Going Postal on the Tenure Review Committee

13alabama_CA0-articleLarge There has to be a better way of telling the tenure review committee to go to hell.

Neurobiologist, Amy Bishop, blew away three members of her tenure review committee at the Univerisity of Alabama, after she was denied tenure. Three others were seriously injured. 

Eight years of graduate school. Seven years getting tenure. Then told to go away and don't come back. In a  crappy job market. By people with less credentials than you. Oh, I can see how that could push a borderline personality over the edge.

92 thoughts on “Going Postal on the Tenure Review Committee

  1. Holy crap, MH. That has to break something inside you.
    What bothers me is that she happened to kill 3 of the darkest-skinned people in the room, it seems. Coincidence?

  2. I haven’t gone through the CVs of those killed and injured, but I doubt that it was entirely a situation of “she’s got great credentials and they’re dogmeat.” However much that is a comforting mythology to explain tenure denials.
    Given this violent response, I have to wonder if the borderline personality elements hadn’t already manifested themselves enough to make collegiality the deciding factor in denying her tenure.
    Of course, the sad reality is that there’s not usually anyone in charge of new academic hires who’ll intervene if personality problems manifest in unhealthy ways. Department chairs and deans may lack authority to do so or don’t even think this is their concern so problems aren’t addressed.

  3. The thing is, from what I read, she and her spouse developed a new kind of petri-dish, sold it and made 1.2 million… she probably wasn’t worried about paying the rent.

  4. That link I put in the first comment is a page that is being updated. It is now weirder than it was five hours ago.

  5. MH, do you think there’s a pattern to our having the same pattern?
    The whole thing with her brother is bizarre, just bizarre. There seems to be no reason to doubt the patrolman; it’s hard to believe he would make up details like that.

  6. That’s disturbing as hell. I wonder what really happened with her brother?
    I suppose it would be hard to remain normal after that even if it was unintentional.

  7. Wendy, I doubt the patterns mean anything. And that police report is a little strange. She accidentally shot the same gun, apparently on the same day, in the house and nobody noticed? It is clearly not the only report as it doesn’t give much information on the scene or the type of gun.

  8. Her father was a professor at Northeastern. Her mother was “a public official sitting on the Personnel Committee.”
    Papers are missing: “Frazier said apart from a single Braintree police log entry – where the suspect’s name was omitted – Braintree Police Department Case #864718 does not exists. He said the seven-page report is gone, and any booking material related to the shooting is also missing.”
    http://www.patriotledger.com/homepage/breaking/x814065823/Suspect-Bishop-in-Alabama-deaths-was-investigated-in-1986-Braintree-shooting-and-let-goT
    http://www.bostonherald.com/news/regional/view/20100213braintree_chief_slay_probe_into_ala_shooter_aborted_in_86/srvc=home&position=0

  9. I don’t know. Looking at the new (to us) report, it could be an accident. First, the guy who claims there was a fight between AB and her brother isn’t listed as one of the officers who answered the call at the house. The father says that *he* had a fight with her before he left, so maybe that is why there was confusion. I keep hearing about “three” shots, but I count only two in the state police report (the one in her bedroom, and the one that killed her brother). Running out into the street could be a response to severe trauma. A passing driver could interpret a traumatized woman with a shotgun as aiming it at him/her.
    After the new-to-us report, I’m more 50-50 about her killing her brother deliberately. I’m sure people who knew them will come out of the woodwork tomorrow.
    I’m more impressed that she had 3 kids while she got a doctorate in biology. Seriously, look at the timeline. 1986 she was 20 and killed her brother. Maybe she graduated NE by 1988? And surely she would have taken time off in that spring semester. But by 1996 she has her doctorate and 3 daughters. That’s impressive.

  10. These violent loners give the rest of us loners a bad name. From the NYT story:
    “Some students also had problems with Dr. Bishop’s teaching style, saying she simply read from the book in class but then tested them on material that she had not covered. Nursing students repeatedly complained to Dr. Podila, the department chairman, as well as to the dean, and even sent a petition, said Caitlin Phillips, a junior in the nursing program, who took two courses with Dr. Bishop in her sophomore year
    “She was “very socially awkward with students” and never made eye contact during personal conversations, Ms. Phillips said. “We all had kind of a problem with her. She never really taught much. She just read straight from the book.””

  11. It’s terrible what happened to those individuals at Univ. of Alabama. No question about that. My heart go out to their families. I have very little understanding of the particulars of this situation though it sounds like Bishop had a history of unstability.
    But taking a step away from this particular situation, there is something cruel about the process of getting tenure. I’ve heard plenty of stories of hard working, smart people who were completely blindsided when they were denied tenure. Normal people can handle this cruelty and move on. Borderline people might grab a gun.

  12. I was looking at some comments from gun guys last night, and the consensus is that the incident with Bishop’s brother is very unlikely to have been an accident if she were using a pump action shotgun. Here’s a short video showing the very noisy loading and firing procedure:

    However, it might have been some other kind of shotgun or fire arm.

  13. My immediate thought was that this will make it even more difficult to get people to serve on tenure review committees (I’m glad my 3 year term is almost done). I don’t really agree with Laura about tenure review. Certainly, at oour university the process is very clear and the expectations transparent. As far as I can tell most departments work with people to help them get tenure, and, crucially, if a TT faculty member thinks they are going to have trouble with their colleagues, unfairly, there are resources they can easily know about and can access to help them out. I can think of only one really bad situation I have come across in the past several years, and that situation seems to be working itself out. Not nice for the persoin involvled but a far cry from the routine humiliation that many people experience in many jobs.
    Much much worse is that fact that, because no-one admits any kind of management responsibility over faculty, someone like this can get this far without anyone identifying her as needing serious help, or as being a possible danger to her colleagues. The victims are first of all her victims, but second of all victims of a dysfunctional management culture that pervades lots of higher ed (and I don’t mean to blame management — tenured faculty make management’s job incredibly difficult).

  14. I think that there is a lot of variation from school to school, harry. I believe that the places that I’ve taught were straight forward like yours, harry. Other schools aren’t. I have several friends that worked for several years before being let go. In some cases, the professors only found out about being denied tenure in that final meeting. (And then they blogged about it.) I know of other cases where untenured faculty are floundering around without proper mentorship. And this is after years of grad school and student loans.
    Yes, there is an absolutely dysfunctional management culture. It is dysfunctional not only in that it doesn’t weed out the crazies. It is dysfunctional because it doesn’t know how to manage. My husband is much, much happier and is treated with much more respect in the private sector.

  15. What is striking to me is that there is no mention of what kind of shotgun.
    I’m kind of disgusted by how the right wing noise machine is turning this into something political. I think Frazier, the current Braintree police chief, acted way precipitously in giving a press conference.
    I’d also like to know why 25 year old recollections are treated as more accurate than a police report filed at the time. I thought police reports were the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth? Or is that only the case when the alleged criminal is a black person, like Skip Gates?
    Once again, I am just looking for some, any logical consistency or principle instead of people just making up whatever they feel like saying based on what they want to believe.

  16. A friend of mine looked at the numbers: of 14 people in the biology department at UAH, 5 were minorities. Of those she killed 3 and seriously wounded another. I think this is an angle we need to discuss. Has anti-affirmative action rhetoric encouraged whites to assume that their personal failures are due to “affirmative action”? That’s another part of the system’s dysfunction.

  17. “…what kind of shotgun…”
    My understanding is that reporters tend to be gun illiterate, hence the ubiquity of the “high-powered rifle” in news stories.
    diversity.
    “Has anti-affirmative action rhetoric encouraged whites to assume that their personal failures are due to “affirmative action”?”
    Bishop’s stated reason for opposing the college’s requirement for 1st and 2nd year students to live on campus was that it would hurt diversity. From the NYT story:
    “But Dr. Bishop also defended students, saying a new policy requiring freshmen and sophomores to live on campus was too expensive and would affect diversity.”
    It’s possible that Bishop was inwardly seething with white privilege, but if so, she was trying pretty hard to hide it, especially given that she was a leading figure in an unsuccessful fight to censure the university president partly over that decision. (Of course university politics are complicated, so the NYT version is probably not an adequate description.)
    I more see a very bright, probably overworked woman with a strong sense of fairness, but poor social, classroom and political skills who failed to understand or control herself and her environment. Although her university community probably had a lot of Northern transplants in it, I think I should add that the South can be difficult for a forthright and artless Northerner to navigate. It takes a while to figure out that you move faster forward by moving sideways and I don’t think Bishop ever figured that out.

  18. Laura, I have to agree with S — there are plenty of things wrong with the tenure system, and with academia in general, but it seems to me this incident may not be the best opening to discuss them. It assumes too much — that her colleagues were somehow as clueless/malevolent as those in the bad situations you mention (no evidence of that at all, and unfair to her victims), and frankly it creates an (unearned) sympathy for Bishop, who is a mass murderer. (Amy P, I like a lot of your comments, but the one here falls into that trap.) For all we know, Bishop was just a lunatic waiting for the right event to push her over the edge; if she had been denied her Venture Capital funding, and had shot the investors instead, maybe we’d just be blogging about how hard it is to start a business in America.
    I gather some version of take-the-incident-and-plug-in-your-preconceptions is already going on at right wing blogs (if only those other professors were armed!); I hope it won’t happen here.

  19. monboddo,
    I don’t want to excuse Bishop, but she reminds me of myself and of one of my kids, so I can’t help but draw comparisons. Mostly, the story makes me want to work harder with my hot-tempered/low social skill child to teach her self-control and social awareness and avoid having her grow up to be like Amy Bishop.

  20. I hope that just as columbine brought the problems of high school bullying to light, this incident brings bad academic practices to light.
    (fighting a sinus infection and packing for vacation. May not be able to respond to comments much longer.)

  21. “Braintree officers who remember the 1986 shooting said that former police Chief John Polio dismissed detectives from the case and ordered the department to release Amy Bishop after a telephone conversation with former district attorney William Delahunt, who is currently a U.S. congressman from Massachusetts.
    “The police officers here were very upset about that,” said Frazier, who was a patrolman at the time and spoke to officers who remembered the incident that day, including one who filed a report on it.
    (http://www.thebostonchannel.com/news/22557530/detail.html#)
    A Boston Globe article today claims Delahunt may not seek reelection. (http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2010/02/13/delahunt_says_he_is_considering_leaving_his_seat/)

  22. I’m fascinated by the case and am going to start working on a post outlining all the details and my reactions. These are the times I wish I were a journalist (as I once aspired to be) and had the excuse to go in and dig around records and interview people.
    I’m interested in the state police report and how it tells a story that differs from the 24 year old memories of the officers who were working in Braintree at the time. There are a lot of reasons this could be, some nefarious, some not so much. I’m going to throw out one other thing right now: it seems pretty obvious that Bishop is on the autism spectrum. Would that affect officers’ interpretation of her as guilty of murder back in 1986?

  23. “Would that affect officers’ interpretation of her as guilty of murder back in 1986?”
    Now that you mention it, yes.

  24. Consider. She shot six people on Friday, in Alabama. By Saturday afternoon, the police chief in her home town had enough information to turn to the press. Someone took the time to check the files. An officer was quoted, that the files had been missing since “at least 1988.” I would wager that the officers have been waiting 24 years for her to pop up again.
    A sister shoots her brother. She is an adult. The only witness is the mother. The gun has been fired three times, once upstairs, once in the kitchen, and once (allegedly) on the street. This was not a mistake.
    Even if she’s on the autistic spectrum, there’s no excuse for the public officials’ decisions on this case in 1986. At the very least, it should have been manslaughter. It should have gone before a grand jury. It looks very much as if this shooting was made to “go away.”
    Perhaps she is “on the autistic spectrum.” So what? She might be criminally insane. She should have been sent to Bridgewater, back in 1986. (http://www.mass.gov/?pageID=eopsterminal&L=4&L0=Home&L1=Law+Enforcement+%26+Criminal+Justice&L2=Prisons&L3=State+Correctional+Facilities&sid=Eeops&b=terminalcontent&f=doc_facility_statehospital&csid=Eeops)
    Had she been handled as others are, she would not have faced the tenure review committee on Friday. At the very least, they would have known of her history.

  25. What would an accidental shooting with a shotgun look like? I don’t know guns. I mean, Dick Cheney shot someone in the face accidentally with a shotgun. So, how does it happen?
    Is this accidental? It was ruled an accident. But was it? How do you know? Should the boyfriend have been arrested? Was something covered up?
    Really, I am curious. What is our standard for proper investigation of a crime and when police should assume accidental vs. deliberate? Hint: I’m looking for a standard that doesn’t involve “a Democratic congressman was involved, so therefore it must be corrupt.”

  26. The shooting you linked to is still developing. But note, this shooting in Chicago is termed an “accident,” but someone will be charged with involuntary manslaughter: http://www.chicagobreakingnews.com/2008/09/shotgun-killing-called-accidental.html.
    Here’s another accidental shotgun death. Plea bargained down from aggravated manslaughter to aggravated assault, will serve 18 months to 5 years in jail. http://www.nydailynews.com/news/ny_crime/2010/01/11/2010-01-11_exnets_star_jayson_williams.html
    Now, in Braintree, the shooter–who allegedly tried to carjack a passing car–was sent home while being fingerprinted. The records are missing from the files. (I’m not a lawyer, but that’s probably a felony, wouldn’t you think? Destroying public records of a crime?)
    There was no ruling in the case.
    One party state. That’s what it means.

  27. What strikes me is that a lot of the concern about something being covered up is attributed to one or two officers’ recollections of something that happened 24 years ago. Carjacking? That is not what the officer said. He said she had pointed the shotgun at a car.
    What was she being arrested for? For having a shotgun in public? For deliberately shooting her brother? Why would anyone arrest her for deliberately shooting her brother if her mother said it was an accident? How could they possibly have had evidence that she had shot him?
    Maybe they had brought her in for being in public with a shotgun and endangering the public, and they were told to let her go because there were extenuating circumstances (i.e., she was traumatized by killing her brother accidentally). Usually, you do arrest crazy-looking people with shotguns in public, but if you know there’s special circumstances and her mom is taking her home, then you don’t have a need to protect the public any more.
    I don’t know why this has to be some sort of sinister Kennedy-esque conspiracy. Yeah, it was Massachusetts. That’s about all it has in common with Chappaquiddick.
    And we haven’t even gotten into the issue of what self-respecting Northeastern elitist liberal in 1986 has a shotgun in the house.

  28. “And we haven’t even gotten into the issue of what self-respecting Northeastern elitist liberal in 1986 has a shotgun in the house.”
    Gun-control advocates blasting away at intruders are an evergreen man-bites-dog story. We just had a new one last year with a Democratic state senator in NC.
    http://www.dakotavoice.com/2010/01/gun-control-advocate-shoots-intruder/
    If that’s too far south for you, there was a similar case in DC in 1988 when Carl Rowan, another gun control advocate, shot a trespasser with an unregistered gun.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_Rowan

  29. The Globe has a new story about how she was questioned in a bombing attempt. I’m struck by this quote: “She said it with a smirk on her face,” said Fluckiger.
    Again, I raise the issue of a possible autism spectrum disorder. Is she being read as guilty of crimes by officers/co-workers because she doesn’t know how to make appropriate facial expressions?
    I’m working on my epic detailed post on Bishop, where I also construct her chronology. It looks like she graduated HS a year or two early. She graduated the same year I did, and I skipped a grade. She must have skipped one or two grades.
    I’m just saying: look at her suspicious behaviors in terms of an ASD.
    These are the things that petrify me as the parent of a kid on the autism spectrum. I broke my ankle right in front of my son. You wouldn’t have known anything had happened to me from the look on his face.

  30. Is she being read as guilty of crimes by officers/co-workers because she doesn’t know how to make appropriate facial expressions?
    The FBI probably interviewed anyone who had a disagreement with the doctor who received the bomb. Having shot her brother may have put her on a short list of suspects, as that’s unusually violent behavior for a PhD candidate. Shooting six people does make others reinterpret earlier incidents.

  31. I’m just saying: look at her suspicious behaviors in terms of an ASD.
    She shot her brother 24 years ago. She shot six people on Friday. That’s beyond suspicious behavior.
    Maybe she’s autistic, but maybe she’s bright, arrogant, and paranoid.

  32. I wouldn’t put too much weight on the police/prosecutor conspiracy view of her brother’s death, even if it wasn’t an accident. At least not a political conspiracy. The prosecutor could have reasonably decided he wasn’t going to win this one. It is very hard to convince a jury when the defendant is a young, middle class white woman. It was even harder twenty years ago.

  33. There should be much more solid information tomorrow, although the news people are doing pretty well for it being a Sunday.

  34. I’m not saying being autistic excuses her from anything she did. She’s going to be convicted of her crimes in Alabama, and rightfully so.
    I’m just interested in how without any evidence of wrongdoing, people become suspicious of her because of her behavior.
    Accidental shootings happen ALL the time. It’s why gun control advocates such as myself hate the damned things. In a situation where the only witness is telling you it was an accident and you have absolutely NO other evidence otherwise (for how could you?) the only reason to be suspicious is the behavior of the shooter. I’m just saying that the behavior is not a reliable indicator in this case. Nor is her smirking when mentioning that she has been questioned by the police. Maybe in someone neurotypical that would be a sign, but not in someone with an autism spectrum disorder.

  35. Accidental shootings happen ALL the time.
    They do. On the other hand, such accidents usually happen to males, rarely happen in houses, and are probably over-reported given that it is a very comforting explanation compared to any alternative.
    As an aside, I was on a jury for a law school moot court. The law students watched the jury deliberations and talked to us later. The defense team was very angry with me as I voted 1st degree murder and convinced most of the rest of the jury.* The defense argued for ‘accident’ and had a ton of forensic stuff supporting that theory. I said “An accident at the victim’s place of employment, which the killer had no plausible reason to visit except seeing the victim, on the day after she broke-up with the killer?”
    *Different sets of students had tried the same case several times and apparently usually got manslaughter.

  36. “On the other hand, such accidents usually happen to males, rarely happen in houses, and are probably over-reported given that it is a very comforting explanation compared to any alternative.”
    Evidence for this?

  37. Evidence for this?
    I know two men who certainly shot themselves by accident (both in the foot with pistols, at 18 or so, probably trying to ‘quick draw’ but they wouldn’t say). Every year in this area there are several hunting accidents and I can’t recall a report of a woman or girl involved in these. I realize this is anecdotal, but the number of women shot or shooting people is very small.
    If you are asking about the “very comforting explanation compared to the alternatives,” I am referring to the tendency of police to put “accident while cleaning gun” instead of “suicide” for reasons of family comfort and insurance payment.

  38. If you ever want to get out of jury duty, tell that story.
    Half of my family has been a prosecutor for at least some of their career. I’ll never sit on a jury.

  39. So this is off the direction the comments seem to have taken, but I’m interested in the fact that all of the news about this event seem to focus on the fact that she had such a great research record, but was denied tenure. Yet what little evidence there is suggests she was a poor teacher – reading straight from the book – really?
    Rather than reading this as an indictment of the tenure system, I’m seeing this as a broader failure of the whole system of academia (although of course, I don’t think anyone except her should be blamed for the actions she took). To me, she seems to clearly be a personality suited to research yet, I would imagine that she received little training on how to be a teacher or how to function in a non Ivy league department. It’s often assumed that graduate students will end up in positions that are similar in rank to their grad school training, but the fact of the matter is, we mostly place down.
    So, Bishop went to a school that taught her to do research at an Ivy League level. She ended up at a school that at least paid some service to other factors – like teaching, service and collegiality – factors that she personally was incapable and untrained to handle. Most people in a similar situation probably sink into depression, but she moved into out of control rage. She did what she was supposed to do – research – but didn’t get what she was supposed to get – tenure.
    I don’t know – maybe I’m over thinking this after a glass or two of wine and I don’t want in any way to suggest she’s less culpable for her actions, but I also would like to suggest that maybe academia should take a long hard look at how we train graduate students and manage their expectations.

  40. “It’s often assumed that graduate students will end up in positions that are similar in rank to their grad school training, but the fact of the matter is, we mostly place down.”
    There does seem to be a cascading effect, which is why low-ranked graduate programs are ethically hard to justify.
    I know some colleges have teaching mentors for new faculty view videotape of lectures and make suggestions, but that gets you only so far. I also know of a college that offers junior faculty (and newer senior faculty) an additional 20% of salary if they will attend a one-time month-long summer teaching seminar. That’s quite the carrot!
    I’ve been very surprised to see how much attention gets placed on collegiality at the colleges my husband has worked at. It makes sense, though–it’s as if they’re choosing a companion for a several decade long stay on a desert island. At least where we’ve been, the understanding is that if you are hired, they would like to give you tenure, since hiring is a big, expensive time suck.

  41. I’m interested in these comments about “collegiality” as a reason to deny tenure. In my “let’s compare the private sector to academia in terms of HR issues” reading I’ve pretty much uniformly seen collegiality pointed to as a big reason women are unfairly denied tenure. (Basically, this has been positioned as protected sexism.) Is this accurate?
    I see where you want to get along with people, but insisting that everyone be great friends will indeed impact diversity of all types (skin tone, gender, SES, blah blah blah).
    Note I am in no way implying Bishop was the victim of sexism, or condoning her actions. I’m just questioning this collegiality thing as inherently non-transparent.

  42. I’ve been very surprised to see how much attention gets placed on collegiality at the colleges my husband has worked at.
    I remember visiting graduate two graduate schools who had both offered me funding. At one, I was hosted by a faculty member and went around seeing the other faculty one at a time. At the other, the one I chose partially because I’d been warned* the first department was beset by in-fighting, the recruitment events were conducted by groups of faculty. The department I chose was very big on collegiality, apparently as an after effect of extreme division during the early 1970s.
    *When I got back from my visit, I thought it was a bit odd and my advisor told me some rumors.

  43. “I’ve pretty much uniformly seen collegiality pointed to as a big reason women are unfairly denied tenure. (Basically, this has been positioned as protected sexism.) Is this accurate?”
    Women have better social skills on average, so I think an emphasis on collegiality would tend to tip the scales toward women (although maybe female academics don’t have good social skills–I don’t know enough of them in real life to say). I know of a case where a female academic had a pretty light CV research-wise, but she got tenure largely on the strength of being a really nice person and a very good teacher.
    “I see where you want to get along with people, but insisting that everyone be great friends will indeed impact diversity of all types (skin tone, gender, SES, blah blah blah).”
    Uncollegial departments are not very effective, though. I’ve known a small department that was so dysfunctional that they weren’t even able to hold faculty meetings. Likewise, Yale philosophy was large and very well-respected up until a spectacular meltdown in the 1980s and 1990s. As of 2006, they were ranked 25th in the country, which is terrible for a school like Yale (they’ve since climbed back to #8).
    http://www.yaledailynews.com/news/university-news/2006/03/02/philosophy-takes-steps-to-rebuild/

  44. “Note I am in no way implying Bishop was the victim of sexism, or condoning her actions.”
    No one should condone her actions. She should be punished.
    I think what’s happening is that we’re trying to figure out why it happened. The easiest explanation is that she was born a psycho and always has been a psycho, and her psycho misdeeds have been covered up for years.
    Other explanations involve the stress of tenure, Bishop’s hidden racism, Bishops not-so-hidden arrogance/narcissism, inherent sexism in academia, PTSD over her brother’s death (probably the saddest thing I’ve read in this whole messed up tragedy is that when the feds investigated her over the pipe bombing, they found an unfinished novel on her computer, about a female scientist who killed her brother and was trying to make up for it by being a great scientist).
    Anyway, what I forgot to say is that we can do an analysis of sexism in the treatment of Bishop. All the comments about her as “odd” and not warm–do we hold men to those standards? I don’t know, but I am guessing not.

  45. I have an idea. Since there have been so many more school shootings recently than incidents involving the United States Postal Service, let’s work to change the phrase “Going Postal” to “Going Academic.” Is that too close to home for you? Then how about we just stop using such irresponsible hate speech?

  46. JS, if we, as a society, ever come to include federal agencies as a protected class for hate speech purposes, I’m going to switch-over to the extreme libertarian-privatize-everything view.

  47. “All the comments about her as “odd” and not warm–do we hold men to those standards? I don’t know, but I am guessing not.”
    After a shooting or the identification of a serial killer, that’s par for the course. “He was a bit of a loner.”

  48. I’m not wading into the rest of the morass, but “collegiality” as I’ve witnessed it rarely means “gets along well with others.” More often, it looks to be code for “attends lots of faculty meetings and department-hosted seminars plus organizes/shows up for all department social functions.”
    Before spouse had tenure, he felt great departmental pressure to “be around the department” all the time. His is a field with many seminars featuring hosted speakers, and it was expected that he would attend a certain number of dinners per semester (and many more during hiring/recruiting season). When pressed, senior faculty would say “that’s how you show you’re a collegial member of this faculty.” It had little/nothing to do with chitchat in the hallways.
    I don’t know how two-income families in spouse’s field manage these expectations, because before spouse felt the tenured freedom to say NO, I would spend January through March being the solo parent past bedtime, two or three nights a week. (Even now, remembering how much it sucked to be non-tenured and “on the hook” for those seminars and dinners, spouse still tries to say yes as much as possible. God I hate February.)
    Don’t get me wrong, spouse has a great job and we are lucky BEYOND belief, but when I’m not beating myself up for failing to finish the PhD/achieve the tenure track myself, I’m wondering how the hell we would have made that work in the first place.

  49. I’m kind of stunned at how quick people are to make this into a story about anything but Amy Bishop. And even as far as that goes, I don’t know that what we would need to know even to understand one person’s thinking is as yet known. Any of the bigger stories at loose in this thread– guns, autistic-spectrum disorders, tenure and academic status, gender, you name it–why on Earth would anyone want to try to reach any conclusions about any of those based on this one person? If I’m interested in how the tenure system is cruel or complex or anything else, it seems to me that what happens in the lives of people each year who are denied tenure is more interesting and more representative and more informative than in this one life. Same for guns, autism, etc.
    What’s so hard about waiting to hear more? Yes, it’s surely an interesting human story, and worth talking about for that reason–but what’s the need to instantly make it into a placeholder for thousands of other stories which don’t conclude in the same fashion?

  50. “Yes, it’s surely an interesting human story, and worth talking about for that reason–but what’s the need to instantly make it into a placeholder for thousands of other stories which don’t conclude in the same fashion?”
    Wendy?

  51. For the record, I don’t consider these murders as placeholders for anything, except perhaps as a slightly tongue-in-cheek, slightly macabre, slightly whistling-past-the-graveyard cautionary tale for my spouse, who is serving on three promotion committees this year.
    Everyone works with unstable people, and all of us hope we don’t find out about it too late, and in the worst possible way.
    It’s much easier to talk about the other stuff than to talk about how you live with the knowledge that you can’t really know what risks you face from the people in your life.

  52. No one should condone her actions. She should be punished.
    Wendy, I agree she should be punished, but I don’t think she should be put to death. The press has been pointing out that Alabama has the death penalty.
    In my opinion, back in ’86, had the authorities in Massachusetts not dismissed it so quickly as an “accidental shooting,” Amy Bishop might have had a competent psych evaluation, if only because her family would have wanted to spare her prison time.
    Maybe the police thought that her brother committed suicide, and the family was trying to cover that up. I don’t know, but not seeing an intelligent, if somewhat odd, 19 year old woman as a threat was a terrible mistake, in hindsight.

  53. I was studying abroad in England during the Columbine shootings, and I was literally stopped on the street more than once and interrogated about why Americans were making the story about everything (like Marilyn Manson) but guns.

  54. I’m a little bothered by Laura’s post because saying ‘the system is dysfunctional’ favors what may be a reaction to this freaking crime: just abolishing tenure. I really don’t think this is something that should make us give up on any type of job security or academic freedom for scholars. Nobody says that we ought to abandon capitalism and small business as ‘inherently dysfunctional’ when people murder over business deals gone bad. And we don’t talk about abolishing love because people commit crimes of passion. Just sayin’

  55. Tim, people, when confronted with tragedy, search for answers. We don’t understand, so we try to make sense out of something incomprehensible.
    Furthermore, I don’t think I’m trying to “make” this about something other than Bishop. I think there’s really nothing to say about the shootings at UAH except “That’s absolutely horrifying.”
    And to be honest, I kind of resent that you seem to be scolding/critical of my attempts to see this case through the lens of ASDs. For the past 6 months I’ve immersed myself in the subject, trying to understand the challenges my son will face. Now I’m confronted with the case of a woman demonized for the very traits my son will probably always have, and it causes me anxiety. If I raise my concerns here, among commenters who I know are familiar with ASDs/AS, these concerns could be met with understanding or disagreement or even apathy, but surely not derision and criticism simply for raising them.

  56. I’m not just talking about you, Wendy, but the whole conversation. (Including Amy). I guess I just don’t get trying to make sense of out the mystery of one person’s life by appending it to larger (and very important) stories that matter to us. I guess what I feel strongly about is that there’s something disrespectful about that to the story itself and the people caught up in that, as if we can’t tear ourselves away from what we know long enough to gaze at what we don’t. The time will come eventually when Amy Bishop is enough of a known object to begin to really powerfully connect her to bigger stories, to the things we know and feel as people. I just don’t think we’re there yet.

  57. More seriously, whether or not Bishop is an Aspie is actually relevant to the story. If she is, it makes some of her actions around the time of her brother’s shooting look more innocent. She might have acted oddly not because she was guilty of murder but because she was odd. Of course, it’s definitely possible to be both guilty and odd. Likewise with regard to the 1986 shooting, we don’t have to choose between a coverup and an accident. There could have been both an accident (as described by the Bishops) and a coverup (as described by the police) if Bishop’s parents wanted as little publicity as possible for their daughter.

  58. Ack, Jody. This situation hits close to home then.
    Tim, you’re absolutely right that the facts aren’t known, that real people died here, and we should take the time to mourne them properly. However, people need to search for meaning in horrible situations. Sometimes they grope around until the find the right meaning. That’s what is going on here.
    (On vacation. Not supposed to be making comments on the iPhone in the dark.)

  59. Amy P, I think that it’s not a good thing to dwell too much upon whether Amy Bishop is on the autistic spectrum. Maybe she is, but if so, so what? There’s a much greater danger in dwelling on where she might fall on the spectrum, in that the public at large may connect “on the spectrum” with “potential mass murderer.”
    This may happen anyways, unless there’s a plea bargain. Her lawyers may choose the insanity defense, which will keep the case in the public eye for years. The killing at Lincoln-Sudbury High School in 2007 still hasn’t come to trial (http://www.wickedlocal.com/sudbury/features/x562881743/Judge-releases-some-documents-in-Odgren-case).
    In my opinion, people on the autistic spectrum are far less likely than the neurotypically normal to be violent. Most people don’t think about it much, though, and murder trials get a great deal of press coverage.

  60. That is always a danger. Most schizophrenics aren’t dangerous to other people, too, but I think that schizophrenia is more or less paired with mass murder in the public mind thanks to a few high-profile incidents.
    This is far afield from the Bishop case, but I rolled my eyes a little at the idea that women are better at social skills, ergo will have an advantage with the collegiality requirement. It’s so obvious (and has been demonstrated with studies) that many people expect far more in the way of social skills from women and even become angry when they don’t get it: sympathy, rapt attention to their concerns, profuse apologies when the woman doesn’t have time for whatever project it is. . . and women who don’t provide these things on demand will get dinged for not caring enough about their colleagues, rather than being too busy with their research or whatever.
    And academic men are pretty habituated to dealing with dysfunctional male personalities like “boorish” or “reclusive” or “overbearing”; they don’t take them personally in the same way as they do when they have to deal with someone coincidentally female who is “shrill” or “bossy” or “cold.” Somehow the former can be separated out as irrelevant to someone’s stature as a scholar and the latter are irredeemable personality flaws.

  61. My issue isn’t the murders that happened Friday. Those happened, and they cannot be excused.
    But by insisting that Bishop has a history of deliberate intentional violence, we are making this NOT about her but about other people.
    So maybe it IS important to make these evaluations now. If she did kill her brother non-accidentally in 1986, then there are people in Braintree, including her mother, who were criminally negligent and should be held to account. If she did not, then these people are being criticized and blamed wrongfully, and I think that is very wrong.
    I just talked about this incident in class today. When discussing how to prevent these things from happening in the future, the students said we should have criminal checks. I said, ok, but what about the fact that she was exonerated? They said it doesn’t matter.
    I said, OK, let’s say you’re a Duke lacrosse player, and you and your friends on the team hire a stripper to come to your house. She accuses you of rape and you’re arrested. She later recants and you’re exonerated. Should this come up on every criminal check ever done? Should it be mentioned every time you ever apply for a job?
    I like to make them think.😉
    Let’s say some day one of the Duke lacrosse players rapes someone (and we have video evidence or witnesses or something–let’s make the situations similar). Are we to go back to the Duke incident and think “Hey, maybe he DID rape that stripper?” Should the other lacrosse players be looked at again as guilty and the whole mess dredged up?

  62. She wasn’t exonerated. That’s the whole problem. It looks very fishy–the former police chief now says he never knew she tried to carjack a car from a local repair shop at gunpoint. The state police interviewed her and her mother 11 days after the shooting. From their report, Amy Bishop was heavily medicated.
    The story isn’t even internally consistent. If a shotgun went off in a bedroom upstairs, don’t you think the other inhabitants of the house would have noticed it? Would they stand around the kitchen, asking each other, “what was that?” The father had a gun license, the son had a gun license, but Amy didn’t. That might be sexism, or it might be that they didn’t think she should have had access to a gun. In Massachusetts, the police chief has the power to decide whether you get a gun license. You have to apply.
    My relatives hunt, and I have never seen a gun in the bedroom. A shotgun for home defense? In suburban Braintree? So many parts of the story don’t add up.
    The Duke players were indicted. Amy Bishop wasn’t even (reportedly) fully fingerprinted.

  63. The father had a gun license, the son had a gun license, but Amy didn’t.
    A shotgun for home defense? In suburban Braintree?
    Those parts actually make sense to me. You only need a license to buy a gun or take it out of the house. And a shotgun is, in nearly every case, the best weapon for home defense.
    If a shotgun went off in a bedroom upstairs, don’t you think the other inhabitants of the house would have noticed it?
    That is what really strucke me also. It is not credible unless you live in the Biltmore Estate.

  64. As for her mother… Well, I do think race, gender and class played a big part in the way the case was handled. If Amy Bishop had been a high school drop out, and her mother a checkout clerk, do you think the shooting would be declared so quickly an accident? If they had been black?
    On that afternoon, Amy Bishop was her mother’s only surviving child. She was, thus, the only person in the world who could give her mother grandchildren. It’s very peculiar to take the mother’s word in those circumstances.

  65. “Are we to go back to the Duke incident and think “Hey, maybe he DID rape that stripper?” Should the other lacrosse players be looked at again as guilty and the whole mess dredged up?”
    The Duke case isn’t a good example because (at least for some of the guys) it was chronologically impossible without a time machine or a huge conspiracy to falsify cell phone records, ATM records, etc. Let’s say a case like the Duke case, but where the facts were murkier. I think this sort of issue does come up a lot, particularly in cases of rape or abuse. When the same person just happens to be accused of the same crime repeatedly, it’s hard to accept that that’s just bad luck.
    Marya,
    I suspect there may be a generational difference between older and younger female faculty, although as I said earlier, I don’t know quite enough women professors to be able to say this.
    I’ve definitely heard and I believe that autism spectrum people are more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violence, and I don’t want autism and violence to be linked in the public mind any more than you do, but when something looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, you have to call it a duck. I can’t help but recall that high functioning autistics are prone to black and white thinking, difficulty with problem solving (getting “stuck” and not being able to move on), as well as anger issues.

  66. I ask again: what happens when an accidental shooting happens? How does that situation look? How do the people involved act?
    Start there. What would you do if you accidentally shot someone? Or you had a knife in the kitchen and turned around and stabbed someone by accident?
    Do these incidents never happen? If you look at CDC reports, the numbers of firearms and other household accidents are not miniscule.
    Why is it impossible to imagine that Amy shot her brother accidentally? That she was traumatized and ran out of the house and acted weirdly? (And again, why are we giving such credence to 24 year old recollections when we know damn well the unreliability of eyewitness testimony?)
    Why is it so hard to believe that this kind of thing could permanently damage a person? She wrote a novel about trying to make amends for shooting her brother. Why couldn’t it be that someone who had so much invested in being a scientist to make up for killing her brother would, when confronted with the utter failure of her goal, then totally crack?
    I had fun today telling both my classes about the tenure system and how it sucks out the souls of professors. I think I properly horrified them.🙂
    Again, I remind you that to be convinced that Bishop murdered her brother is not something to speak about lightly. It involves condemning a whole lot of people as incompetent and corrupt, some of whom are dead and cannot defend themselves (Theodore Buker, the captain in charge of the case, for example).
    And Solimini and Frazier, the Braintree police quick to blame a cover-up, don’t get let off the hook. If they were so damned sure Bishop was a murderer then they shut up about their concerns to keep their jobs, and so aren’t they also complicit? The thing is, hindsight is 20-20, and back then, it wasn’t crystal clear she was guilty of murder. It did look like an accident.

  67. I don’t know that Frazier was a member of the Braintree police department at the time. It is common for towns to look to hire chiefs from out of town.
    “She wrote a novel about trying to make amends for shooting her brother. ” No, a novel was purportedly found in which the main character tried to become a great scientist to make up for shooting her brother by accident. Fiction, likely based upon her own experiences. She also wrote:
    “One novel was about growing up in Belfast during Northern Ireland’s civil war; a second was about a female CIA operative; and the third was a science-fiction novel in which Bishop used her science expertise.
    “She was always very good at writing about violence,” said Dinsmoor.” (http://www.wickedlocal.com/ipswich/breaking/x196134740/Friend-calls-triple-murder-charges-surprising-and-tragic)

  68. Why is it impossible to imagine that Amy shot her brother accidentally? That she was traumatized and ran out of the house and acted weirdly? (And again, why are we giving such credence to 24 year old recollections when we know damn well the unreliability of eyewitness testimony?)
    The only witness to the shooting was the mother. If eyewitness testimony is unreliable, it’s unreliable. There doesn’t seem to have been any serious crime scene investigation. If photos were made of the scene, they’ve disappeared from the police department’s files.
    I do give credence, though, to the people in the repair shop who faced an armed Amy Bishop. Tom Pettigrew, 45, of Quincy, said he was a mechanic at Dave Dinger Ford on a Saturday afternoon in 1986 when he and a coworker saw a woman, later identified as Bishop, with a shotgun enter the shop.
    When Pettigrew went to investigate, he said he soon found himself face-to-face with Bishop, 19, with a gun pressed to his chest.
    “She was like, ‘Hands up!’ So, of course, right away, we both put our hands up. And she was like, ‘I need a car,'” he said.
    Pettigrew said Bishop claimed she had been in a fight with her husband, feared for her life and needed a getaway car. Pettigrew and his coworker told Bishop that the cars in the shop were new and locked, and that his car was up on a lift with its wheels off.
    Still gripping the shotgun, a nervous and agitated Bishop walked through the dealer’s inventory looking for an unlocked car, Pettigrew recalled.
    A few minutes later, police arrived at the lot and Bishop was arrested.
    (http://www.thebostonchannel.com/news/22571652/detail.html)
    Yes, if you ask, I believe him entirely. Given a choice between a mother who stands to lose both her children in one hour, and a stranger who suddenly looked down the barrel of a gun, I choose the stranger. Again, she should have been charged with attempted carjacking. She should have been–at a minimum–assessed by a psychiatrist paid for by the State, not her parents.

  69. I ask again: what happens when an accidental shooting happens? How does that situation look? How do the people involved act?
    Start there. What would you do if you accidentally shot someone? Or you had a knife in the kitchen and turned around and stabbed someone by accident?
    Do these incidents never happen? If you look at CDC reports, the numbers of firearms and other household accidents are not miniscule.
    Why is it impossible to imagine that Amy shot her brother accidentally? That she was traumatized and ran out of the house and acted weirdly?

    Certainly, there are accidents. Most firearm accidents follow patterns, though, don’t they? Subtract all accidents in which the shooter had been drinking. Subtract all accidents in which the shooters were children. Subtract all hunting accidents, and shooting range, police and military training accidents, and incidents in which blanks weren’t blanks. Subtract all accidents in which a wife mistakes her husband for a burglar. There aren’t many left, are there?
    Middle of the day. Sober shooter. Adult, very intelligent shooter. Someone with the aptitude to understand technical issues, as her subsequent education and work history show. Three shots. In that case, I find it much more likely that she loaded the gun, made sure it worked upstairs, then hunted down her brother downstairs, which explains the three shots.
    Her subsequent decision to open fire on her coworkers over a real or imagined grudge makes the shooting of her brother more likely to have been murder than accident, in my opinion.

  70. “Adult, very intelligent shooter. Someone with the aptitude to understand technical issues, as her subsequent education and work history show.”
    That was bothering me, too. This is a very bright family, and yet the behavior described in the mother’s version isn’t smart (discharge gun accidentally in bedroom, then take it downstairs, accidentally cock it again and accidentally shoot brother). As a serious science student, Bishop would already have had at least several years behind her of careful handling of hazardous substances and equipment.

  71. Amy, I’ve seen one blogger use the Ipswich thing as an example of possible Asperger’s/ASD–hypersensitivities.
    Cranberry, you’re just saying that. You’re not providing any evidence. You’re going on a stereotype of what accidental shootings must be like. Give me some evidence.
    According to a GAO report, “Firearms are the fourth leading cause of accidental deaths among children 5 to 14 years old and the third leading cause of accidental deaths among 15- to 24-year-olds. Across all age groups, accidental shootings are the sixth leading cause of potential years of life lost because of
    accidents.”
    From the same GAO report: “We learned that many police departments do not maintain retrievable
    records on accidental shootings (since these are not crimes)”
    Source: 161.203.16.4/d20t9/143619.pdf

  72. Cranberry, there is a debate on the number of shots, and your statement is not logical (i.e., “Three shots. In that case, I find it much more likely that she loaded the gun, made sure it worked upstairs, then hunted down her brother downstairs, which explains the three shots”).
    Were I as convinced of you that Bishop deliberately did it, I could see that she might have shot once in her bedroom, then gone downstairs to shoot her brother, but the alleged and disputed third shot was into the ceiling.
    Also, if she was having a fight with her brother and went to get the shotgun and then discharged it to make sure it worked, and you contend her mother and brother would have had to have heard it, don’t you think they would’ve gotten the eff out of Dodge?
    Imagine: you’re in your house and you hear a shotgun go off. So you … hang out in the kitchen and wait for your sister who is mad at you to come downstairs?
    Or maybe you don’t realize that your sister is mad at you, so you hear a shotgun blast and you … stay in the living room and watch tv? Go to the kitchen for a bite to eat? Or do you try to go upstairs and figure out what happened?
    Or, your sister comes downstairs holding a shotgun and starts a fight with you. You … stick around and wait till she gets really mad at you and shoots you?
    There are as many holes in your version as you claim there are in the Bishops’ version.
    If Suze, Macaroni, or Jeremy acting on behalf of Laura want me to stop, I will. But I can keep going….
    One last thing: Frazier said he was on the Braintree police force at the time in his statement on Saturday.

  73. Cranberry may not be providing cites, but the GOA report doesn’t seem to be making your case very well. By the report, only 5% of firearm deaths are accidental, the number of deaths was very low (1,500), and the number was dropping.

  74. Also in the GOA report, the number of female shooters involved in an accidental firearms death is basically zero.

  75. I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to close comments on this post. It’s making me very nervous and I can’t manage comments, while on vacation.

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