Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Cell Biology

I haven't written much about the shooting last week at the University of Alabama-Huntsville, simply because the story continues to take all kinds of bizarre twists and turns. For those without access, the Chronicle of Higher Education, online and via its Twitter feed, has done a particularly impressive job detailing the events and background of the alleged shooter Amy Bishop.

The one thing we can conclude so far is that people just don't "snap." The mainstream media always portrays these workplace tragedies, particularly in the initial days following the shooting, as a "disgruntled" employee who, in this case, was denied tenure and "snapped."

Wrong. What we now know is that Bishop had been denied tenure in the department of Biology quite awhile ago, that the meeting on Friday had nothing do with her status or tenure review, and that she had been going to a firing range for several weeks before the event.

Worse is the checkered past of the suspect, going all the way back to 1986 in Massachusetts. According to the Boston Globe, Bishop killed her brother in 1986 and, following the shooting, ran to a car dealership where she held up several employees and demanded a "get away car." Incredibly, she was never charged in either event.

Then in 1993 she supposedly emerged as a suspect in an attempted mail bombing of a Harvard Medical School professor, but never charged in that crime either.

All of this goes to my point: violence rarely manifests itself out of thin air. People who go on workplace shootings usually have a long history of mental illness, violence, or both in their backgrounds.

I'm also disappointed to see several in academia and the media suggest that it is the tenure review process which may be at fault. Perhaps some things can be adjusted or tweaked, but it wasn't tenure rejection which led to the events in Alabama last week.

So far Bishop has been charged with capital murder in Alabama, making her automatically eligible for the death penalty. The recent revelations that she acquired the gun and went target shooting weeks before suggest this crime may have been an act of premeditation as opposed to duress. In that sense, she may actually end up in an 8'x8' cell on death row when all is said and done.

It will also be interesting to see how those in traditionally anti-capital punishment academia react to a professor, who killed a group of professors, ending up with a death sentence.

UPDATE: Bishop was also charged with assault in 2002 after punching out another woman at an IHOP over a booster seat. Talk about your Grand Slams.

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