• September 3, 2015

In Huntsville, a Dull Afternoon Meeting Turns Deadly

Accused killer sat in meeting for nearly an hour before shooting began

'God Bless UAH'

Butch Dill, AP Images

Lauren Breeden writes a note on a sidewalk at the U. of Alabama at Huntsville, where three professors were killed at a faculty meeting on Friday. Amy Bishop, a Harvard-educated biology professor who felt she had unfairly been denied tenure, was taken into custody shortly after the shooting.

For nearly an hour, it was a normal faculty meeting. The professors discussed what professors always discuss: who was going to teach what and how they were going to handle an increase in undergraduate enrollment. There was no mention of tenure. No angry words were exchanged. It was, as one professor in the room put it, boring. Then, he said, Amy Bishop opened fire.

Ms. Bishop, a professor of biology at the University of Alabama at Huntsville, is accused of killing or wounding half of the dozen people in the room. Three professors died, another professor and staff member were critically injured, and another was treated and released.

Robert O. Lawton was one of the professors in that faculty meeting. He was also the chairman of the departmental committee that recommended against Ms. Bishop's tenure bid. According to those who know Ms. Bishop, she had been upset about her tenure denial and had hired a lawyer to challenge the university's decision. But what specifically prompted Ms. Bishop to bring a gun to the meeting that day and kill three of her colleagues remains unclear.

Throughout part of the meeting, Mr. Lawton was working on a manuscript, half-listening to the proceedings. He was eager for it to end because he had to meet with a technical-support person. According to Mr. Lawton, there were no warning signs of what was to come. "There was none. Zip," he said.

A Call to Her Husband

After the killings, Ms. Bishop left the room on the third floor of the Shelby Center for Science and Technology and called her husband, James Anderson, to come and pick her up. In an interview with The Chronicle, Mr. Anderson said he had dropped his wife off at the meeting at around 3 p.m. He didn't know she had a gun with her. He wasn't even aware that she had a gun at all, he said.

The couple, who met as undergraduates at Northeastern University more than two decades before, were planning to go out for coffee after the faculty meeting. It was to be a date, a chance to spend time together away from their four children. But before he could pick her up, she was apprehended by campus police officers, less than 15 minutes after the shootings.

Mr. Anderson talked to The Chronicle outside his home Sunday morning as he and his four children prepared to leave for church. He said his wife believed that her tenure denial had been caused, at least in part, by a miscommunication over whether two papers had been published in time to count toward her tenure bid. While some colleagues have said that she didn't get along well with other professors, Mr. Anderson called her "very personable." There had been no threats or hints of violence, he said.

The dean of the chemistry department, William N. Setzer, described Ms. Bishop as smart but weird. As for why she had been turned down for tenure, Mr. Setzer said he had heard that her publication record was thin and that she hadn't secured enough grants. Also, there were 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.

Mr. Lawton said he'd known stranger scientists. "She's very bright and perfectly willing to wander off on a tangent," he said. "She's extraordinarily extroverted. If it came in her mind, she said it." She could be tone-deaf, he said, and had been involved in an effort by the Faculty Senate to censure the president over a decision to require freshmen and sophomores to live in dormitories­—not, perhaps, the safest move for an untenured professor.

Perhaps, Mr. Lawton said, Ms. Bishop hadn't always received the best advice from others in the department. Because each of the professors had very different specialties­—Mr. Lawton studies trees, Ms. Bishop is a neuroscientist­—developing a mentor relationship was difficult. All of the faculty members, to some degree, worked on their own projects. "I work on trees. What kind of advice could I offer her for making grant proposals to the NIH?" he said.

In an interview at his home, Mr. Lawton was reluctant to blame what happened on the tenure process or departmental politics. The professor, who wears round-framed glasses and has a gray, bushy beard, said a tenure denial is a failure for everyone involved. "It means you screwed up a hire and you screwed up a mentoring," said Mr. Lawton, who has been at the university since 1980.

Mr. Lawton declined to give details about why Ms. Bishop was denied tenure, or exactly what happened once the shooting began.

A Brave Attempt

David B. Williams, president of the university, credited a person in the room for attempting to stop the shooting and saving others "from further harm." He declined to name the person. On Sunday, Mr. Williams was at the hospital visiting the families of Joseph Leahy, an associate professor in the department, and Stephanie Monticciolo, a staff member, both of whom were critically wounded in the attack.

Nick Lawton, the son of Professor Lawton, took a class in anatomy and physiology that Ms. Bishop taught last semester. The professor's son said Ms. Bishop didn't talk about her personal situation, but "spoke about the general difficulties of women in science on more than one occasion." He called her a competent lecturer who was willing to help students who needed it. But her teaching was "not inspired," he said.

Ms. Bishop's husband, however, said she was a "loved teacher." Since the shootings, Mr. Anderson has been searching for "the trigger"—that is, what might have caused his wife to open fire on her colleagues. He wondered if perhaps an e-mail message might have upset her. Often, according to Mr. Anderson, higher-ups at the university sent "nastygrams" on Fridays. He wondered whether she had received such a message, perhaps one affirming that university officials were standing behind her denial of tenure. But so far he hasn't found anything.

Mr. Anderson said that he wanted to look through Ms. Bishop's "two-inch thick" tenure file, but that it had been confiscated. He said that his wife had hired a lawyer to help her regarding her tenure denial and that the lawyer had been making progress.

As for Ms. Bishop's state of mind following her tenure denial last year, her husband said she "didn't want to go the way of" another university scientist who had lost tenure and was now driving a shuttle bus in Huntsville. But there were reasons to be hopeful: Mr. Anderson said his wife was looking to the future and had already mentioned two leads on possible jobs. She had said she was going to check on one of the leads when she got home from the faculty meeting.

Mr. Anderson spoke to The Chronicle in the doorway of his green, wood-sided house, about 20 minutes from the campus, as a light snow fell in Huntsville. He had talked to his wife by phone earlier Sunday morning.

"I know you guys are obviously in shock," she told him, but she didn't go into detail because, she said, her call was being monitored. She wanted to know whether their children were OK and whether they'd done their homework.


1. sibusiso - February 15, 2010 at 06:58 am

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2. performance_expert - February 15, 2010 at 07:41 am

sibusio, If you want to talk about Harvard trained lunatics, don't forget FoxNew's Bill O'Reilly.

Anyway, poetically, and from great distance, didn't someone say the Republic must be renewed with the blood of patriots?

This comment will be likely as well received as when Stockhausen immediately commented that 9/11 was a work of art. And it was. In all of it's high tech demolition majesty, 9/11 was fully and magestically achieved by the perpetrators.

US academy is a nasty place to work. The expectations to be a proto-Barbie and Ken superperformer can not lead to good productivity. Low pay, low job security, and it you lose out then what? Move and relocate like a beggar tramp? And this is the reward for maximum service to the tuition paying students, a nest of birds with open mouths, an infinite need for mentoring and teaching, since the very same country offers their youth so little foundation to begin with? So the non-professors works and serves and serves and works and is turned into beggard tramp, sometimes be unethical dept. heads doing projects on the side, like making people buy their lame books instead of the best work in the field, which is also often another profiteering lame-scape?

A part of me says "You deserve everything you get and worse" but a stronger part of me just declares you to be cowards riding the USA downhill into the unpleasant miasma of ugly "competitive" mediocrity.

Let us not forget, Dick Cheney shot a man in the face and then the man apologized. When academics start standing up for themselves (without guns), maybe there will be a hope. And somewhere will be the thought that this lady did something fueling a few trodden souls standing at a counter trying to make an appointment with some very important person who is otherwise ignoring them, and while they do so they have to listen to the appointed intern make disparaging comments regarding their effort.

May the current victim souls rest in peace and may God bless their families.

For the politically correct among you, it will behoove you to look up the part about the renewal of the Republic, at least to be philosophically informed.


3. torquemada - February 15, 2010 at 07:48 am

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4. performance_expert - February 15, 2010 at 07:52 am

Summary: the best comment I have read so far had to do with a university workplace lacking bosses who make the decisions and instead the workers themselves are made to be for/against each other. Redux/ US education is prone with crummy unfocused unclear and often politically based management, which is why it is an untoward destination for an informed worker. Thank you to the "Chronicle" for at least providing some information on the subject of worker conditions because without this the worker is left in isolation. Many US education jobs operate like a trap. They pull people in, use them and route them around, and then discard.

5. richadm - February 15, 2010 at 08:03 am

sibusiso, we don't know that the attack was racist. One of the injured is a white female. Perhaps her aim was deadliest with the three professors, nothing more.

6. malcolmx - February 15, 2010 at 08:20 am

Academia is corrupt to the core. President, VP, Deans, and especially lawyers will conspire, cheat, and lie to get rid of people. I know! I just came out of five years of litigation with a university and gained access to privileged documents and viewed first hand how they typically do business. Huntsville is not a major research institution, so there is no reason why they jacked this lady around. So she was an odd ball. There are plenty of odd balls in academia. I think what she did was terrible, targeting and gunning down her fellow professors, killing two African Americans and an Indian. She snapped under pressure. Given the corrupt nature of higher education, we are lucky that we do not have more Bishops. During faculty meeetings on my own campus I will start wearing a bullet proof vest. I just ordered one!

7. nuffsed - February 15, 2010 at 08:34 am

Two of the injured were white. If you took a few seconds to look a little deeper you would see that the reason minorities were targeted is that her department had a high ratio of minority faculty. Those just happened to be the people in the room when she snapped.

More disturbing is that she murdered her own brother in 1986 and got off Scot free. And in 1993 was accused of sending pipe bombs to a professor at Harvard Medical School.

8. martisco - February 15, 2010 at 08:40 am

I cannot seriously believe people are insinuating that the crappy way university tenure is run, is an excuse for someone to shoot 6 people at a meeting (including a professor's assistant who probably had absolutely nothing to do with tenure decisions). This woman is a sociopath and a murderer.

9. willismg - February 15, 2010 at 08:50 am

In the face of a tragedy like this, what I see is a great deal of posters making wild accusations of racism, sexism, and institutional dysfunction. There seems no end to the excuses for this horrific and vicious act. I often tell my students tongue-in-cheek that psychologists are merely professional excuse makers, and lawyers are professional excuse enforcers. When I read some of the things posted in the wake of this, I'm led to believe that perhaps Dr. Bishop isn't the only lunatic currently running around the academy.

10. sbaron33 - February 15, 2010 at 08:52 am

All tenure cases are fraught with potential outfall whether it's a positive decision or a negative one, and it matters little if the institution is a "major research" school or not. It is indeed unpleasant and distasteful to have to inform a faculty member that her/his tenure has been denied and the reasons for the outcome. One knows that any tenure candidate, even oneself, might hear the words that only one terminal year remains so an empathetic approach is always advised. Certainly there are many facets of tenure considerations that go into the typical three areas of evaluation, teaching, service, and research, and that's always where things are nebulous and subjective. The most frequent, "What kind of colleague is Professor X?" instigates a committee or department to delve into a candidate's dossier with eyes toward finding evidence

11. 11200222 - February 15, 2010 at 08:56 am

It is true that academia sucks, but so does every other field, and that has nothing to do with this situation. The reality is that the woman is a psychopath,nothing more--not some sort of culture hero. She is a murderer who will plead not guilty by reason of insanity, and probably end up spending 20 years in a mental hospital, at the state's expense.

12. acm1947 - February 15, 2010 at 09:00 am

If you were to look at biology/chemistry faculty around the country you would find many minorities. So it is not strange that those shot were minorities. Harvard is a lot of things but a hot bed for racist, probably isn't anywhere near the top. Many of us in the academy are wired a little tight. You spend years under the pressure to perform (in the lab,in scholarship and in the classroom), some are just wrought too tight and like a rubberband, you can snap. This is true of many professions but the academy does allow those who are haunted by the pressure, points along the way to have problems.

13. performance_expert - February 15, 2010 at 09:04 am

Overview Question: In the USA, why does working in education have to suck? In europe, they now say the USA is country of peasants who worship their oppressors.

14. 11200222 - February 15, 2010 at 09:09 am

It's only the tea-bagger crowd who worship their oppressors--they're too dumb to understand the situation.

15. saswriter - February 15, 2010 at 09:35 am

Amy Bishop chose to shoot six people and managed to kill three. It wouldn't have mattered whether she did it in the ivory tower or at the local McDonald's.

I don't feel sorry for her.

As an adjunct teacher for area colleges/universities, I've been treated unfairly myself at times--quite recently, in fact. It's the same song, different verse, for thousands of adjuncts across the nation, I'm sure, so I won't bore everyone with my verse.

But I think it's say to say that 99 percent of us have never even thought of hurting someone else because we didn't get classes (and pay) for a semester, or because deans have believed discontented students before they've believed us. Most of us, thank goodness, can manage our disappointment, hurt and anger, and move on. Such is life.

No, I don't feel sorry for Amy Bishop.

16. willismg - February 15, 2010 at 09:53 am

Please, my more liberal friends, before using the "tea-bagger" epithet, perhaps you should ask some of the more cosmopolitan student-athletes (if you indeed know any) what it actually means in the general population. I don't think you'd be quite so quick to jump on that bandwagon. You might even be taken somewhat aback to ponder it's introduction into the discussion by the distinguished staff of our President.

17. tac3017874742 - February 15, 2010 at 09:56 am

I served at a number of higher education institutions over 30 years and I found oddballs in every one of them. Not everyone is on the same page in these places and most of my colleagues were sporting scars from scuffles with others within these institutions. The bitterness found in some folks as a result of these scuffles is everywhere and I'm not surprised that this woman surfaced and appears to have snapped. She needs to be removed from anywhere she could do more harm. What is to be done regarding the other nuts in the institutions?

18. nuffsed - February 15, 2010 at 09:59 am


"It's only the tea-bagger crowd who worship their oppressors--they're too dumb to understand the situation."

That is so inane, insulting, and uninformed that it is not really worthy of a response.

19. academic_president - February 15, 2010 at 10:00 am

A proud bunch of academics some of you folks must be. Good people have been killed and all you can comment about is racism, Bill O'Reilly, tea parties and such. As academic leaders, you should re-evaluate your role and stop being an embarassment to the profession. This nutcase professor killed and wounded innocents and that is a personal and organizational tragedy - not a springboard for all of your misguided political rants.

20. saswriter - February 15, 2010 at 10:32 am

I agree. What about the people killed and injured? What about their loved ones, their families? What about their students?

21. speterfreund - February 15, 2010 at 10:34 am

Let me begin by stating that my purpose in writing is not to blame the victims of this senseless and tragic shooting. But if the meeting was called in part to determine teaching assignments for a future term, and someone on a terminal contract--i.e., someone who had no future in the department--walked into the meeting, why wasn't this seeming anomaly noted, and why didn't someone in a position of responsibility question Professor Bishop's reasons for attending the meeting and ask her to leave?

Two possible answers come to mind. The first is that she was at the meeting to help determine who should replace her in the courses that normally had been part of her load--not an easy task if, as Professor Lawton indicates, the department is rather disparate in its academic specialties. The second is that the department intended to keep Professor Bishop on as a contingent faculty member, and she was in attendance to bid on, or plead for, her assignments for the coming year. In either case, her attendance at the meeting was completely inappropriate, and focusing on that matter in the moment may have served to reduce the carnage that ensued.

22. raghuvansh1 - February 15, 2010 at 10:44 am

If that lady had no weapon how can she expressed her anger?From ancient time man are killing each other but their weapons were rudimental they killed few people. As mankind inventing new and new dangerous weapon killing is easy and horrible.Mankind inventing ultra effective weapons for safety but is living in more unsafe circumstance.
Leonard da Vinci realized that development of his military engineering skills once a source of pride and ambition was a grotesque error.While he continued to fill his notebooks with diagrams drawing and speculation.He wrote"I will not publish, not divulge such things because of evil nature of man.
Can today`scientists learn and lesson from da Vinci?

23. gobama - February 15, 2010 at 10:58 am

I've heard a lot of talk about what she did wrong and she did plenty, and she will have to pay for what she did, as she should. However, perhaps the institutions should look at themselves and see what they could've done to prevent what occurred. Tenure or no tenure probably wasn't the only issue. Bullying in the workplace has become a real problem whether it is in academia or the corporate world, http://www.lni.wa.gov/Safety/Research/Files/Bullying.pdf. With the economy the way it is today, universities are cutting their workforce, and morale as a result, is low. I'm sure there is more to this story other than her being just a psycho and so forth. The Columbine shootings were a result of kids bullying each other. Who says adults are doing the same? Again, she shouldn't have done what she did, but this might provide some sort of understanding as to what might have led her to this point. It's sad, no matter what caused her to behave that way.

24. bfrank1 - February 15, 2010 at 11:10 am

And what of Amy Bishop's children, and the families of the slain? Truly we are a cruel and incompetent species, ever more crowded together, ever more capable of deadly harm, and no wiser now than we were thousands of years ago, despite all we 'know' and all our 'communication' technologies. A sad day and another in a long series of unheeded warnings.

25. ccfinlay - February 15, 2010 at 11:17 am

To sibusiso and others: a firsthand account of the shooting by someone in the room makes it clear that the shooter was methodical, starting with those nearest to her and moving down the conference table seat by seat. It's hard to equate that account with charges of racism.

See: http://collegelife.freedomblogging.com/2010/02/15/former-uci-student-escapes-mass-killing/16281/

26. amnirov - February 15, 2010 at 11:22 am

Wow. Some of these comments are kind of getting insane.

27. livefreeordie2 - February 15, 2010 at 11:30 am

I completely agree with #19. A lot of you people are sick pups and if you really believe the crap you've written, then it's surprising that there aren't more murders committed by lunatic faculty members. I'd like to know if the folks who are trying to fix at least partial blame on the University are also folks who believe that 9/11 was principally the fault of the US government (ala Ward Churchill). Yeah... I'd put money on that one...

28. dogvomit - February 15, 2010 at 11:48 am

This article is a perfect example of a lot of university personnel discussing matters publically which should not be discussed. By discussing her demeanor, attitude, or personality in general..in either a good or bad way, you portray a level of professionalism that should be reviewed!

29. torquemada - February 15, 2010 at 12:19 pm

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30. lmbowman - February 15, 2010 at 12:24 pm

About the possible racial motivations for the crime: There were only 5 non-Caucasian members of the UAH Biology regular faculty. She shot four of the five of them, and killed three. She shot only one of the 9 Caucasian department members. Both these figures seem statistically significant to me.

Perhaps she was firing entirely randomly. Maybe she was shooting at the five faculty members nearest the door. But it seems to me that there was some selection process going on. She killed the non-white chair of the department who had supported her bid for tenure, but left unharmed the white chair of the committee that recommended against her tenure.

31. lenoreb - February 15, 2010 at 12:24 pm

These comments!! I thought I had somehow logged onto a sports website by accident.

So depressing...

32. phoenix2b - February 15, 2010 at 12:39 pm

Wow, torquemada... I didn't know they allow high school dropouts on this website. Your views are beyond elementary.

33. gloriabautista - February 15, 2010 at 12:46 pm

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34. unclejim - February 15, 2010 at 12:56 pm

amnirov's comment about the "insanity" of some of these comments reminds me that I allowed my Mensa membership to lapse after a year, after reading a series of blatantly heterosexist (and more to the point, blatantly illogical) letters to the editor in the Mensa mag. Which left me with the sober realization that high intelligence does not automaticlly entail the ability to use it.

And tac3017874742 asks "What is to be done regarding the other nuts in the institutions?" What *can* be done in a democratic society which, at least theoretically, values freedom of expression--and moreover, in an institutional context which, at least theoretically, places an especially high premium on that value? Are we to add "absence of nuttiness" to the list of standard criteria--research, teaching, and institutional service--for tenure decisions?

I don't mean to imply that the problem of dealing with the small minority of *genuinely* disturbed academics is a completely intractable one; but it *is* an extremely ticklish one, demanding a *lot* of very careful thought underlying very cautious action; and unfortunately it seems to me to be rife with potential for ill-considered knee-jerk reactions (even from state legislators, never mind university administrators) that could well result in "cures" vastly worse than the disease.

35. octoprof - February 15, 2010 at 01:00 pm

The comments by some above about UAH show a lack of any knowledge of the institution at all. UAH is a research university (RU/H on the Carnegie Classification) and is especially strong in science and engineering. Even a cursory check of wikipedia would be nice before posting such inaccurate conclusions.

36. saswriter - February 15, 2010 at 01:26 pm

I'd like to clarify. I do have compassion for those with mental illness, and I, too, wonder "What of her husband and children?"

No matter the context, this is a tragedy.

37. ann3579 - February 15, 2010 at 01:29 pm

so sad

38. jimogden - February 15, 2010 at 01:34 pm

"But what specifically prompted Ms. Bishop to bring a gun to the meeting that day and kill three of her colleagues remains unclear."

In retrospect, considering that she shot her brother and may have sent a pipe bomb to someone who was critical of her, it looks like she may have had a long history of mental illness.

39. johntoradze - February 15, 2010 at 01:44 pm

Amy is a sociopath who believed herself superior to those inferior people she killed who dared to judge her. Murder is easy. And, oddly, murder is not that hard to get away with. It happens all the time. I have had to spend time with such people.

Rot in hell Amy. You are an evil, vicious, uncaring, self-centered little brat who was never made to grow up. You are a sociopath without a conscience, whose only concern is yourself.

For those who are not aware, sociopaths cannot be helped by therapy. A sociopath has one goal in therapy, to cozen their therapist, to increase their skill at pretending. For a sociopath, it is a reward to successfully put something over on the world, because to them it means they are smarter.

40. justlooking - February 15, 2010 at 02:04 pm

I'm tenured, what does that mean? Means I sucked up beautifully for years - like people around the world are forced to do, daily, in countless workplace environments - and achieved an appointment fof life. What does it also mean, that most of the people around me - tenured that is - are lousy teachers who regard themselves, hilariosly, as accomplished researchers (who can't publish nowadays?), and having contributed in some sense to the university where they are lucky to have a job. Tenure is an excuse for creating a class of parasites. Am I glad I got it? You bet, the joke is on the taxpayers, no?
My spouse has a job where every month she's goes through a performance evaluation, and where, every month, people with years of experience (whose families often depend on them) are let go. And let go with, at most a month's pay - often less.
Perhaps its time academics joined the real world - but then again, what fun would that be?

41. speterfreund - February 15, 2010 at 02:19 pm


Perhaps it is you who should check the facts. While UAH may enjoy an RU/H classification, the Department of Biological Sciences is a comparatively weak unit, awarding only a master's degree.

42. lbriggs271 - February 15, 2010 at 02:45 pm

I am saddened by this whole situation and by people's responses to it.

We get so caught up in our insanely busy schedules that we forget to see how our colleagues are coping. We spend more time with each other than we do with our families.

I hit bottom with depression a few years ago- until it has happened to you, it's difficult to understand. I will always be grateful to colleagues who noticed and shared their experiences with me. I make a point now to gently ask my colleagues how they are doing. You would be surprised at how many people need help.

43. jsch0602 - February 15, 2010 at 03:00 pm

In europe, they now say the USA is country of peasants who worship their oppressors.
In Europe they eat snails.

44. obviousman - February 15, 2010 at 03:15 pm

Race, race, race. Race-obsessed race-baiters are the primary remaining face of racism in America.

Earlier, Bishop murdered her own brother with a shotgun. Will you try to make a race-based crime out of that, too?

How about discussing the elephants in the room here? Like a "victim disarmament" policy that ensured that the loony at the conference was the only one allowed to be armed? Or the "political aristocracy" problem that allowed a "blame the gun" politician in a "blame the gun" state to put an unbalanced murderer back out on the street with no prosecution whatsoever because she had political connections?

(And a translation for the racially obsessed in the audience: "Do the name 'Laurie Dann' strike a familiar note, Andy?")

45. patria - February 15, 2010 at 03:33 pm

Is there a moderator here? Some of these comments are particularly ugly in relation to this topic. Why are the racist and sexist comments allowed to be posted??

46. mainiac - February 15, 2010 at 03:53 pm

This has become a faculty shootout at the academic corral.....lighten up.

47. performance_expert - February 15, 2010 at 03:55 pm

The story develops. She was stuck in one of those 3rd - 4th tiered schools / departments that only offers a Master's degree. From my limited experience, this is one of the most terrible environments for anyone with any hope of being intellectually "real." Yes, it is a trap. Seriously, this is the worst situation for a serious thinker. Initially, such a dept. seems laid back, wanting good talent. But then, it is a non-resonant location for anything current or intellectually dense. Most Master's degree students want to advance in career, therefore intellectual development is not their priority. To put a perspective on this, maybe there should be BA/BS for "real" students, and then "phd/etc." programs for real students. The master's degree stepping stone as a terminal degree from a dept. is a catastrophe. Without knowing these things, I earned a master's degrees from one of these type schools / dept. At the time it seemed overly easy with a lot of "playing house" and even dept disorganization. Before you could graduate, someone had to champion your cause and put you jumble of stuff together. -talk about corrupt!!! those who did this considered themselves valiant for how many students they had cared for and "gotten through" the program. But the bottom line is the scholarship used for the program was / is trendy and weak.

So then I went to a "real" university for a phd and about got my butt kicked because I had grown used to the weak scholarship at the master's degree (terminal) program. Then, and this is where it gets interesting, I took my newfound phd knowledge to the same master's program to do some teaching. I found them to be out of touch of any contemporary knowledge and quite hostile to the same. I found when students complained, the dept. used that against me. I found the students had been conditioned to expect weak source material to the point that they practically demanded it and went into shock if the core material was any more confronting or demanding than, say... FoxNews!! (They all love FoxNews.) But mainly, the place was/is hostile to current scholarship.

THEREFORE, this was the perfect storm for this Bishop lady who had studied at Harvard. I have no doubt that her dept., as hinted at, is spread out and weak and must cater to the master's degree student crowd. Therefore being valued as faculty may also include who can be the biggest operator con-artist in the nanny-state. Who can picked the artful weak textbooks or maybe a few of their own tailored for the marketing?

Add to this the lady was/is a psycho-killer. It was not a good fit. But for anyone with some real schooling, it would open you eyes a lot to see how these 3rd-4th tier programs operate. They operate on politics (upward coordinate) and manipulating students (downward coordinate) and both of these parties seem happy with the arrangement until later some of the students find out they have been played.

3rd-4th tier school theme: "Mater's Degrees for Unmasterable Subjects"


48. performance_expert - February 15, 2010 at 04:00 pm

Correction: Those in dept. who valiantly credited themselves with stepping in to put students programs together so that the students can finish the program and graduate are the very same persons who perpetuate a level of disorganization that then requires their added worth as a remedy. Heinous and debauched rot and the, ultimately, politician / managers either can not see it or play along with these fierce carnival artists.

49. justlooking - February 15, 2010 at 04:50 pm

to performance_expert - printable post, for which I thank you. You should not be let anywhere near a teaching environment (which should - in an ideal world - require someone who wishes to teach young people unfamiliar with said subject. If they're indifferent, then inspire them. Come in with organized, passionately delived lectures, provide relevant readings, listen to them, offer meaningful tests/paper assignments, etc., and surprise, some of them will come out of the class with a grounding, perhaps as yet superficial, in the subject). You are one of the endless social misfits I run into at my university daily who could never have either acquired of kept a job in the "private sector." And being an unemployable parasite, now you want that university job for life. Good luck.

50. ttuenglish - February 15, 2010 at 05:01 pm

to performance_expert, who quotes "I found when students complained, the dept. used that against me."

What a shame that those pesky students stood in the way of your research and intellectualism. Esp. since your research must be Nobel prize-level work, given your elitist enchantment with Ivy League schools and disdain for schools that only offer Masters degrees.

Too bad that no one let you in on a academic secret. The best undergrad students come from schools that do not even offer Masters degrees. They are called liberal arts schools and faculty there actually teach. These students go own to become wonderful grad students who understand the balance between teaching, scholarship, and service. Don't worry, though, there is no chance you could get hired in one of these weak, Master Degree-less schools.

51. cjcampbell - February 15, 2010 at 05:34 pm

TTuenglish definitely has a point for perf_exp, which is that all is not lost yet in academe, and not everyone is stupid. Whether hope for the hopeless lies "liberal arts schools" and their balance of "teaching, scholarship and service" - and since when was 'service' a component element of education? Respect for authority, perhaps. Obedience, maybe. But 'service'? Is a school so much like a restaurant? - I am not sure. Anyhow, no need to nitpick. Who reads anything that closely anymore anyway, unless they are promoting it or want to annihilate it?

Thanks to justlooking for his inspiring moral candour, admitting that he himself is one of the group of tenured parasites that he says includes performance_expert. A truly Dostoyevskian exchange! Notes from the underground, from the accelerating ruin of the North American academy! It will surely all be better when the money has been entirely reassigned to national pyramid schemes and robot bombs....

52. martisco - February 15, 2010 at 06:19 pm

I wonder what sort of rationalizing was going on in the Braintree police department and/or District Attorney's office when this woman shot her brother to death as a 20-year-old. No doubt a different sort of rationalization than the intellectualization going on here about the Dickensian life of the tenure-track academic... but it was probably rationalization nevertheless.

53. cjcampbell - February 15, 2010 at 06:44 pm

More intellectualization, from C. Wright Mills:

"The sociological imagination enables its possessor to understand the larger historical scene in terms of its meaning for the inner life and the external career of a variety of individuals.... The first fruit of this imagination... is the idea that the individual can understand his own experience and guage his own fate only by locating himself within his period, that he can know his own chances in life only by becoming aware of those of all individuals in his circumstances." (The Sociological Imagination, p5)

54. maxey - February 15, 2010 at 08:59 pm

The leap to the idea that the killings were racially inspired is almost as sad as the event itself. I believe it is true that all three faculty members who died were 52 years of age. Do we infer some weird ageism?

55. cheri28 - February 15, 2010 at 09:52 pm

According to this indepth report, Amy Bishop was something of an acedemic fraud. http://afamilyofshepherds.blogspot.com/2010/02/is-accused-murderer-dr-amy-bishop.html

56. billso - February 15, 2010 at 11:48 pm

This is a very sad story. The rush to speculation won't help matters.

57. lisa_l_spangenberg - February 16, 2010 at 12:32 am

In the article Thomas Barlett and Robin Wilson write:

The professor, who wears round-framed glasses and has a gray, bushy beard,

What on EARTH does this have to do with ANYTHING?

Subtext much?

58. jeanrenoir - February 16, 2010 at 12:32 am

Many reactions to Amy Bishop's cold-blooded mass murder seem like a reductio ad absurdum of academic special pleading and attempts to explain away horrendous acts as the result of "victimization" of all sorts. As a professor for forty years, I'm all too familiar with this knee-jerk tendency of so many members of this profession. It has seriously, and justly, undermined respect for us in the world at large--the world which has now, fortunately, taken custody of Professor Bishop.

59. nacrandell - February 16, 2010 at 08:18 am

"Nick Lawton, the son of Professor Lawton, took a class in anatomy and physiology that Ms. Bishop taught last semester. The professor's son said Ms. Bishop didn't talk about her personal situation, but "spoke about the general difficulties of women in science on more than one occasion." He called her a competent lecturer who was willing to help students who needed it. But her teaching was "not inspired," he said."

Ok - why interview this student? Just because his daddy is a prof? How many professors reading this article would want to be judged by a peer's child?

60. kadair - February 16, 2010 at 11:25 am

For free information on how to survive an active shooter situation go to http://www.activeshootersurvival.wordpress.com

61. heyyoudrammie - February 16, 2010 at 12:10 pm

As a Masters candidate, ppreparing for a Ph.D. program many of these comments make me re-think my career choice. They, however, are typical of what is thrown at students in a university setting:
1. If you are white, you are a racist.
2. If you are a Republican, you are an idiot.
3. If you believe in any form of a higher power, you are ignorant and uneducated.
4. If a student does not do well, blame the student; not that listening to you lecture for three hours is mind-numbingly boring and uninspired.
5. If you are a woman, and not a militant, bra-burning, fist waving anarchist, you have betrayed your sex.
6. If you are a man, you are an egotistical pig who needs to be taken down a peg or two or ten-thousand before you repress someone else.

My point: very few professors in academia do not have their own axe to grind, their own agenda to further. That is highly evident by the comments so far...racism, sexism, and conservative bias. What happened to just teaching the subject?

The tragedy at Hunstville was just that, a tragedy. You can "armchair quarterback" it til the cows come home. None of you were there, and some (not all) are approaching the tragedy by letting your personal agendas and biases hang out for all the world to see. The hallowed halls of academia are not problem free. Out in the real world people are denied promotions, have their salaries slashed, or department budgets cut. Some of them also react violently. To sit back and comment that race, or conservatives or any of the other reasons that have been proffered are behind the attack astonishes me.

62. trmontagne - February 16, 2010 at 12:11 pm

I agree with the fact that adjustments need to be made; however, all of the arguing back and forth about why Ms. Bishop did what she did is irrevelant. The fact is, she did it. How many other colleges are now going to have to put "How to Avoid Your Psycho Professor" in their crisis plan? Stick to the facts. As Hamlet says, “Seems,” madam? Nay, it is. I know not “seems.”

63. lnickles - February 16, 2010 at 01:43 pm

This got a mention on GetReligion.org


They have a point. I realize this is the Chronicle of Higher Ed., but what about interviewing some people that know her outside of the university? Say, her pastor?

64. rambo - February 16, 2010 at 03:11 pm

usually the managers are lousy teachers and lousy researchers who are promoted to make way for others. Since academia is mostly liberal left-wing,t hat is odd what happened in AL.

65. kmf205 - February 16, 2010 at 04:24 pm

#28: Before judging the professionalism of others in this post, perhaps you should have looked at your user id/screen name. "Dogvomit?" How is that professional?

66. geoscientist - February 16, 2010 at 06:25 pm

According to the Boston Herald, Amy Bishop was an obsessive Obama backer:http://www.bostonherald.com/news/regional/view/20100215oddball_protrait_emerges_suspects_family_pals_offer_clues/srvc=home&position=0 The article says, "A family source said Bishop, a mother of four children - the youngest a third-grade boy - was a far-left political extremist who was “obsessed” with President Obama to the point of being off-putting."

67. olivia55 - February 17, 2010 at 01:41 am

It seems evident that we all are very uncomfortable staying focused on a problem which receives a great deal of attention when students perpetrate violence--their mental health. However, when colleagues exhibit any such behaviors, we avert our gaze. We need to first acknowledge the very real psychological effects this incident will have on all of the injured faculty, their university and biological families, including Professor Bishop.

How sad for her children.

Then we all should stop for a moment, breathe, and pay respect to those who were murdered and injured.

Next, we have to stop ignoring the enormous elephant sitting in its own mess in our academic livingroom: the mental health of our colleagues, of ourselves.

Until we address this and the psychological and physical violence that plays out in faculty meetings, classrooms, etc., it will not matter whether racism or guns, or political affilitation, or fill in the blank...is involved. The latter are the end results of our embarassment and failure to acknowledge what continues to be evident in other places of work. We are not an exception.

Mental illness is a very real experience for many of us. It creates an atmosphere of silence and shame and also creates culture whereby head administrators would rather bury it in the sand in order to ensure the mentally ill are not going to present legal problems, colleagues treat those who are ill like pariah, and the mentally ill become suicidal, homicidal, or simply become invisible.

It is ironic that we try to teach our students how to focus on a specific discipline, try to enhance their problem-solving skills, try to teach them how to collaboratively work together, and yet we ourselves are unable to practice what we preach.

Could we just focus on this one very relevant aspect? Please?

68. justme2010 - February 17, 2010 at 12:59 pm

"this is the worst situation for a serious thinker"
"therefore intellectual development is not their priority"

Hey, PERFORMANCE_EXPERT, could you please try and be a little more condescending? Your entire posting is quite arrogant. We get it, you are an intellectually superior being, and we definitely get you are a FoxNews-hating liberal, you can stop telling us now.

Bishop is a sociopath and she could have "gone off" anywhere. Her mental state has not a thing to do with her tenure, universities, etc. She was just nuts.

69. russelleerickson - February 17, 2010 at 07:22 pm

Mental illness is not limted to a single demographic. Like many other cases of depressed, disgruntled, disconnected, "quirky" people in the past, only those nearest to her might have been able to get her professional help to prevent this. Unfortunately, with her past history, the other times she's "acted out" were ignored and perhaps covered up. So, here is another dimension to consider... The stigmatism of seeking mental health care within the academy, before tenure.

I am sad for the victims, and their families, for her family, even for her, for the faculty and students at UA. I'm reminded of the recent incident where many people felt a faculty member over reacted to what she felt were threats being made against a jilted boyfriend on FB. In these tough times we all need to be aware of those loved ones around us, and even if we seem to be "over reacting", prompt and appropriate intervention is the proper reaction. It is much better for everyone if we might be inconvenienced because someone cared enough to do something about our perceived problems.

I find it sad that Amy didn't have anyone close enough to know her well enough to intervene in her psychosis. If her husband's story is to be believed, she hid her anguish very well. Even while being bombastic, and venting her frustration on anyone that would lend her a sympathetic ear.

70. erhines - February 17, 2010 at 10:57 pm

edinill, February 17, 2010

This sad case illustrates two generic deficiences in higher education. First, we do not have adequate evaluation systems in place that can identify and deal with deeply troubled faculty. Second, promotion and tenure is designed more to eliminate the negative, rather than retain the positive. Tenure denials too often go far beyond job performance to one's identity and self-worth. Little wonder, then, that those denied take more extreme measures.

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