To the Editor:
Our condolences and thoughts are with our colleagues at the University of Alabama at Huntsville. The importance of Ann Franke's commentary arguing for threat-assessment teams that reach faculty and staff concerns cannot be understated ("Guidance for Handling Tenure Denial," The Chronicle, February 15). Colleges and universities have developed student-focused teams, but it is past time to broaden the scope. Teams focused on faculty and staff members are something we need to pusher harder for, but some of the other suggestions of the commentary deserve deeper consideration.
Women are a rapidly growing violent demographic in our society, and have been for more than a decade. We should not be surprised by a female perpetrator. If we are, we're not paying enough attention. A female-perpetrated campus shooting has happened before, in Louisiana, and will happen again, with increasing frequency. Shootings by faculty members should not surprise us either, as there have been college-related shootings in Texas and most recently Georgia by faculty and staff members.
We also need to question the "tenure made me do it" media coverage, and the suggestion that softening the tenure-denial blow will help. We ought to cushion that blow for other reasons, but not because of the specter of violence—99.9 percent of those denied tenure don't kill people. Treating faculty members as "more special" than other employees only feeds the culture that makes it so politically untenable to direct campus behavioral-intervention and threat-assessment efforts to faculty and staff concerns on most college campuses.
If we subscribe to Ms. Franke's suggestion about making already overworked, understaffed counseling centers available to faculty members, we ought to provide counselors for every employee we fire. Why stop at faculty members? This idea could have merit for campuses with counseling centers, but could also perpetuate the "dump all our problems on the counseling center" mentality that has been so pervasive since Virginia Tech. It also feeds the incident-by-incident reaction model we use to address campus violence. Seung-Hui Cho brought us widespread mandated assessment. Steve Kazmierczak brought classroom and centralized door locking to the fore. Now we should revise tenure procedures because of Amy Bishop? We're reacting incident by incident rather than envisioning comprehensive prevention models that are driven by our campus culture, community, resources, and vulnerabilities, not every other campus's.
If there is anything about this shooting that is anomalous and interesting that has received no media coverage, it is that this shooting doesn't seem to fit a pattern common to almost all campus mass shootings, which is the murder-suicide pattern. Ms. Bishop called her husband after the shootings to get a ride home, did not mention the shootings, disposed of her weapon in a second-floor bathroom, and was apparently arrested coming out of the building without incident or reported resistance. Campus mass killers are usually their own last victims. Why Ms. Bishop walked out is worthy of some further exploration.
This shooting will lead to calls for criminal background checks and revised hiring practices, too. But campus shooters rarely have reportable criminal histories that would show up on a typical background screening. Criminal backgrounds are not predictive of mass shootings. Ms. Bishop's history, as reported so far, is of alleged and unproven crimes. It makes for media fodder, but may not be effective prevention.
This conversation ought to be about how we build and empower the cultures of reporting that are essential to getting red flags to those on behavioral-intervention and threat-assessment teams that can connect the dots, identify emerging patterns, and interdict them. In the coming weeks, more and more of those red flags will come out about Ms. Bishop. The disconnect on most campuses is getting that information from those who have it to those who need it.
Brett A. Sokolow
National Center for Higher Education Risk Management