding of her name is most likely simply to highlight her name on her publications list. That list is targetted at prospective students (or perhaps business partners). You can see this on her complete list of publications (ranging back to her own grad studies, seminars, etc.). Right or wrong, department web sites often don't conform to a "style manual" of any ilk.

12. speterfreund - February 15, 2010 at 03:59 pm

The point, hmascience, is that her other colleagues do not do the same thing, Look at their publication lists as well. Moreover, the department or the college, not the individual, has control of the content posted it is site.

13. speterfreund - February 15, 2010 at 04:00 pm

Some editing is in order.

The point, hmascience, is that her other colleagues do not do the same thing. Look at their publication lists as well. Moreover, the department or the college, not the individual, has control of the content posted to its site.

14. sciencewhiz - February 15, 2010 at 04:15 pm

Maybe it's time for universities to examine tenure policies. In the light of someone developing such an extremely useful, powerful invention, how can it be said that they are not making a significant contribution to the development of science? Worrying about the amount of grant funding (which is difficult to get nowadays) and the number of publications someone has (with the number of journals out there, you could publish practically anything) are simply last century ways to know that faculty have made contributions to their field. For this century, it will be imperative for universities to recognize, not only financially but academically, ways in which faculty contribute to their science.

15. carremi - February 15, 2010 at 04:29 pm

interesting...but, who cares , first author, last author...the bottom line she shot her brother...get a clue...the woman was/is not stable no matter how brilliant or medicocre a scientist she is...3 people are dead !

16. rjg33 - February 15, 2010 at 04:35 pm

Law enforcement in MA serially screwed the pooch when it came to Mrs. Bishop- that loon should never have been free for as long as she was, with the- sadly predictable- consequences.

God bless the victims and their families @ UAH.

17. nurse_phd - February 15, 2010 at 05:28 pm

Why are writers referring to the shooter as Ms., not Dr.? She did earn that honorific.

18. maddie2515 - February 15, 2010 at 05:44 pm

Dr. Bishop murdered three people. She went to a firing range before she killed them. She committed pre-meditated murder. Along the way, she shot the gun that killed her brother, and may have been involved in a pipe-bombing. End of story.

All of the other stuff in between is of no consequence to the families of the dead.

19. neoconned - February 15, 2010 at 06:02 pm

so, sciencewhiz, you're suggesting this unbalanced homicidal selfish lunatic should have gotten tenure? because she invented something? seems to me that this case shows the tenure system working at it's best. even if she were brilliant, even if she published more than her colleauges she was plainly insane. with tenure, who knows may be 20 years down the road she would have taken an AK to class and capped a dozen students. then everyone would be saying that she was proof that the tenure system should be scrapped. incredible.
to, nursephd, re Ms not Dr., probably becuase she has brought such shame and disrepute to her profession and to all of academia through her actions. she is a disgrace and/or insane; undoubtedly was that way long before the tenure vote

20. ms_annie - February 15, 2010 at 06:43 pm

William Setzer, chairman of the chemistry department at the University of Alabama at Huntsville, where the shootings took place, and an adjunct lecturer in the biology department, told The Chronicle, "She's pretty smart. That was not a question."

1. Why does Setzer qualify his statement "She's pretty smart" instead of saying it like it is: "She's very smart" or "She's brilliant"? Does Setzer have a problem admitting Bishop's intelligence?

But he also said he had heard from colleagues in biology that she clashed with other people. "There might have been some question about how good" a principal investigator and mentor she was, he said. "Yeah, she knows her stuff, and she's a good technical person, but as far as being the boss and running the lab, that was kind of the question."

2. My, my. Clashes. We can't have that now, can we? Women are supposed to be nice; the peacemakers! Men are the clashers! That evidences their high testosterone levels!

3. So, so. Dr. Bishop was in question as to whether she could "be the boss" or "run the lab". Were men doubted in that regard? Or is there "special criteria and doubt" raised when dealing with women?

21. jaros - February 15, 2010 at 06:44 pm

It is true, there is no better predictor of future actions than past performance or behaviors. That said, Speterfreund, sciencewhiz et al address an important issue that neither condones or justifies the murders, but analyzes a catalyst in an unstable individual. Having also served as P&T chair twice, served three times on a committee, and having gone through the mill myself...the problem of the moving target, i.e. different ratings or weightings of academic performance seem noteworthy. Please keep in mind that tenure decisions often (if not always) address collegiality as an issue. If the committee tried to gloss over the now late Dr Bishop's tenure chair's and others' support by trying to discredit her work versus her obviously unwell state of being, then that is problematic. The most brilliant administrator I ever knew, Dr H Whippy, used to state that as far as procedures and policies are concerned, one should "treat one's enemy the same as a best friend." While obviously there is much we do not know, Speterfreund, sciencewhiz, and others do have a valid *issue* which should not be misinterpreted as an apologia. Again, the committee may be guilty of seeking to justify a negative tenure decision, a correct one perhaps, but for the wrong reason.

In concluding, let me say that administration can get dinged if s/he/they did not state that the reason of approving for tenure was based on collegial concerns, of which murder is perhaps the most extreme opposite. (The tenure system is not the culprit either). Dr Bishop should be held responsible for her actions, but that will not exonerate any problems with internal validity (target moving) by her UAH peers.

22. optimysticynic - February 15, 2010 at 06:54 pm

nurse_phd: it is customary in the Chronicle and in the academy to refer to Mr. or Ms. If you look at the Chronicle articles, you'll never see "Dr."

23. carremi - February 15, 2010 at 08:06 pm

is it possible you could be so clueless...the fact that she did not get tunure was a catalyst to an event that was likely to happen anyway..if not tenure..then it would have been something else..DR./Ms/Mrs Bishop (does it matter how one addresses a psychokiller)is and has been mentally unstable for years...she shot her brother dead ~ 15 years ago..she should have been convicted and put away....BTW, who hired her anyway...do you people do background checks?

24. seekerone - February 15, 2010 at 08:42 pm

We currently have a problem on our campus that exhibits uncanny similarities to the Amy Bishop story. We have an assistant prof with obvious mental stability issues that has had police reports and formal complaints filed about her behavior on campus over the past several years. She too was recently denied T&P, goes off on disruptive and unrelated tangents during department meetings and has isolated herself from the other faculty. She has been admonished by the administration for her wildly out of control behavior and was compelled to complete anger management therapy, which did nothing but piss her off. She is currently on a [we believe forced] "medical" leave but will return for summer term. She is not getting the help she so desperately needs because she believes her problems are caused by those around her. We in the department are very concerned about her return, but return she will. It appears our administration cannot do anything more until after she actually picks up a weapon or harms someone. It is easy enough to identify unstable individuals, but removing them from the academy is quite another issue - if not an impossible task. If anyone has any bright ideas to share on what more could be done, we would love to hear them.

25. charybdis - February 15, 2010 at 08:46 pm

Perhaps the fact that minor children are listed as co-authors of a "peer-reviewed" article and poster presentation may have something to do with the denial of tenure:

Anderson, L. B., Anderson P. B., Anderson T. B., Bishop A., Anderson J., Effects of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors on motor neuron survival (2009) International Journal of General Medicine. In press

Anderson, L. B., Anderson P. B., Anderson T. B., Bishop A., Anderson J., Effects of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors on motor neuron survival. Society for Neuroscience 2008. Washington D.C.

26. johntoradze - February 15, 2010 at 09:46 pm

seekerone - Buy a bullet proof vest, and wear it with the titanium rifle plate in front.

Or, just buy a large titanium rifle plate and put it inside of a notebook. Attach a strong handle to one side so you can hold it as a shield. Bullets hitting a rifle plate are about like holding a plate while someone hits it with a sledgehammer.

http://www.secondchance.com/home.asp - I have two. I keep one in my car, hanging up, and another in my closet. I wear them when I'm concerned. I have a backpack that has a large titanium rifle plate stuck in it and I carry that or else the notebook all the time. It's a leftover habit from working in places where such things are useful. I'll warn you though, vests are very warm.

27. ideagirl - February 15, 2010 at 09:58 pm

Excuse me... "Her life had been shadowed by violence"?!?! I don't ever recall seeing a more inappropriate use of the passive voice. Her life was shadowed by violence because SHE SHOT HER BROTHER (and also fired two more rounds--from a shotgun, folks--that same night), and because she was the suspect in an attempted murder-by-mailbomb.

I mean, would you say "Jeffrey Dahmer's life has been shadowed by cannibalism"?! Come on!

28. ideagirl - February 15, 2010 at 10:01 pm

Seekerone, re the obviously troubled/unstable colleague--she's been denied T&P, so what is keeping her in her job? Why can't you be rid of her? If your normal policy is to keep people employed for the year following denial of T&P, and she hasn't finished out that year yet, have you checked with lawyers to see whether you could do something like pay her the salary she would normally earn for that remaining time, but as a severance payment? Or even just as normal salary, but without putting her in the classroom/on committees/etc.? As if she were on leave?

29. frenchfries - February 15, 2010 at 10:30 pm

Please stop trying to validate her publication record. It is terrible and unethical (children?! vanity journals?). It is patronizing to insinuate that UAH is so pathetic that this record deserves tenure.

30. seekerone - February 15, 2010 at 10:45 pm

Sorry about the confusion. She was going up for full prof. The union is involved and the admin is frightened of lawsuits and the bad press. We are unfortunately going to have to live with the situation as it is or die trying.

Thanks for the info johntoradze. That is very helpful. We will attempt to secure a discount for our bulk order. Every member of the department will want their own titanium rifle plate.

31. jeanrenoir - February 16, 2010 at 12:03 am

The rush by many to assume mental illness in this case is offensive. Clearly, all the Nazis at Nuremberg were "mentally ill" to a much greater extent than this murderer at UAH. Should they all have been merely given therapy? A case can be made that anyone who commits murder is mentally ill. An equal case could be made for all rapists. Murderers, rapists, and Nazis, for starters, are all examples of tragic dimensions of the human condition. But unless we truly want to do away with our justice system, and replace the whole thing with therapy, what's the point of mental illness "extenuating circumstances" for this quite vicious woman? Would you make the same defense of O.J. Simpson? It's the transparent special pleading that rightly causes many people concern when academics, and women, plead for empathy in situations involving people "like" them, when there are many obvious cases involving people not "like" them in which they are silent or hostile. God's justice, if it exists, may demand exquisitely nuanced responses to individual human "sin." But surely human fairness demands consistent standards.

32. milesrind - February 16, 2010 at 09:01 am

Actually, Jeanrenoir, you are the first person on this page to use the term "mental illness." Comment no. 1 speaks of "psychological problems," no. 7 (which shows considerable understanding of these matters) of "the paranoid position," no. 24 speaks of someone with "mental stability issues." None of these terms are equivalent to "mental illness." No. 19 says "unbalanced homicidal selfish lunatic," but I take "lunatic" there not to be a clinical term but just a colloquialism for a wildly irrational and out-of-control person.

I would guess that you have not yourself dealt with people with paranoid, narcissistic, or anti-social personality disorders and that you do not know much about such conditions. They are not forms of "mental illness" or of insanity. They are forms of profound moral emptiness. There is no known remedy for such conditions -- no talking cure, no drug treatment. People with personality disorders simply do not care about other human beings, and nothing can make them do so. Under the right conditions, they may behave themselves, and do no serious harm to others. Under the wrong conditions, they can do monstrous things. The Bishop case exhibits abundant signs of personality disorder.

I suggest that you read The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout.

33. optimysticynic - February 16, 2010 at 09:19 am

To ascribe "mental illness", whatever the other (social, moral, political, epistemological, etc.)implications may be, is to say precisely NOTHING about responsibility for the commission of a crime. That's why a diagnosis, even an Axis 1 diagnosis (i.e. "major mental illness"), does not ipso facto result in a verdict of not guilty in criminal trials. There is a difference in context: to discuss the explanation of how/why this happened (and the mental illness designation is more the "how" than the "why") is quite a different thing than to discuss justification for the behavior. We have three different contexts here: explanation (how the process of her thinking resulted in behavior), motive (why she had the impulse to do something) and justification (level of responsibility.) Many of these posts confuse these three contexts.

34. rjg33 - February 16, 2010 at 12:03 pm

@nurse_phd: that cretin murdered three people @ UAH, shot and killed her brother 20+ yrs ago, is suspected in sending pipe-bombs to a professor she had a disagreement with, and you are concerned that she is not being shown the proper honorifc "respect?!"

I'd say she's earned a trip to visit the Needle of Peace more than being referred to as "Dr."

35. bardprof - February 16, 2010 at 01:02 pm

Thanks seekerone and Optimysticynic for pointing out the difficulty of getting people help. We shouldn't assume that no one did anything because it is incredibly difficult to get help for someone who is resistant to it. Moreover, all of these things are rightfully confidential so there is no way of knowing what colleagues or friends attempted to do. Laws vary by region, but I lived in one area in which you could not get someone evaluated unless they did/said something that indicated they were a danger to themselves (not necessarily to others) in the presence of medical or police personnel. Rambling at meetings, throwing things, speaking in tongues, roaming the streets in the dead of night-- none of that counts unless the person realizes there is a problem and wants to get help. I've had experiences in academia in which people exhibited increasingly disturbing behavoirs and it turned out they had stopped taking their medications. You can ask them if everything is OK or try to give them a sense of how their behavoir is perceived, but since we don't live in a society where people are automatically locked up for being strange, getting help is not as simple as calling in the authorities, as some commenters on this and other sites seem to believe.

36. nancygsaul - February 16, 2010 at 01:59 pm


37. kloos - February 16, 2010 at 04:57 pm

Here Holland
Professor Bishop IS STILL a bright...., instead of 'was' (as it's been written here)
It is quite sad that such a brilliant talent was, in some way, forced to achieve something she never wanted so because, in my opinion, she was misunderstood by others, in fact she was too bright, too talented, too big for the place in which she was operating. Any brain who is so talented can
lead to problems with others, ending in total frustration, I believe. Then it is envy, or jealousy and hate and a lot more that lead to the most complex social problems within the whole enviroment in communicating with each other. Finance at the University could have played a rol also and, it would't be surprising that very inside its walls it became to grow a nest of scorpions and dangerous snakes, to make or destroy a talented. And you go mad. So mad that you become irrational. We have only heard one side of the story. Nevertheless I hope she gets a fair trial.

38. rpt76mlnj - February 16, 2010 at 07:59 pm

Kloos #37. Are you stating that a "Finance" Office or someone who works in the "Finance" is also responible for the deaths of 3 innocent people and the serious injury of 3 others? A person could have all the talent imaginable, but if they are evil, their talent has no value or purpose. Becuase whatever the value of their talent is percieved to be, it is in no way more valuable than a human life. There are no excuses for her actions and making excuses for her actions is absurd.

39. seekerone - February 16, 2010 at 08:04 pm

Wow, kloos... you are a little scary. No one is so brilliant as to justify what she did. You should know that. I urge you to seek professional help and to do it soon. No big judgements - we don't even know one another. But if you really believe the above, you should be able to sit down and talk to a counselor about it. Print out what you just wrote, take it to your first appointment and begin your conversation there. You may be pleasantly surprised how well things can turn out.

40. wenttouah - February 16, 2010 at 09:48 pm

So, kloos, how long have you known her? Or, are you thinking you are too brilliant for the tiny little world you are operating in? Perhaps not being recognized for your own magnficient intelligence? The people around you not bright enough to shine your shoes, but control your destiny?

Like someone above said, print out your comment and take it to a competent mental health professional. Don't expect to be teaching the rest of the semester, though. Given the context of your comment, they would be well within their rights to keep you.

41. kloos - February 17, 2010 at 10:48 am



42. isidor - February 17, 2010 at 11:08 am

After having read Dr. Bishop's story and your comments, I would like to suggest that we all go back to an article written in the Chronicle a few years ago about mobbing in the academia. Dr. Bishop seems to have been the victim of such a group. Those of you, dear colleagues, who have never been in such an environment cannot even start to imagine what those colleagues who have power over you can do to a person's state of mind. Professor Westhue's studies in mobbing are very helpful in this respect. For five years, I was tortured almost daily in different ways by such a mob and, in the end, denied tenure. This was good for me, although I was left without a job, because one more year in that environment would have killed me. After I left, another professor, a brilliant mathematician who worked for NASA, and who had been tortured by his colleagues for years, died of a heart attack at a very young age. Prof. Westhue talks about how many people caught in situations like this one commit suicide - those cases usually don't get the media's attention. There is a group - Bullied Academics - where you can find out more about the different ways that non-tenured or even tenured professors can be tortured by sadistic and envious colleagues. These people can destroy all the things you have worked for your whole life, your health and the peace in your family. Tin Field's book, "Bully in Sight", is also very helpful for those who are still caught in a toxic department.
I am very sorry for Dr. Bishop and for the people who died. The tenure process is indeed destructive, because it places a newcomer at the mercy of a mob (I do believe that there are healthy departments out there, too). At UCLA, where I got my degree, retention was based on students' evaluation, not on how much your colleagues liked you, so that there was no possibility of abuse of power and subjective "collegiality" criteria. At my next university, where I was denied tenure, my unbalanced colleagues tried on me the "crazy-making" technique, but because I had some experience in the outside world, I went to a forensic psychiatrist for an evaluation: he declared me fit, describing other nice qualities I did not even know I possessed. I sent a copy of the report to the president of the university. It stopped the gossip my colleagues were spreading about my "crazy" behavior, but not the harassment. My students were very supportive, which made a difference, as one of techniques used by the mob is isolation, like in a concentrationary environment. As a professor and, especially, as a researcher, one can become very isolated and this is not healthy at all. In many ways, Professor Zimbardo's experiment at Stanford mirrors what can happen in an academic environment, at a different level, where physical torture and humiliation is replaced with more subtle mental techniques, because we are smart...aren't we?
Due to my training in addiction, I came to the conclusion that many of my colleagues who exhibited that cruel behavior towards me and others were addicted to mind-altering substances. Knowledge is power. So, once I understood, I decided to take care of myself. I used the 12 step support groups, prayed, and told myself that there is life outside of the academia, and I will enjoy it! I was not able to talk about this traumatic experience for about two years after I was out of there, even if I went on to a Fulbright overseas assignment.
Dr. Bishop's, her family's and colleagues' tragedy should make people aware that things in the academia have to change, and I see three main things that can be done:
1. tenure to be awarded based on students' evaluations and a reasonable amount of research and publications, depending on the field;
2. random drug and alcohol screening of professors;
3. more pressure on tenured professors to keep publishing (this will keep them busy, so that they cannot use their free time to harass others).
I wrote all these details hoping that:
- somebody will hold accountable the people who drove Dr. Bishop to such an extreme act, to harm other people, her family, and herself, too, because nobody who kills can have peace of mind for the rest of his/her life; she already had a traumatic event in her past; it seems to me very cruel that some of your comments seem to imply that she was a killer, instead of thinking of the possibility that it was indeed a traumatic accident, and that the stressful department environment might have reopened an old wound;
- somebody will become aware of similar situations in other universities, and stop the mobbing behavior;
- healthy faculty would insist in instituting a random screening of drug and alcohol abuse for all faculty and administration, and provide means of addiction treatment, instead of pretending that these problems do not exist, and focusing on banning smoking - the least harmful substance - on campus; many companies do alcohol and drug screening, so, why not universities? We are sending our children there. Should they not be safe places, free of mind-altering substances?
I still don't like to talk about this subject, but I hope that somebody might be able to use my experience. If you are in this kind of situation, get out of there! The changes I recommend might happen or not, but your health and sanity cannot wait. Life is beautiful outside of the walls of the academia, when the academia becomes a prison!
And one more thing: the university is going to benefit financially from her invention replacing the Petri dish and she is denied tenure; wouldn't you be absolutely mad to be used in this shameful way? Don't get me wrong. I feel sorry for all the victims, and for everybody affected by this tragedy, but the universities are not about higher education anymore. They have forgotten their mission - dealing with human beings. They are greedy corporations...most of them.

43. annnguyen - February 17, 2010 at 11:46 am

After reading all the articles related to this case, I have a nagging question: what was Amy Bishop doing that day in 1986 after the argument with her dad? She went to her room and played with a gun he had recently bought! Normally sane people don't decide to learn about "unloading a gun" (according to her mom) AFTER an argument. Doesn't this act show an unconscious desire to commmit violence? If so, what does that say about her rationality and impulse control?

44. broadway_dave - February 17, 2010 at 02:59 pm

I would like to thank optimisticynic, milesrand, and isidor for their informative and thoughtful comments above - my morbid curiosity has reaped a more wholesome reward than it could have expected.

45. drhypersonic - February 17, 2010 at 03:54 pm

Reading some of the pathetic attempts to defend the indefensible and explain the inexplicable(yes, this especially means you, isidor), I can only conclude that Rush Limbaugh was absolutely correct when he said today that a university was the only place that would ever have hired a murderous nut-case like Dr. Amy Bishop.

46. justme2010 - February 17, 2010 at 04:49 pm

She didn't get tenure.Boo Hoo. Some faculty are mean (mobbing) More Boo Hoo. This behavior occurs everywhere, not just academia. Please spare us the excuses for a nutjob; she is a psychopath who did what psychopaths do. No more. no less.Looking for someone or some process to blame is ridiculous, and evades the fact that some people are just nuts, others are nuts and evil.

47. kloos - February 17, 2010 at 05:25 pm

GREAT POSTING. I had said it here before, inside the academia (professors & co) is there always a nest of venemous deadly SCORPIONS and venemous deadly SNAKES...if you re-read the 'story' of that
'heroic' professor who 'saved' the lives of the rest and believe it, you are idiots! only to believe they were only in een 'boring' meeting before the shutting begon the you believe also in Santa Claus!

48. kloos - February 17, 2010 at 05:27 pm


Read first ISIDOR posting....before you drop a comment

49. ms_annie - February 17, 2010 at 05:44 pm

@ isidor and Here Holland,

Thank you for bringing some insight and compassion to this rather sad collection of comments. I am already DISGUSTED at the witch-burning direction the press has taken and am SICKENED by hearing even my feminist colleagues yap the mass media "she's a wacko!" premise, based on ratemyprof.com comments and incidents in the past FOR WHICH DR. BISHOP HAD BEEN CLEARED.

Yes, look up "Ken Westhues mobbing" and you'll get a taste of the viciousness of the many pathetically empty souls in academia.

We should all demand a fair trial and FAIR PRESS for Dr. Bishop.
I, and no civilized person, wants to see her on death row.

50. willismg - February 18, 2010 at 10:59 am

I believe that I am civilized. I also believe that certain acts of depravity, such as happened at UAH, demand the ultimate penalty. I do not make a judgment as to whether the perpetrator was Dr. Bishop, or what their motivations were. However, anyone who considers it acceptable to open fire on a room of captive targets who they knew to be other humans (i.e.not hallucinating) should probably be put down for the safety of the society.

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