Paul L. Caron

Friday, February 12, 2010

Alabama Prof Kills Three at Faculty Meeting After Being Denied Tenure

University-of-Alabama-Huntsville Amy Bishop, a biology professor at the University of Alabama-Huntsville, allegedly shot and killed three biology professors during a faculty meeting.  Ms. Bishop's appeal of her tenure denial was recently rejected by the university.  (Hat Tip: Woody McNair.)

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First of all, my sincere condolences to the families of those who fatally suffered from this unspeakable tragedy !

To my mind, nothing can justify killing of anybody - whatever the reasons might be !

But, in the flood of our positive and negative emotions, we, scientific research workers, should not forget - this story is tragic and ugly at the same time - and it's carrying two separate lines, which should be clearly disentangled.

1. The tragedy of people being killed, the tragedy of their families and colleagues - on the other hand: a ripe woman who is definitely talented and most probably psychotic at the same time.

2. The disastrous situation in the universities and research organizations all over the world.

Yes, the time should elapse, it might be a considerable time, before all of us, who feels him/herself engaged, can come around after this overwhelming tragedy.

But the first point was clearly preprogrammed by the second one !

The tremendous difficulty here is that thousands of colleagues are facing tenure denials all over the world, but for the present the shooting in Alabama Huntsville seems to be the only known case, where weapons started to talk ...

Who am I to tell you such things ?

A short formal sketch of my own biography: I am theoretical biophysicist with 27 years of professional experience, more than 80 peer-reviewed papers - which received more than 800 citations - h-index = 15.

A short informal addition to my CV: I have VOLUNTARILY left the academia, am working in industry - and holding honorary academic positions all around the world. And I know several colleagues - dedicated researchers who did just the same as me.

One of the reasons why I have moved to industry is analyzed in my blog:

In the latter blog, posted before the tragic events we are discussing now, I have placed some deliberations about how all our "quota-hired" colleagues may extremely easily turn into "desperados", "mankurts", etc ...

On the other hand, the "hunt for the social success at any price" may turn talented scientists - wonderful and caring persons - into cold and cruel landlords ...

I regret to know several examples, where casualties have not taken place solely thanks to a fortunate chance ...

Dear colleagues, please be aware that the bells toll already since sufficiently long ago - and it is finally the time to realize that "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark" - and not only in Denmark !

Respectfully yours,

Evgeni B Starikov

Posted by: Evgeni B Starikov | Feb 14, 2010 5:15:28 AM

Sound to me she loves something there that she'd "kill" just to stay. So much for the Valentines!

Posted by: Rodney@FirstPlanB | Feb 13, 2010 6:26:58 PM

Sounds to me that there something she loves there that she would "kill" for. So much for the Valentine's.

Posted by: Rodney@FirstPlanB | Feb 13, 2010 6:24:43 PM

Holy cow! It turned out that this professor unloaded a shotgun into her brother years ago and killed him. She was let go, as they termed it an "accident," but it sure didn't sound like one to me. That woman is nuts! Here's the link: NYT: A Previous Shooting Death at the Hand of Alabama Suspect.

Chief Frazier said in his statement that Officer Solimini “remembers that Ms. Bishop fired a round from a pump-action shotgun into the wall of her bedroom. She had a fight with her brother and shot him, which caused his death. She fired a third round from the shotgun into the ceiling as she exited the home. She fled down the street with the shotgun in her hand. At one point she allegedly pointed the shotgun at a motor vehicle in an attempt to get the driver to stop.”

An accident?

Posted by: Woody | Feb 13, 2010 5:14:03 PM

“ In the aftermath of one of these atrocities, nothing is more chilling than a gun advocate racing before a camera to embrace a lunatic’s right to carry and kill.”
Timothy Egaan, Guns of Spring, at

Posted by: calvin Johnosn | Feb 13, 2010 11:34:00 AM

Further, we frankly thrive under such competitive pressure at Boeing. We don't use it as an excuse to do harm to each other. She wasn't fired, she was denied tenure. Hey, here's a news flash. Successful engineers at Boeing NEVER get tenure. Some even get laid off if they forget to produce.

There is no excuse for this. Don't start. Pressure is part of the cost of making a difference.

Posted by: Neil the Engineer | Feb 13, 2010 11:32:20 AM

Anonlymous, are you kidding me? "...The pressure on people in these situations is unbelievable..." I work for a "large aerospace firm here in the Northwest" more commonly called Boeing. We have customers every day demanding perfection in the aircraft we produce. We've seen delays and issues on both the 787 and 747-8 programs that make some professor's career issues pail in comparison. We've been ridiculed in the press and savaged by investors. ...And we're not busy popping each other off up here.

Posted by: Neil the Engineer | Feb 13, 2010 11:27:57 AM

It's fine to joke, but the pressure on people in these situations is unbelievable, I'm surprised this doesn't happen more often. More systematic workplaces have ways to keep tabs on people in a similar situation and try to prevent this happening. Maybe academic institutions should follow suit?

Posted by: mike livingston | Feb 13, 2010 7:10:40 AM

Somehow this will be Bush's fault.

Posted by: Anonymous | Feb 13, 2010 5:42:52 AM

In my opinion, the faculty meeting is where the real story lives. What happened since she shot the participants is not as important. That's why I came here. Where are the biology profs when you need them??

Posted by: KomaGawa | Feb 13, 2010 3:42:45 AM

There was a man at Stanford a few decades ago who bludgeoned his Professor to death with a hammer. The man's name was Strelesky I think; I can't recall the Prof's. It was my impression that it was mostly the victim's fault for his own demise and that the murderer was an alright guy.
Tenure is a bit of a racket. It gives the impression that those who have it are indispensable. I guess they are indispensable, once they have it.

Posted by: Patrick Of Atlantis | Feb 13, 2010 2:26:51 AM

I realize this sounds crazy, but I'm just waiting for the antidepressant shoe to drop. How many multiple shootings have to happen that antidepressants were involved, before the worlds wakes up. Just the number of school shooters should wake us up.

Posted by: Jay | Feb 12, 2010 10:49:06 PM

Unpossible. It was a gun-free zone!

Posted by: Larry | Feb 12, 2010 8:58:14 PM

It sounds like denying her tenure was a sound decision. She wanted to stay at one place, so she'll get her wish...prison.

Paul, I couldn't believe that you linked her name to "Rate My Professor." Comments from students:

- ...she is a socalist but she only talks about it after class.
- She's a liberal from "Hahvahd" and let's you know exactly how she feels about particular subjects.
- Dr. Bishop is brilliant. Her research is fascinating. She will surely get the Nobel Prize.

There goes the Nobel Prize, maybe, unless it's found out that she hated America, too.

Posted by: Woody | Feb 12, 2010 8:36:37 PM