• September 3, 2015

The Fatal Meeting: Death, Heroism, and a Campus Changed Forever

The Fatal Meeting: Death, Heroism, and a Campus Changed Forever 4

U. of Alabama at Huntsville

A conference room in the Shelby Center for Science and Technology at the U. of Alabama at Huntsville is similar to the one where three people were shot and killed and three others were wounded during a biology-department meeting on February 12.

There were 13 people in the room that Friday afternoon. The meeting took place on the third floor of the Shelby Center for Science and Technology, a large, imposing building on the campus of the University of Alabama at Huntsville. It was a classic departmental meeting, with talk of increased enrollment and who was going to teach which classes.

Among those in the room was Robert O. Lawton, a professor at the university since 1980. He was editing a manuscript and worrying about missing his next appointment. Debra M. Moriarity, another department veteran, was scribbling on some papers. It couldn't have been more routine.

Amy Bishop hadn't said much. Dressed in jeans and a rose-colored shirt, she was sitting near the door, next to the department's chairman, Gopi K. Podila. This would most likely be one of Ms. Bishop's last faculty meetings. A year ago, she had been turned down for tenure and had since exhausted her formal appeals, though she was still trying to plead her case with anyone who would listen.

As it happens, Mr. Podila was among the minority who had supported her bid. Most tenured faculty members had voted against her, in effect firing her from the university and forcing her, at 44, to rethink her career. Yet none of that was the subject of the meeting.

It was nearly 4 p.m. when Ms. Bishop reportedly stood and drew a 9-millimeter handgun. She fired first at Mr. Podila, hitting him in the head and killing him. She then went down the line in the order people were seated: The professors Adriel D. Johnson Sr. and Maria Ragland Davis were shot in the head and killed. A staff member, Stephanie Monticciolo, was hit but survived. Next was Joseph G. Leahy, an associate professor who was reportedly trying to take cover when he, too, was shot in the head. Both he and Ms. Monticciolo were taken to the hospital in critical condition.


Ms. Bishop had assumed she would get tenure. That's according to a colleague, Eric Seemann, who started at Huntsville at the same time she did. Mr. Seemann, now an associate professor of psychology, was in the same orientation class as Ms. Bishop in 2003. That's where they met. They weren't friends, exactly—they didn't get together outside the campus. More like "workplace buddies," he said. He remembers talking with her early in 2009, before the tenure decision was made public, and she seemed confident about her chances.

But when the list of those who received tenure arrived in March 2009, her name wasn't on it. Mr. Seemann noticed and was surprised. He figured she would "sue the beans" out of the university.

For any professor, not getting tenure is a blow. For Ms. Bishop, it may have been even more devastating. She was older than most candidates. What's more, while her husband worked a few hours a week, she was the breadwinner for the couple and their four children, who range in age from 8 to 18. They live in a green two-story house with a swimming pool in an older neighborhood about 20 minutes from the campus.

After the initial tenure rejection, Ms. Bishop filed an appeal with the university. She also filed a complaint in September with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, accusing the university of gender discrimination. That complaint is still pending.

By November, though, David B. Williams, the university's president, had rejected Ms. Bishop's appeal. While her colleagues at the university considered the case over, she searched for ways to overturn the decision. William N. Setzer, chairman of the chemistry department, remembered that she would bring the topic up at meetings that had nothing to do with tenure. "She was right up front about not getting tenure," he said. And while she was persistent, according to Mr. Setzer, she didn't seem "overtly pissed off or anything like that."

But she did more than just complain. Colleagues knew Ms. Bishop as someone who could be very determined, and now that determination was turned toward salvaging her job. Ms. Bishop asked professors both in and out of the department if they would write letters on her behalf. Mr. Setzer told her it wasn't his place to intervene. She even came to Mr. Lawton, the head of the tenure-review committee that had voted against her, asking him to write a letter supporting her.

Another professor on the committee, who asked not to be named because of concerns about his safety, said she came to him several times with the same request. Either she didn't realize, or didn't care, that this professor was one of her biggest critics and had voted against her.

Just a week before the shootings, she asked an administrator she had worked with in technology transfer to help her get tenure.


The first blast made Ms. Moriarity look up from her papers. She saw the second shot fired, and then dove under the table. What Ms. Moriarity did next has been described by the university's president as heroic and may have saved the lives of others in the room.

"I was thinking 'Oh, my God, this has to stop,'" Ms. Moriarity said. She crawled beneath the table toward Ms. Bishop, who was blocking the doorway. She grabbed at Ms. Bishop's legs and pushed at her, yelling, "I have helped you before, I can help you again!"

Ms. Bishop stepped away from her grasp. Still on the floor, Ms. Moriarity managed to crawl partially out into the hallway. Ms. Bishop, who continued shooting the entire time, then turned her attention to Ms. Moriarity, placing two hands on the gun and pointing it at her. Ms. Bishop's expression was angry—"intense eyes, a set jaw," Ms. Moriarity recalled.

With Ms. Moriarity looking up at her, Ms. Bishop pulled the trigger twice. The gun clicked, apparently out of bullets. Ms. Moriarity scrambled back into the room. Meanwhile, Ms. Bishop, now out in the hallway, appeared to be rummaging in her bag, perhaps attempting to reload. Ms. Moriarity took advantage of Ms. Bishop's fumbling and closed the door. Others in the room then helped her push the table against the door, fearing that Ms. Bishop would continue her rampage.

Ms. Moriarity's lab was next to Ms. Bishop's. They had similar research interests and had done some work together. That's what she meant when she screamed, "I can help you again!" Ms. Moriarity thought of Ms. Bishop as a good colleague. She explains, "We both did cell culture." The two had discussed the possibility of writing a proposal together for a large research grant.

Ms. Moriarity's support could have been key to Ms. Bishop's success: She had already been at the university for more than two decades when Ms. Bishop arrived, and is dean of the graduate school.

Women have a much harder time than men building careers in academic science, and there are many fewer women than men in all science and engineering disciplines. The reasons for that are the subject of a hot national debate. Some say it is women who take themselves out of the scientific pipeline when they find that the demands of a research laboratory are all-consuming and leave them little time to raise a family. Others say women like Ms. Bishop do not get the kind of support and mentorship they need from their mostly male colleagues to plot a determined path toward tenure. Many academic women complain about a steady stream of derogatory comments and discriminatory behavior from men in their departments. That is particularly a problem for some women like Ms. Bishop, who can turn people off because they are loud, opinionated, and confident.

Ms. Bishop's department was about 30-percent female, slightly more than the national average for biology. Some colleagues, like Mr. Lawton, called her scientific work creative, although he wouldn't go so far as labeling it brilliant. Mr. Setzer, the chemistry chairman, told The Chronicle that Ms. Bishop was "pretty smart. That was not a question."

But while Ms. Bishop's work was considered interesting—she had come up with a novel way to incubate cells and was working on a cure for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis—her research output didn't dazzle anyone. At the start of her career at Huntsville, 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. Then 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 work similar to hers tend to publish at a much faster clip.

One professor at Huntsville who sat on Ms. Bishop's tenure-review committee said many people there were "unimpressed" with her scientific abilities. When Ms. Bishop gave a seminar on her work the year her tenure bid was up for consideration, she completely flubbed it, recalls the professor, who asked to remain anonymous citing safety concerns. People who listened to the seminar, he remembered, could make no sense out of her science.

And when Ms. Bishop's tenure-review committee asked people in her field to write letters evaluating her work, "they said they wouldn't give her tenure at their universities."

Even under the best of circumstances, making tenure can be a trying process, accompanied by stress, isolation, and self-doubt. On top of that, science is perhaps more cutthroat and competitive than most academic disciplines, with every young scholar racing to make the biggest discovery, put out the most publications, and garner the largest grants.

Most universities, like Huntsville, take months to interview and vet young scholars, and when one is finally hired it is with the expectation that he or she will be able to clear the tenure hurdle six or seven years down the line. So when someone like Ms. Bishop fails to do so, the denial can feel even more devastating than being let go from most other kinds of jobs.

What's worse, perhaps, is that scholars like Ms. Bishop who are denied tenure are usually allowed to stay on at their campuses for another year, primarily to give them time to find another job. But working as a lame duck among colleagues who have deemed you unworthy can't help but be excruciating. And as the academic job market has grown tighter in recent years, the task of finding a new job and starting over on the tenure track at middle age must have seemed both daunting and depressing.

Of course, none of that explains why Ms. Bishop would stand up in a faculty meeting and open fire on her colleagues. And people at Huntsville, and on other campuses, are reluctant to make a connection between her murderous outburst and the vagaries of tenure. People are turned down for tenure at colleges across the United States every spring. That's common. Killing your colleagues is not.


Once the door to the meeting room was barricaded, two professors called 911: Luis Cruz-Vera, who had been shot in the chest, and Joseph D. Ng, who wasn't hurt. Mr. Cruz-Vera did not immediately realize he had been injured; he was treated and released from the hospital. Mr. Ng later sent an e-mail message to a colleague at the University of California at Irvine, which was published by The Orange County Register. "Blood was everywhere with crying and moaning," he wrote. "We were in a pool of blood in disbelief of what had happened."

After the shooting ended, Ms. Bishop went to the second-floor bathroom in the Shelby Center, where she left the gun. She called her husband, James Anderson, who was working just down the street, to come pick her up. The two had planned to go out for coffee after the meeting. Before he arrived, and less than 15 minutes after the shooting, Ms. Bishop was arrested by campus police officers.

Mr. Anderson said he didn't know his wife had a gun with her when he dropped her off for the meeting about an hour before. The two often commuted together; Mr. Anderson worked at Prodigy Biosystems, just a few minutes from the campus. Ms. Bishop sat on the fledgling company's Board of Directors and, according to her husband, was going to be its spokeswoman. The company's chief project was bringing the new cell incubator Mr. Anderson had helped his wife create to market.

The couple thought of themselves as a research team. She was the one with the credentials and the research expertise, while he was the gadget guy, the tinkerer. The two met when they were undergraduates at Northeastern University.

Mr. Anderson was dating Ms. Bishop in 1986, when she shot her brother to death at her family's home in Braintree, Mass. At the time, police ruled the shooting an accident, but details from the incident that have become public in the last week have raised new questions, and the case is now being re-examined.

Ms. Bishop drew law-enforcement officials' attention again in 1993 when both she and Mr. Anderson were questioned by federal authorities during an investigation into a package containing two pipe bombs that was mailed to Paul A. Rosenberg, then an assistant professor of neurology at Harvard University. Ms. Bishop worked under him as a postdoctoral fellow in the same laboratory and was among the suspects early on. The bombs did not explode, and no one was ever charged.

In an interview, Mr. Anderson called the shooting death of Ms. Bishop's brother "an absolute accident." The couple broke up for a while afterward because Ms. Bishop was in such distress. She received counseling, he said, and they later got back together.

As for the mail bombs, Mr. Anderson said that his wife would have had no reason to hurt Mr. Rosenberg. Authorities "tore up" their house searching for evidence, he said, but apparently didn't find anything to connect them to the attempted bombing.

In a written statement, Mr. Rosenberg said he hopes there is a "thorough investigation into this recent crime." The word "thorough" is underlined.

Since the shootings, Mr. Anderson said he has been searching for "the trigger" that 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" by e-mail on Fridays. (John D. Fix, dean of Huntsville's College of Science, said he didn't know what Mr. Anderson was talking about.) Mr. Anderson wondered whether his wife 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. Police seized Ms. Bishop's home computer and her tenure dossier.

Mr. Anderson's explanation of why his wife did not receive tenure does not match up with that of people on her tenure-review committee and others at the university familiar with the situation. For instance, Mr. Anderson says that her colleagues in the department supported her but the university's provost turned her down. In fact, Mr. Lawton, head of the tenure-review committee, said the committee—made up primarily of tenured faculty members in biology—voted against her. Mr. Anderson also said her denial was the result of a miscommunication over when two papers were published, and he called her a "loved teacher." Another member of the review committee, however, said that both her research and her teaching failed to measure up.

After she was turned down in 2009, Mr. Anderson said, he sat his wife down and said, "You're beautiful, you're smart, you have an IQ above 160, let's figure out what you want to do." She told him she wanted to do research, and that's when they decided to open a research institute. She was also looking for other academic jobs, and had leads on two possible positions, he said.

Still, she was worried about ending up like Douglas C. Prasher, a biochemist whose pioneering work on jellyfish and fluorescence was credited with helping his colleagues win a Nobel Prize, but who left science after failing to get a grant and struggling with depression. In 2008 he was driving a shuttle bus for a car dealer in Huntsville.

Mr. Anderson said his wife had given no indication that she might become violent. As for where the gun came from, at first he told The Chronicle he didn't know his wife even had one. In an interview the next day, however, he said that she had borrowed it but that she was "cagey" about where exactly it came from. She had been to a local indoor shooting range at least twice, he said, once with a friend and once with him a couple of weeks before the shootings. She told him she needed the gun because she was worried about "crazy students," and had been followed across a campus parking lot last summer. But Mr. Anderson said he told her he didn't want the gun in the house because of their children. And Mr. Anderson said he had warned her: "You can't carry it to work."

Last week, Ms. Bishop called her husband from jail and asked him how he and the children were doing and whether they had done their homework. Mr. Anderson is trying to keep his kids distracted. One morning last week they sang karaoke in another room while he talked to The Chronicle in the foyer of his home. Shoes were piled next to the stairs, and Christmas cards were still taped to the wall. A violin case lay on the floor in the living room. Mr. Anderson, dressed in plaid pajama pants and a red shirt, seemed exhausted, and his voice trembled with emotion when he talked about Ms. Bishop's dead colleagues. Three days after the shootings, he still did not know which ones she was accused of killing. He said he didn't want that information until he felt more emotionally stable.

Administrators canceled classes for the week after the shooting, to give people on the campus a chance to grieve and regroup. During the week off, officials quickly gathered faculty members from other campuses who agreed to fill in and teach biology. Ms. Moriarity, who had looked Ms. Bishop in the eye as she pulled the trigger, was back on the campus the following Monday. Mr. Lawton, who saw his colleagues die, said, "I'm not going to let this ruin my life."

In the weeks to come, the picture of what happened on that Friday afternoon, and in the months leading up to it, will no doubt become clearer. But determining exactly what prompted a professor to commit such a heinous act may be an impossible task. Are there lessons here about recognizing mental illness? Or about the intense pressure of the tenure process? Or does the whole thing simply make no sense? It may all boil down to the question Ms. Bishop's husband says he most wants to ask her: Why?

Paul Basken and David Glenn contributed to this article.


1. pathills - February 19, 2010 at 07:38 am

Very good investigative reporting and a balanced story.

2. upallnight - February 19, 2010 at 08:04 am

The husband appears to be talking to everyone. It is very odd and very unwise. He is not doing his wife any favors. Alabama has the death penalty. He is helping put her on death row. Perhaps, he is hoping to get a book deal.

3. physicsprof - February 19, 2010 at 08:39 am

"Ms. Bishop, now out in the hallway, appeared to be rummaging in her bag, perhaps attempting to reload. Ms. Moriarity took advantage of Ms. Bishop's fumbling and closed the door. Others in the room then helped her push the table against the door, fearing that Ms. Bishop would continue her rampage."

What a stupid, stupid, stupid move! Everything was in the hands of Prof. Moriarty and her colleagues and they let the murderer go free. Pure luck she decided to stop the rampage.

4. hmprescott63 - February 19, 2010 at 08:53 am

Physicsprof -- Prof. Moriarty's actions were wise and brave not "stupid." Moriarty wasn't armed and she's not Chuck Norris. She did what she could to save her own life and that of her colleagues. Give her a break.

5. physicsprof - February 19, 2010 at 09:22 am

In one of the previous days I called actions of Prof. Moriarty heroic. She is a hero. But as the events are unfolding it becomes clear that the statement "she did what she could" is not correct. First of all, sge is not Chuck Norris, but Amy Bishop is not Terminator either. Second, by pushing an armed killer outside and trapping herself in the room (with no bulletproof walls) she actually REDUCED her chances of survival. The right move would be to hold on to that bag of Bishop with the death grip and shout "help!"

6. ethan56 - February 19, 2010 at 09:29 am

There's a paragraph in the above article that seeks to link Bishop's behavior somehow to women's oppression in scientific academia.

It's this paragraph:

"Women have a much harder time than men building careers in academic science, and there are many fewer women than men in all science and engineering disciplines... Women like Ms. Bishop do not get the kind of support and mentorship they need from their mostly male colleagues to plot a determined path toward tenure. Many academic women complain about a steady stream of derogatory comments and discriminatory behavior from men in their departments. That is particularly a problem for some women like Ms. Bishop, who can turn people off because they are loud, opinionated, and confident."

I am going to object to this paragraph (in an otherwise well-balanced story). The paragraph is insulting to the dead victims at UAH, one of whom was a female academic, and makes them somehow responsible for what happened. It shifts personal responsibility away from Bishop for her murderous behavior.

The fact is that Bishop, specifically, was an academic fraud: link to http://to.ly/1cSf for the startling evidence.

1. Her published research plan for 2008 is exactly the same as her research program for 2003--five years earlier. Word for word. No progess.
2 One of her "scientific articles" is co-authored by...her children. This is the article in the "little known" (as the piece above admits) International Journal of General Medicine 2009:

From her UAH Departmental website: "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." [The Andersons are her children, except for "Anderson, J.", who is her unemployed husband.]

The real question is: how did this person, who had already killed her own brother in 1986, and who had been investigated in 1993 for a pipe-bomb incident against one of her academic mentors, get a position at UAH in the first place?

7. rightwingprofessor - February 19, 2010 at 10:08 am

I agree the section in this story about how tough it is for women scientists does not belong, it's completely irrelevant and insulting to women.

8. bekkajean - February 19, 2010 at 10:25 am

Whew! Lots of opinions about Professor Moriority's actions.
Hiring process: Even if a criminal background check had been done by the HR department at this public university, it would not likely have found anything about the shooting of her brother or the pipe bomb incident. A formal background check, that is. Hiring committees are made up of faculty members who are certainly not skilled in investigation of backgrounds. They follow strict guidelines and are overseen by the HR department (at least they are at my university). The process does not include digging up past allegations of criminal behavior. That sort of information would be gleaned by googling the person or talking to formal references as well as to persons from the previous institutions who are not references. Hiring committees, however, do not do the latter.

9. gator10297 - February 19, 2010 at 10:41 am

This is great reporting and with much more context than the local papers have been reporting. Thank you. I issues with none of the reporting, but question Dr. Lawton's perspective. He states "I am not going to let this ruin the rest of my life". I feel this statement of resilience is discomforting. Three of your colleaugues died before your eyes, and three more were shot. In front of you. Show some compassion for your colleagues. Although I cannot imagine what it is like to be in that situation, I do know that people in that room will have more difficult lives than you will in the future.

10. misstrudy - February 19, 2010 at 10:59 am

There have been plenty of investigative reports, way before the Amy Bishop case--and some published by The Chronicle of Higher Ed.--which seem to substantiate that women scientists do, indeed, have a harder time in academia than males. That is not insulting to women, that is just a possibly very real situation. The fact that some women scientists are on committees or boards doesn't really change that.

11. ethan56 - February 19, 2010 at 11:10 am

misstrudy, while the general issue is real, I doubt that it has anything to do with the actions of this psychotic person, who was clearly in trouble long before she came to UAH. And it is wrong to jump on that hobby horse when three people are dead (including a female academic--how about *that* for oppression?) because she murdered them.

12. scholaris - February 19, 2010 at 11:14 am

too many are passing judgment on the professor's research record, and there are some UAH professors who are familiar with the tenure case who don't want to be identified providing insights about the merits of the case. [see the blog referenced above]. Of course every tenure committee would insist "Our tenure process is about as fair and objective as I can imagine"--that's besides the point. Can we actually see some real evidence from the actual tenure dossier and evaluation letters? (not just some anonymous hearsay). This is not a central point in the discussion of mass murders, but the discussion about the professor's merits does come up, and unfortunately not from credible sources. And lastly, it is interesting that earlier it was said Bishop (or her husband) tried to access the tenure dossier but could not because it was confiscated, and now it is said the police have possession of it... Can journalists also get a copy?

13. rjsax - February 19, 2010 at 11:48 am

The whole story of women's problems in the sciences as an aspect of this tragedy is beyond ridiculous. 82% of NBA basketball players are people of color, according to recent statistics. Are white guys shooting up the practice sessions because they are only 18% (which is much lower than the % of women on the biology faculty at UAH, and no doubt many other colleges) of the roster?

Please stick to reporting what matters in this story, and not some other agenda, which has its place, but not here!

14. getwell - February 19, 2010 at 12:08 pm

Murder is murder - no matter one's mental capacity, idealogy, religion, or political view.

Taking INNOCENT human lives because you are angry about something is not okay for any reason.

Sad that we humans can't seem to agree on that one simple fundamental truth:(

15. johntoradze - February 19, 2010 at 12:39 pm

It is okay to take anybody's life for any reason if your are a sociopath.

And, exactly as I predicted on the first day, her attorney is claiming insanity defense. He says Amy doesn't remember what happened.

If people remember, when Amy was arrested, with cameras rolling, she faced partly toward the camera and said, "It didn't happen. They are still alive." Since she had been through murdering someone before and was very bright, it is impossible to believe she did not know exactly what she was doing there.

Battling her insanity plea is going to be the key to convicting this sociopathic monster.

16. rjsax - February 19, 2010 at 01:30 pm

It has always been my view that virtually no one is truly "sane" at the moment of committing cold-blooded murder (as opposed to killing in self-defense, accident, etc.). Our society frankly chooses to execute those least insane, depraved, etc. However, the average juror's likely inability to fully grasp the depth of depravity, insanity, rage, or other defect in a crime of this magnitude will make the insanity plea a good defense. What other is there?

17. sunsengnim - February 19, 2010 at 02:22 pm

"For any professor, not getting tenure is a blow. For Ms. Bishop, it may have been even more devastating. She was older than most candidates. What's more, while her husband worked a few hours a week, she was the breadwinner for the couple and their four children, who range in age from 8 to 18."

There is a disturbing sub-text in a lot of this reporting that implies that those who were shot had it coming for ruthlessly firing a hard-working mother of four. So, one can only assume that the lesson for those of us who often have to make personnel decisions is that you should hire and fire not according to who is most qualified or who can help students the most, but who is less likely to be seen as a victim should they come back and shoot us. I'm sure Ms. Bishop's colleagues were as anguished by the decision as she was; it's not pleasant for anyone when a tenure outcome is negative. Should they have simply taken the easier path and voted yes, only to have Ms. Bishop perhaps later go on a shooting rampage against students in a particular class she felt was trying to undermine her?

Ms. Bishop was given the opportunity of employment for six years in which she was allowed to prove herself. Employment at a university is not a God-given right. I also find it odd that her behavior is somehow excused because she might find herself in the horrible predicament of driving a shuttle bus like another former professor. That's right, working a blue collar job like the rest of Americans to earn income to support your family would be a much worse fate than finding yourself imprisoned for life with no access to your children or possibly on death row. And what of the families of the victims?

18. broadway_dave - February 19, 2010 at 02:30 pm

Were I still in academe, I would suggest that one practical step that could be taken in terms of convening departmental meetings would be asking everyone to remove metal objects from their pockets and/or purses, and then having a staff person (a campus officer, or even departmental clerical employee who has received training in this) use a metal-detecting wand to clear each attendee. While this is a nuisance, a lot of nuisance is worth putting up with to reduce the chance of a rare but extremely high-impact event. After a while it would become routine.

19. aeg58 - February 19, 2010 at 02:54 pm

I certainly agree that any identity-related obstacles Dr. Bishop may have experienced in her academic career do *not* justify murder. On the other hand, the context for Bishop's violence does seem relevant to our understanding of how to reduce the risk of university shootings in the future. I'm troubled that only the suggestion that "women experience disadvantages in the sciences" has prompted resistance in this forum. Do we really believe that everything else reported here may well have contributed to her violent breakdown...EXCEPT her gendered experience in the academy? I see no sense in refusing to consider every possible contributing factor, including those we don't like. And why would acknowledging that differential treatment continues to impact some women in any way suggest that women who succeed in academe are responsible for Bishop's actions?

Finally, if Bishop was "loud, confident, and opinionated" in her interactions with others, her behavior may have been seen not just as unwarranted--given her academic record--but *also* as inconsistent with unconscious expectations of "how women behave." That is, colleagues could respond negatively to such behavior by men, but might be even more uncomfortable with behavior that violates gender norms. None of these factors, if they WERE present for Bishop, excuse her actions. But any factors that might exacerbate emotional instability must be examined.

20. maggiemae - February 19, 2010 at 03:02 pm

I have found most of the comments in response to this article irrelevant and ill concieved. The shooting is a tragedy involving a woman who it appears is now, and has been, mentally ill. To denigrate Bishop and her family, to second guess what her colleagues should or should not have done, is not helpful. What would be helpful it seems is to consider how you can help, protect and serve colleagues and students at your own institutions so that your school does not have to experience such a soul twisting episode.

All the blather about tenure and publications is moot--what is the point now? It is also tragic that a career and lives are encapsulated by reporting on political intrigues, likes and dislikes, and who said what about whom, and when, and who published what, when, and where. And heroines? And trying to second guess what Ms. Moriarity shoulda/coulda done? Pathetic.

I will retire from academia in a few years, and am less idealistic about what universities contribute to society than I was when I begin my career.

21. broadway_dave - February 19, 2010 at 03:26 pm

With regard to preventing incidents like this in the future, my previous suggestion - use of a metal detector to check for weapons at departmental meetings - is a serious one.

22. ots1927 - February 19, 2010 at 03:41 pm

I agree with maggiemae that most of the comments here are misdirected. It is not our place to judge whether or not Bishop truly deserved to be denied tenure. There is a process at UAH, just as there is at every institution, and I see no evidence that the process wasn't followed. She even went through the appeals process. To ask whether or not she really should have been denied tenure, and to explore the issue of gender inequity as a backdrop to this crime, is really to ask whether her colleagues deserved what they got for their role in pushing her over the edge. None of us should be asking such inappropriate and offensive questions.

The real question is how to identify and deal with mental illness in the academy.

23. bluewillow - February 19, 2010 at 04:26 pm

I'm sure she could have got another job somewhere, maybe in a community college. She wouldn't have had to drive a shuttle bus. At a community college she wouldn't have had the pressure to do research.

The tenure system seems brutal. It doesn't seem right for someone to work at a place for 8 years, and then be let go because they are not good enough. If there was something wrong with her work they should have been able to figure that out in one year or even six months. And once it was determined that she wouldn't get a permanent job, she should have stopped working there at once.

I imagine they were talking about plans for the coming year at the meeting. They might have even been talking about plans to replace her. It is not fair to put a person in a position like that. I'm not trying to justify what she did, just pointing out that the way the tenure system works is not ideal.

24. ots1927 - February 19, 2010 at 05:05 pm


Yes, the tenure system is brutal. But do you think it's any better in the business world? How about starting up and operating one's own business? People are put into extremely stressful situations in all walks of life, and as final as a tenure denial may seem, the process itself at most academic institutions is considerably more fair than firings in the business sector.

To point out the brutality of the tenure system or to question its fairness in an attempt to understand this tragedy is, as I wrote above, misguided and inappropriate. It implicates the University and those involved in Ms. Bishop's failed tenure bid, including her unfortunate victims.

25. ethan56 - February 19, 2010 at 05:06 pm

I'm going to have to say two things to aeg58 that are very politically incorrect:

1. Many folks here have protested against bringing in the general problem that women often have a harder time than men in the sciences in academia as a factor explaining this mad person's tragic murder of three colleagues (one of them a senior woman, another an ethnic minority). There are good reasons to protest the inclusion of this issue, including this person's personal past history of violence. For you to characterize this protest as "resistance", in a pseudo-psychological way, is demeaning. (You are saying: "I am righteous and right, and your protest against my position is mere proof of your 'resistance' against the obvious Truth.")

2. But as long as we are talking about gender, I wonder if anyone here has considered that one reason Bishop got her position at UAH may have been *because* she was a female? That is, the real gender element in this story is that she was--in part--an affirmative action hire.

Now I will face the storm for my daringly un-pc statements.

26. kadair - February 19, 2010 at 07:10 pm

Anyone seeing the correlation of this shooting and the Fort Hood shooting? Mental stress/breakdown and group meetings?

Get free information on how to survive an active shooting situation. Go to http://www.activeshootersurvival.wordpress.com

27. professor13 - February 19, 2010 at 11:36 pm

An earlier poster wrote, "I'm sure Ms. Bishop's colleagues were as anguished by the decision as she was; it's not pleasant for anyone when a tenure outcome is negative."

This is a ridiculous statement. Another article or post discussed the inability of faculty members who make these decisions to empathize with the faculty member being denied tenure. It is a very subjective process and faculty members making these decisions have absolutely no training in their task. When I was denied tenure, I was appalled at some of the stupid insensitive things said to me. My dept. head told me not "to take it personally." Come on now! Even the university provost told me that was a very stupid thing for her to say to me, especially since the provost also told me that I met all the criteria for tenure but a temporary acting dept head (a different female faculty member) told him she just didn't want me there anymore. Talk about being subjective! Another university administrator told me that the administration did not want to be in the position of telling a dept. head that they had to keep sosmeone they didn't want.

28. professor13 - February 20, 2010 at 01:05 am

PS. "..it's not pleasant for anyone when a tenure outcome is negative."
This myth was also belied by 3 of my "colleagues" obviously celebrating (whooping and hollering) in one of their offices the day the copy of the final letter from the Provost, denying me tenure, was received by the new dept. chair (previously acting dept. head) who was the primary force behind my tenure denial.

29. bones_brigade - February 20, 2010 at 01:50 am

All faculty meetings should be held in the nude following thorough cavity searches. No exceptions. We MUST prevent this from ever happening again! NEVER AGAIN!

30. sciprofmw - February 20, 2010 at 10:35 am

A much better article than the previous reports.

31. sunsengnim - February 20, 2010 at 03:30 pm

I stand by the statement that in a non-dysfunctional department, it is difficult for committee members to deny someone tenure. If professor13 had such ugly colleagues, why is she/he so upset about no longer working there? Sounds as if the person is well-shod of a toxic working environment. Again, the implication is that the victims in this case were somehow bullies who deserved to be shot, when we don't know anything about what went on.

And ots1927 is exactly right about the business world. My non-academic friends can only dream of work contracts that extend for a year at a time, and when someone in business is let go, they usually immediately have to clean out their desk while an armed guard is standing watch before they are escorted out of the building. How's that for sensitive?

32. nikogdanichevo - February 20, 2010 at 05:24 pm

My experience is that university administrations can be particularly vindictive to researchers whose discoveries, and especially any potentially patentable IP ("intellectual property" -ugh! what a term!) are coveted by greedyguts administrators involved in managing any of the funding for such productive researchers' projects. Often quite a long-running struggle can ensue. What struck me as I read the chronicle of Ms Bishop's struggles with U of A-Huntsville was the absence of any detailed information about the back-and-forth between either her departmental superiors and her or between her and some higher level in the university administration over her research output.

I do agree with those who have drawn a line here between homicidal acts such as Ms Bishop's and the context of maltreatment of a career engineering researcher who also happens to be a woman. The latter context is important but ultimately its importance is limited to that of context and it cannot be accepted as the sole or main causal explanation of Ms Bishop's homicidal actions.

33. stillaprof - February 20, 2010 at 10:54 pm

Unfortunately there are tenure committees/ administrators out there who are unfair, malicious, biased etc. for whatever reason. When a negative decision occurs at the dept. level, this is especially difficult to overcome for the candidate.
I take issue with #31 that the candidate should then not be too upset about being forced to leave such a (rotten) place. If s/he is qualified for tenure, s/he should get it, and then think about a move to another institution (with tenure).
What puzzles me about this incredible tragedy is how she attained the doctorate at Harvard. She must have been doing serious work, passed her exams, etc... to get the PhD, no? Wouldn't red flags have gone up there if she were fudging research, credentials, frightening faculty/students etc. as people have said regarding her time at UAH? Did she ever seek psychiatric help in the past? Something doesn't add up about her professional career in general.

34. professor13 - February 20, 2010 at 11:03 pm

sunsengnim, I agree. I've realized since I started the appeal process that I would be better off out of that toxic environment. It was just disappointing to see that "professionals" in their 30s, 40s and 50s had not matured beyond the 6th grade. We, who have been denied tenure, just have very few chances to vent on these issues. Many in this position are too humiliated to talk about it; "colleagues" in the university from which one is departing, family, and even therapists, often don't understand the pain. Yesterday I reconnected with an old friend at another university through Facebook. We talked on the phone for over an hour. She told me about a horrendous situation she went through last year when applying for promotion to full professor. Her empathy did more for me than 2 years of therapy.

Also, I am sorry I implied that Bishop's "colleagues treated her the same way. As a matter of fact it sounds like her colleagues may have been more supportive. I was just taking the opportunity to vent.

35. lillieanne - February 21, 2010 at 12:57 am

With respec to the earlier posts, it's all very easy for us to sit in the comfort of our warm homes, at our computers, and decry what Prof. Moriarity should have and/or could have done. None of us were there. In such a horrendous situation, there's very little time to think rationally about the could haves and the should haves. According to published reports, the rampage was over in approximately 20 seconds. Can you just imagine the carnage? Probably not. I, too, thought that leaving the woman in the hall, with a gun, was not a wise move. Students could have been in the area, and in her disturbed state could have been targets as well. In such a state of mind like Dr. Bishop's, who's to say that she would not have turned the gun on students as well. In retrospect, however, I can understand that the professors inside the room were simply thinking of stopping the woman from doing any more damage. Now, the issue of tenure is a contentious thing. I've undergone it, and believe me it was a most stressful period in my life. It's not something that any scholars take lightly. It's nearly as stressful as writing a dissertation, because you know that you are being academically judged 24-7. I've also known professors who did not get tenure and were given that one-year courtesy year of employment. No one wants to be in that situation. "Getting tenure" is different for everyone, and many professors certainly feel that they are being unfairly judged by people who are less scholarly than they are. Many people react horribly, but certainly being denied tenure is not the end of the world. If it is the end of the world for some scholars, then I do believe that their world was pretty jacked up from the start.

36. katyajohann - February 21, 2010 at 03:52 am

Going through the tenure process puts the candidate through hell at the best of times. Every single person I have known who has gone through that process has been scarred from it, whether they received the promotion or not. Those who didn't get tenure - I wouldn't wish their situation on anyone. Not because they lost their job - that can happen for many reasons, both inside and outside of academia - but because of needlessly inhumane nature of the process and the brutal rejections offered to those denied - humiliating public statements from the committee about the candidates lack of qualifications and ability that often were not the real reason they had been denied. The enormous amounts of wasted time on the crazy demands of the application process, the need to get published no matter what to sate the desires of the committee, the constant worry that everything you've done just won't be good enough no matter how much you have achieved, the critiques of your work and stature in your field by those who know nothing about it yet feel qualified to judge by their position on a committee, the indulgence of personal vendettas or favoritism in the decision process - these are just a few of the aspects of the process that can be changed for the better. Maybe, as horrible as this situation is, it will open the eyes of the academic community to begin a necessary re-evaluation of how the community as a whole. This process is horrible and needs to be changed. I for one was not surprised that somebody finally cracked under it. My condolences go out to the families and friends of all those involved in this horrible tragedy.

37. ethan56 - February 21, 2010 at 07:55 am

I agree that tenure is a difficult and stressful process, in which the candidate is under scrutiny 24/7, and not just for scholarship. What is at stake is a *life-time* appointment to a job--something that *few* outside of academia get. No one is automatically *entitled* to this, neither the job security nor the prestige, because the reward is absolutely enormous.

I've gone through both tenure, and promotion to full professor. I never had any problems, but I have seen others who were treated in my mind very unjustly. It was simply awful.

But I don't think that refusals of tenure at the Department level are very common, and despite the awful experiences of some people who have posted here, with which I do sympathize, no one who is passing judgment in my own personal experience ever feels good about doing this. (In my own 30 year career I've voted against tenure once.)

And this issue once more gets away from the core of tragedy at UAH. It was *not* the tenure process, difficult as the process is--but that is comensurate with the reward. It was that this insane person, who if she wasn't insane when she was hired (which raises issues: she'd murdered her brother), did become insane while she was at UAH (including a conviction for battery in 2005--that might hurt with a tenure case). Let's not yoke the terribly destructive actions of this mad woman to our personal issues and have her pull us along.

While I feel sad for everyone involved, I'm saving my sympathy for the three people who were killed, and for their distraught families--and not "everyone", and least of all for Bishop's husband James Anderson, who is an obvious liar about Bishop's gun.

38. octoprof - February 21, 2010 at 08:32 am

This bit sounds wrong to me...

"What's worse, perhaps, is that scholars like Ms. Bishop who are denied tenure are usually allowed to stay on at their campuses for another year, primarily to give them time to find another job. But working as a lame duck among colleagues who have deemed you unworthy can't help but be excruciating. And as the academic job market has grown tighter in recent years, the task of finding a new job and starting over on the tenure track at middle age must have seemed both daunting and depressing."

So, letting those who do not get tenure have a terminal year is "worse" than what? Should they be fired outright and then stuck waiting to find employment when the next employment cycle happens in academia? It's not like most academic fields are hiring around the calendar, of course. It's not like private industry (which isn't an option for most academic fields), where hiring goes on at any and all times. Academic has a hiring cycle. Mostly, faculty are hired for Fall semester starts and thus anyone who is denied tenure in Spring is too late for the hiring cycle for the following academic year.

It's as if the writers believe if she had been fired and pushed directly out the door, the shooting would not have happened. You think?

39. ethan56 - February 21, 2010 at 09:06 am

The comments of Octoprof seem to me quite correct and to the point.

One reason for the extra year is to give the person time to appeal. This is humane, far more humane than private industry.

Another reason for the extra year is to give the person a substantial time to look for another position, while still earning a pretty good salary in his/her old position. This is humane--far more humane than in private industry.

A third reason for the extra year is that the courses for the next year have already been set for that next year, about 4-6 months earlier than the final decision on tenure comes down. This means the Dept doesn't have to scramble to change the schedule, which they would have to do if a person was immediately let go. This factor has nothing to do with humaneness, but with administrative convenience.

40. stillaprof - February 21, 2010 at 09:46 am

Unfortunately, at some institutions (like The City University of New York) there is no extra year once tenure is denied, which adds additional pressures on an already stressful period. Those denied tenure are basically on their own when initiating the appeals process, which can last years.
Also no excuse to commit violence - Bishop is clearly deranged and guilty of murder, and not because of the tenure process.

41. nikolite - February 21, 2010 at 09:59 am

I agree with sunsengnim points. Gender discrimination or the stressful tenure process is irrelevant to this crime. But what's more disconcerting is that the author gives us lots of personal details about Bishop, her struggles, psychological pains, family life, etc., while completing dehumanizing the victims. What about their struggles, the children and spouses they left behind, and their contributions? I think without trying to, Bishop becomes the victim here in this story when we barely see the faces of the victims in these reports.

If her rampage was really based in supposedly perceived discrimination, would she have targeted and killed two African Americans, including a woman, and an Indian American, and wounded at least another woman and hispanic man?

Also, the circumstances surrounding her brother's murder (she shot at him twice with a shotgun) were hidden from police records, and it has now come out that she subsequently threatened bystanders with the shotgun and demanded a getaway car, before having a stand-off with the local police. She is no-doubt simply a psychopathic murderer and nothing less.

42. ethan56 - February 21, 2010 at 10:27 am

I completely agree with Nikolite.

CHRONICLE: let us have detailed stories on Professors Gopi Padilla, Adriel D. Johnson, Sr., and Maria Ragland Davis.

Please do this.

43. tebartlett - February 21, 2010 at 11:22 am





44. ethan56 - February 21, 2010 at 11:31 am

te: these are great to have, but they are not really front-page stories. These folks sound so nice, and these are such inspiring stories with such a tragic ending. It would be good for more people to see them, on the front page. A group portrait, on the front page of the Chron. That's what I would like.

45. randijaye - February 21, 2010 at 01:03 pm

I don't see how the academic profession should be any different than other "jobs" out there! There are problems, issues, stressors and disappointments in the lives of men and women who have careers. And frankly, I am tired of all the speculation about hidden mental illness in people who kill! Perhaps this is because I am a sociology professor, but my only question is: How did this woman get away with murdering her brother years ago? And why?

46. abichel - February 21, 2010 at 02:25 pm

Due to the complex nature of the academic mind there isn't a campus nationwide that doesn't harbor one or more individuals with the types of personallity issues that Amy Bishop acted upon. Deep down, I think it is this fear that bothers people the most - next time it could be them. Truth be told, some will never look at their colleagues the same way again.

47. marietz - February 21, 2010 at 03:49 pm

Great comments! Thank you for sharing them!

1. Let's not forget, however, that this is first a case of violence in the work place. If we examine other cases of violence in the work place, the question of triggers always come up. In this case, there are many: tenure, sole breadwinner, fear of humiliation, fear of not finding another job, unreasonable expectations... etc. If you read the papers about violence in the work place, you'll see that Bishop's triggers are similar to others would have killed in the work place!

2. Any "normal" person would lick his/her wounds and then go on with their life. Unfortunately, this was not a "normal" person.

3. So the questions are: Mow do we deal with mental illness in the work place? Can mental illness in the work place be detected? Do we have a right to interfere into somebody's life and this person "mentally ill" when that person displays an "unusual" or "bizarre" behavior at work?

48. brainbet - February 21, 2010 at 04:06 pm

The article is a good summary but overlooks several possibly important points. I've read elsewhere that Dr. Bishop's students brought a petition to the department chair (one of the eventual victims) sharply criticizing her teaching. One report said she simply read verbatim from the textbook. These behaviors would be signs of an inability to relate well to other people. If so, that's a trait that should have been noticed earlier in her career and reported in her recommendation letters. The other, more dramatic problems in anger management (e.g. the restaurant dispute where she hit another woman in the head over a child seat -- also not mentioned in this Chronicle article) must have been known to at least some of those who recommended her for this position.

Why is it only after a crime is committed that the tell-tale signs in the transgressor's background are brought to light?

49. performance_expert - February 21, 2010 at 04:09 pm

17. sunsengnim, "Ms. Bishop was given the opportunity of employment for six years in which she was allowed to prove herself."

Ahem. I think this is the crux. This is the whole thing right here. Allow mt begin or preface by saying that your phrasing sounds quite Royal. You are basically denying this person their job, that they showed up for work and did their work. My God, listen to you. "Allowed to prove herself." I mean, pardon me, Wtf?! I'll just leave it at that, let's call it depersonalizing the worker.

Secondly, or primarily, let's forget about mental illness and dangerous history and let's focus solely on the work conditions and this tenure contraption. Apparently tenure is no longer an honor but a requirement to keep your stupid job and not have your life ruined after dedicating a chronologically important time of your life to an institution. Someone thrown out at the door is at a disadvantage to the original start time, of when they showed up. Would it not make more sense, be sensible, to take persons with an aversion to the publishing and convert them to intructional professors? Maybe a little less pay or pay structure but not unceremoniously and coldly destroy their lives as the present management system seems set to do for those who have not proven themselves? This is fundamental. It is so necessary to discard and destroy the worker?

And next, this present system is an instigator for people to publish pages that fit a political need but lack real inspiration, purpose, and scholarship- if the word even means anything to you. I suggest that some people's human research clock may be different than this machine-like demand for papers or book. Some people need to ruminate, perhaps for years, before doing meaningful work. I say if their publishing time table or performance (pardon me) does not fit the tenure demand, then convert them into intructor status and keep them there until they can do better. Certainly anyone vetted and hired would at least be capable as an instructor? Something needs to be less brutal in this current method of tenure or destroy. Additionally, obviously a section of this tenure-trap-destroy is much dependent on the politics with the coworkers. Well, what if the coworkers are a bunch of networking scoundrels? Have anyone ever seen that before? Academic departments with internal priorities and power grids that do not remotely track what is the best knowledge but greatly track giving the appearance of something? -Usually tuned up to appeal to something outside the department and by that I do not mean scholars in the field.

Who would want to work in one of these tenure-trap-and-destroy environments? Either someone extremely connected, like what some fraternities and sororities practice, or someone extremely assured in their field. But what about the rest? Who would want to put their head in a guillotine?

And since Chronicle if a US website, allow ME to say that I am not real optimistic about the general quickness and update of these new notions being applied.

Just the truth, Ruth.


50. performance_expert - February 21, 2010 at 04:21 pm

Reading the comments, still having trouble with this American notion of discarding workers, whether it is in industry or acadamia. No one seems to see that industry workers who are fired. let go, etc. do not carry the stigmata that an academic would carry. If a worker is fired from an auto plant or a finance company, they can pick up another job without stigmata. The same is not true with academia. So really, many of you who are so self assured seem quite out of touch. And another thing, you live as associates of the US dept. industry. So, really, back it down a notch. Cost of education has doubled and personal debt for education has doubled or quadrupled. Those of you so self assured, many of you are an expensive date for regular society. And secondarily, while living off of debt assumed by young people, you feel fine with discarding and destroying others (the grown ups). Maybe I'm a little "off" but I call that being a sociopath.

As far as the professors who were murdered, it is tragedy. I do not know them so I am unable to feel the loss in the way of those who do, but may they rest in peace and may god bring compassion, support, and understanding to their loved ones. And in the long term, healing- for they have been wronged.

51. dlu39503 - February 21, 2010 at 04:40 pm

I echo ethan56's comments. I have been on a number of hiring committees for faculty and professional staff. In the last few years, every time we have been told someone high up in the administration that we are to select the best qualified candidate; however, if that candidate is not female, we better be prepared to document why not in a manner sufficient to stand up in court. In one case, with a professional staff position, we did not get any female applicants. We were told to re-open the search and leave it open until we did. As far as inappropriate comments, at most universities where I have worked, it has been the female faculty and staff who routinely make sexist comments about men. Sexism and discrimination definitely exist in academics, and men are the targets today. And unless you believe it is appropriate to blame the victim, you cannot say men deserve it because the men being discriminated against today are not the ones who benefited from past discrimination.

52. performance_expert - February 21, 2010 at 05:30 pm

dlu39503, over a two year period I worked in three different educational environments and the one commonality I observed was that I, a male, had no power, was told what to do and all of the bosses were female. I conceived of the idea of observing "hierarchical columns of power" in management and that these should have some race / gender balance. In the different institutions there were different races in power over me, per the institurion. Therefore, I observed a 100% female heirarchy over me going up three levels at each institution, and then secondly, among this female power demographic, one the three-high hierarchical management at one institution would be 100% one race and at a different institution would be 100% another race.

The main result up me was a feeling of completely powerlessness, no power sharing, I was treated as a worker and no more, not a participant. I have also been harassed at one institution where a person (female) I did not know showed up and over-scrutinized me, wrote bad evals of me, and then later altered and reissued the same documents of which I have copies of both. This error is the one thing that prevented me from being unemployed there. I have since learned that this person (female) is in the habit of going around and doing hit-jobs on males. Somehow I made it through, by the grace of God or whatever. But I have come to see this as a mafia type activity.

One person suggested males workers should organize.

I have also observed complete excellent and great managers who are female, several of them. But it seems that they too are in danger of being harassed by the power-driven evil ones.

Just thought I would tell you. As a male worker, this stuff is very difficult to address or to quantify. But when at different work sites ten out of ten bosses are female, one may wish to take note.

Oh, one other thing. At one institution, they (female) did a hit job and made three of the core male professors very uncomfortable and very unwelcome. Those conference table meetings remind me a lot of the Amy in Huntsville situation. Very ugly. For these men, it was like the rug was being slowly and skillfully and completely pulled out from under them. And all three did good work, were good people, good professors. One is the best one in the dept. A lower female intructor got very angry at him over something and made a big deal out of it and made a big complaint to the (female) dept head and (female) dean. They positively had the man emotionally on ice, cold spine, the whole bit.

So please, do not allow these things to occur in silence.

53. performance_expert - February 21, 2010 at 05:41 pm

dlu39503, One other thing. I told one good friend female co-worker about how all of the bosses were female. She chuckled and told me how much difficulty she had getting hired way back when and all of the management as well as professors were male. She said in effect "you (men) deserve it."

How odd how all of this seems out of balance. Vindication. Two wrongs make a right etc. Except, much of the work I see from the current ilk only perpetuates the status quo. Innovation? No. the priority is not innovation. In fact, it was the male innovators who really got the treatment. In these situations, having honors, grants, and fellowships are used against the person, identify as a target. Be a little mouse, never say a work, act like a servant to the power is how you keep a job when the hit squad is active. This sounds sarcastic, but no, it is what it is.

54. a_nonnie_muss - February 21, 2010 at 08:00 pm

Commentator #48 raises an important question. On two occasions in my life I have worked with people who I feared were very close to being unhinged, and on both occasions the few people I tried to discreetly discuss their behavior with seemed so embarrassed by the existence of conflict that they were completely unwilling to entertain the possibility that anything irreparably destructive might come of the situation. In one of these situations my fellow academic journal editors decided it was necessary to lock down our computer files with passwords to prevent the possibly-unhinged individual (also an editor) from further maliciously destroying them but declined to support me in raising the issue with an advisor or taking any further action. Somehow it is considered beyond the beyond to question any fellow professional adult's mental health, no matter how troubled they appear to be (erratic or wildly disproportionate behavior, bullying or threatening others, etc.) and no matter if the subject is raised with complete discretion, behind closed doors and not in an accusatory manner. As a culture we are increasingly thrilled by aggressive conflict on tv and in movies and increasingly completely unable to even begin to discuss it in the workplace. I don't know what the solution is but I can't see any sort of meaningful change coming about unless as a culture we can begin to have a more realistic relationship with mental illness. It is not as rare as it is believed to be, it should not be completely out of bounds as an explanation for why a particular person is behaving inappropriately, and at the same time there should be institutional safeguards against groundless and spiteful witch-hunts.

55. brainbet - February 21, 2010 at 08:38 pm

The criticisms of tenure don't ring true. Every profession has an apprentice stage during which the novice must prove his/her skills. Simply being appointed to a starting rank is no guarantee that one will win the potential lifetime career position. Yes, the pre-tenure stage is difficult but no more so than in medicine, law, business, or sports. Just because you're signed to a contract for a sports team doesn't mean you will spend your career there or even become a regular starting player.

Yes, you must meet the standards of those who are judging you, which is appropriate because they are voting on whether they want to spend the rest of their careers with you as a permanent colleague. There may be personal biases behind some votes but there's enough levels of review (department committee, school of college committee, possibly a university committee dean, provost, president) and grievance procedures to regulate biases.

Collegiality is important, too, because why should faculty vote to tenure someone who is going to disrupt their work space and peace of mind with inane outbursts. The mad (meaning wacky or angry or both) genius may be rejected for tenure but can still contribute to the discipline from a different campus.

56. lakemendota - February 22, 2010 at 09:35 am

The issue is not a person's diagnosis or suspected diagnosis but their behavior. Deal with the behavior. Ever university has, or should have, procedures for handling disruptive or non-performing individuals.

57. stalnaker - February 22, 2010 at 10:08 am

There is a lot of maligning of the tenure process in the media (and in these comments) lately. I must agree with #55. There is stress, to be sure, but I'm not sure why so many people are finding it quite as malignant as they seem to be making it out to be. I'm in the process right now. I do what I do, and what I was hired to do. I think thoughts, write grant proposals, support students, and write journal articles. I get good performance evaluations and the respect of my colleagues. At the risk of being the odd man out, I'm just not finding it all that hard. Seems about the same as my graduate student career and my post-doc, honestly.

58. aeg58 - February 22, 2010 at 12:05 pm

In response to Ethan56: I accept your criticism of my word usage--it was not my intent to be self-righteous, but I see how it can be read that way. I fully agree that Ms. Bishop's experiences as a woman in academe do not explain or excuse her actions. My point was that it is senseless to consider some--but not all--possible factors which may have led up to her rampage.

I do take exception to your suggestion that she was "an affirmative action hire." In my experience, plenty of bad hires occur without affirmative action. It's also demeaning to the senior woman faculty member and the faculty member of color who were murdered.

59. en_chat - February 22, 2010 at 02:15 pm

Responding to both to this and comments in "Reactions: Is Tenure a Matter of Life or Death?", I would agree that this will require a thorough investigation into how the warning signs could have been missed, and what could have been done to mitigate the potential for extreme violence. When tenure is denied it is, as indicated here, a life-changing event which reaches into a person's core identity. It seems to have been taken that way by Dr. Bishop, as the comments attest. It is not unreasonable to assume that someone will snap at some point; and the point of confluence arrived, very unfortunately. Faculty members are not different than others; and this is still a workplace.

I am struck by the parallel to Marc Lepine's targeted murder of 14 women at L'Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal in 1989. As an engineering student who was failing, he identified the growing number of women in engineering as a problem which was pushing people like him out. Baldly stated, he got a gun, walked into a classroom, separated the men and women, and shot the women.

While motive and all such facts remain to be confirmed, it seems that Dr. Bishop had a similar modus operandi. She was failing, identified the problem, got a gun, went to a meeting, and seems to have shot as many of the type of people she identified as the problem as she could.

I hope we mourn deeply, focus our attention on understanding what happened, and commemorate the courage of those who will continue to do the job they feel they must in sometimes denying tenure.

60. marka - February 22, 2010 at 03:45 pm

Hmm ... Obviously, provocative article ... although on the face of it, it seems a simple matter of straightforward reporting. From my perspective, it gives a decent picture of relevant facts & context, to promote understanding. It isn't issuing a judgment, or calling for one. Merely noting the sad facts & circumstances.

I continue to be amazed at the the propensity of many, many folks, academic and otherwise, to jump to conclusions & judgments based on very little real evidence. Sad to say, this is true in my field - law - as well. A few comments make valid points, and a few others share their particular experiences, all of which are enlightening.

As for the rest -- well, suffice it to say I'm glad they're not in a position to judge me or my work! Many tenure decisions may be correct, but that doesn't mean they all are -- from my own experience, and that of others expressed here, there are plenty of tenure decisions that give rise to discrimination claims -- it gives many of my colleagues plenty of work, because discrimination is proved. Ms. Bishop may, or may not, be 'insane' or have some mental illness -- others are in a much better position at this point to evaluate that. How Ms. Bishop may have felt about the tenure decision is directly relevant to her state-of-mind, which is directly relevant to 'mens rea' & whether she can be found guilty (hence, the insanity defense). How women are treated in academia is directly relevant to that state-of-mind, as well. And as with tenure decisions, there are plenty of legal findings that numerous academics have practiced illegal discrimination over the past decades. And past arrests, or police inquiries, are generally ruled inadmissible in a trial, for what should be obvious reasons. Mere suspicions are just that - suspicions - some act as if the police are correct 100% of the time - Yikes! Just like academics are correct 100% of the time - ouch! Well, judges & juries are correct 100% of the time, too ;-) As if ...

61. englishdocno38911239 - February 22, 2010 at 03:47 pm

While it is obviously true that being denied tenure does not excuse or "explain" Bishop's psychotic murders, I find there's a surprising equivalence by many (not all) commenters between holding jobs in academia vs private industry. The reason denial of tenure is such a horrifying prospect for a professor is that s/he is highly unlikely (Cary Nelson confirmed this recently) to find another, equivalent academic position. The reject will probably have to re-tool and find another career path--often as a middle aged person who has practically no other experience on their resume. In private industry, by contrast, losing a job is often a manageable setback. I myself have been laid off three times in private industry (always as part of larger company re-orgs), and each time I have found a better or equivalent position in the same field within weeks, or in one instance, days. Of course there was a good deal of luck in that, but it's hardly a unique story in industry. The difference comes down to numbers: there are many, many more companies than there are universities. In many industries, there are multiple firms in the same town that need the same sorts of employees. By contrast, in some academic fields, the number of tenure-track positions advertised across the entire country may not exceed double digits. With many, many times more applicants than that, of course.
I neither feel nor recommend sympathy for Bishop, but people need to understand that attaining tenure is absolutely critical in the academy. Being rejected for tenure is in many ways a professional death sentence. I agree with those who think that system needs overhaul; first and foremost, the decision should come much earlier. A person needs to know after a year or two if they're not wanted, no longer.

62. jfetter - February 22, 2010 at 04:13 pm

Two things, aside from Bishop's obvious instability, jump out here. First, the allegedly sexist work environment for female academics is so bad, that it mitigates, if not fully excuses, Bishop's decision to execute, in cold blood, as many of her colleagues as possible. Second, tenure needs reform, so let's keep talking about reforming a system that, to be perfectly blunt, gives too many people too many entitlements to be reformed from within. Might it be worth asking whether a male professor with similar attitudinal and psychological problems would have even received a position at a research university? If anything, sexism--for gender discrimination in either direction is rightly called sexism--enabled a timebomb who should have been locked up behind padded walls to instead gain a job at a relatively prestigious university. This just further demonstrates that job candidates should be evaluated purely based on their academic qualifications, not other considerations such as gender, race, etc. Furthermore, those who decide to commit mass murder should be held to account rather than having their actions excused or whitewashed because the group to which she belongs was once treated unfairly. In Bishop's case, this probably means the death penalty, which, by the way, is disproportionately applied to men.

63. brainbet - February 22, 2010 at 04:25 pm

"Englishdoc" above recommends a first or second year notice to new hires if they're not wanted. I believe this is done at many colleges already. My university offers only a two-year contract to new tenure-track appointees. An informal evaluation at the end of year one is an opportunity to be rid of an obvious misfit. And the contracts thereafter are always one year at a time, until tenure is available during a sixth year process.

But most appointments are not so wrong that a major flaw will be spotted as quickly as after 1-2 years. The typical tenure rejectee is not a disaster but rather a person who didn't quite live up to his/her promise, making the colleague prefer getting a new hiring opportunity rather than decades with the disappointing candidate.

In today's job market in many fields, it would be difficult to find a new tenure-track job, but the tenure-rejectee could apply for junior positions with the advantage of years of publications and teaching experience, more than the new PhDs have to offer. A lower-tier school might find that higher-tier's rejectee to be a proven and desired colleague. Moreover, in the natural sciences or other practical, applied fields, there are labs and private industry positions to consider.

The tenure process builds anxiety, 'tis true, but most occupations do not offer the lifetime security of a tenured position. The greater the prize, the tougher the race.

64. laughin_otter - February 22, 2010 at 06:44 pm

After carefully reading the incident in Amy Bishop's past wherein she pointed her father's shotgun at her brother and accidentally shot the brother, after a heated argument with her father, and how the family effectively shielded themselves from public scrutiny, I conclude that the recent shooting has roots that run much deeper than the issue of student evaluations and tenure, although those facts provided the spark that lit the powderkeg that is Amy Bishop.
Going back to the earlier episode, the scenario is this: Amy had had a spat with her father, a university professor. She ran upstairs and grabbed his shotgun from his bedroom, which she knew neither how to load nor to fire. She ran back downstairs and apparently asked her brother for help with the gun, whereupon the now loaded gun went off, killing him instantly. The family suppressed the whole incident by not pressing charges, while Amy rushed off with gun in hand, looking for a getaway car.
OK, I read that family as covering up the incident because there was quite likely much more than meets the eye in the family dynamics. It would not be unusual for a university professor to push his firstborn beyond reason, using a variety of tactics from humiliation and emotional pressure to perform, to outright verbal, emotional, or physical abuse. It would not be unusual for the wife of that professor, quite possibly intimidated herself, to cover up and smooth over his transgressions in order to preserve a semblance of normalcy in a high-profile social position. It would not be unusual for that child to build up such a fund of rage that it boiled over from time to time. The accounts we read of Amy Bishop's apparent inability to control her temper, looks very familiar as a description of a person who has been repeatedly subjected to abusive treatment in whatever context you might name.
It would not be the first time an ambitious or power-tripping parent has sacrificed his child on the altar. The fratricides that have made national headlines over the past decade point to a level of abuse that was unremitting and inescapable. Yet such parents seem oblivious to the damage they are inflicting.
This is not to exonerate the guilty, as Amy Bishop certainly is--but to issue a caution for us onlookers to exercise all we know and understand about toxic relationships before we begin throwing stones.

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