Tenure Related Shooting? (Updated)

UPDATE V: New York Times now has a story about it, tries to make sense by referring to an “academic pressure cooker” – what exactly are we cooking? I wonder.

UPDATE IV: Before Shahar tsk-tsks me for being perversely obsessed with this story, here’s another curios update:

HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) – Police in Massachusetts said the professor charged with capital murder in the UAH shooting case also shot her brother 24 years ago.

Braintree, Massachusetts police confirmed Amy Bishop shot her brother, Seth Bishop with a shotgun in December, 1986.

Amy Bishop was 20 years old at the time and her brother was 18.

At the time, police said it was an accidental shooting.

Authorities said Bishop is accused of fatally shooting three colleagues at a faculty meeting where she was denied tenure, which provides job security.

UPDATE III: Another suspect in the shooting? CNN reports (saw this at Zaidy’s while eating latkes):

UPDATE II: University of Alabama, Huntsville briefs the press on the situation and officially releases names of the victims and takes questions.


More information about the arrest of Amy Bishop here.

UPDATE I: More details of this bizarre story are coming out:

Sammie Lee Davis said his wife, Maria Ragland Davis, was a researcher who had tenure at the university.

In a brief phone interview, he said he was told his wife was at a meeting to discuss the tenure status of another faculty member who got angry and started shooting.

He said his wife had mentioned the shooter before, describing the woman as “not being able to deal with reality” and “not as good as she thought she was.”

This story is just coming out, but it seems that a woman at the University of Alabama, Huntsville shot three people and injured one at the meeting where she was told she will not get tenure:

HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) – Police said a female member of the UA-Huntsville faculty shot and killed three co-workers on campus.

Huntsville Police, Madison County Sheriff’s department and HEMSI responded to a shooting at the UAH campus at 4:00 Friday afternoon.

The shooting happened in the Shelby Center, a math and science classroom building.

Authorities said a female faculty member during a Biology faculty meeting learned she would not receive tenure. She then pulled out a gun and started shooting.

Boy, this is really strange – did she know she wasn’t getting tenure and brought the gun?

Some more details are coming in:

Dr. Amy Bishop, a Harvard-University trained neuroscientist, was taken into custody, and her husband has been detained. They have not been charged with a crime.

According to police, three people were killed and three were wounded when the shooter opened fire during a biology faculty meeting on the third floor of the Shelby Center for Science and Technology. The three injured people are being treated at Huntsville Hospital.

Harvard-trained neuroscientist?

8 thoughts on “Tenure Related Shooting? (Updated)

  1. Neuroscientist. Aha. Those are the people who are crazy just like philosophers but with a practical streak. (Sorry, cheap shot.) (Oops, there’s another one.)

    Anyway I suppose we should note the contribution Dr. Bishop has made to the cause of equalizing the gender distribution of violent mass murderers.

    • The strangest part of the story – and maybe I’m just not up to date with the most current practices – is that she had a gun at the departmental meeting. Will they have to installing metal detectors now and making sure that faculty members are not “packing heat” (see, I do know some cool expressions)?

  2. The great scholar finally weighs in on the situation. Don’t hold your breath, folks, it’s all about what he would have done in the situation – obviously, the only way to assess any situation in life is just to ask a simple question – What Would Harman Do? – and act accordingly:


    All right, she was denied tenure. But she and her husband were also sitting on what looked like a potentially very lucrative patent. I would have laughed and walked away.

    I was expecting nothing less than some sort of "I would do X" but I was disappointed that there was only a lame story from the great man's life, not some long and elaborate account of some personal and important happening in his life. I wonder if he changes the topic of every conversation to himself all the time – must be one hell of a faculty meeting with that guy in it.

  3. I don’t know, Justin, sounds like a reasonable response to me (although agreeing with H-man on any subject matter makes me feel strange all over) – I’m sure many academics and para-academics would probably try to relate by thinking “What would I do in this situation?”

    Clearly, she was stressed about something and not getting tenure was probably the last drop.

  4. Well, you might be right, but if she and her husband “were sitting on a lucrative patent” that was owned by the university (because they are employees of the university), then losing a chance to get tenure might also mean losing some right to that patent. I don’t know the situation, but surely if one knew a little bit about how sciences work, one would be careful not to go around expressing one’s opinion like the above-mentioned egomaniac – just saying.

  5. I’m not going to tsk tsk you. This story is as terrible as it is odd. From today’s NYT:

    Bishop, who arrived in the 2003-4 academic year, was first told last spring that she had been denied tenure. If a tenure-track professor is not granted tenure after six years, the university will no longer employ them, Mr. Garner said. This would have been the final semester of Dr. Bishop’s sixth year.

    This would seem to work against those who insist she wasn’t “bottling” anything up, only to result in the proverbial explosion. On the other hand, I’m afraid to think of what this says more broadly, if anything at all, about academic culture and the increasing hostility towards “tenure” on the part of many administrations (and the culture at large). I don’t know if that’s a particularly good angle, e.g. to read this as symptomatic of broader economic and political pressures. Hmmm…a hasty generalization? A fallacy of Composition?

  6. Just want to note that taking a gun into a faculty meeting and shooting lots of people is not a ‘rational’ response to any situation, real or imagined. It’s not going to get her tenure, for example, or bring back her dead brother. There’s no rational way that works out well for her. But she doesn’t think they’re really dead, she just taught them a little lesson and now they’ll start treating her with the proper respect, so it’s all going to work out in the end in her delusional world.

    She’s nuts, in short. Trying to get her motives to ‘make sense’ in terms of job pressures or whatever is a non-starter. At best for that kind of analysis she’s the canary in the coal mine.

    I do like that it’s her we’re identifying with. I feel very sorry for her, but what I’m imagining is what I’d do if the scary mentally-unstable colleague we tried to gently ease out of our lives burst into our meeting with that crazy look she gets sometimes, hauls out a piece and opens fire.

    • True. I know there were cases of professors/students killing their colleagues/advisers and this seems to be just one of those, not “she-didn’t-get-tenure” killing spree. Here’s an example (from Peter Wood’s study “Homicides in Higher Education” Academic Questions 20:4):

      On August 15, 1996, Mr. Frederick Davidson, a thirty-six-year-old student who had failed his first attempt to defend his master’s degree thesis, “Characteristics of Torsional Shape Memory Alloy Actuators,” went before his examining committee at San Diego State University a second time. A few minutes into the defense, he opened a laboratory first-aid kit, took out a 9-mm handgun, and fired more than twenty rounds of ammunition into the three engineering professors who comprised the committee. Mr. Davidson later explained to police that his thesis advisor had bogged him down with extraneous assignments.

      Although Wood mainly has examples of students shooting professors, the idea is that these killings “had or might have had academic motivation, not crimes of passion, drug deals gone awry, manslaughters committed during drunken brawls at frat parties, and other such examples of high spirits among the collegians.”

      P.S. Just in case H-man is reading this: Amy Bishop shooting her colleagues was by far not the first time one professor shot another. See the above article for more examples of all sorts of bizarre homicides. For example, there’s similar case:

      August 24, 1992, Valery Fabrikant, a faculty member at Concordia University in Montreal who had recently been denied a sabbatical leave and promotion in the mechanical engineering department, went to the engineering school and tracked down several of his colleagues. He shot and killed four faculty members, and wounded the department secretary.25 At trial, Professor Fabrikant conducted his own defense. He argued that he was “provoked into the killings” because of the way university officials had handled his tenure application. Although he was found guilty and sentenced to a life term, Professor Fabricant when last heard from was still provoked over issues of procedure and offered his opinion that trial judge Justice Fraser Martin was malicious, vengeful, and a “little low crook.”

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