Professor Arrested for Murders at University of Alabama

The academic community is shocked by the news that not only were three faculty members murdered at the University of Alabama but that the suspect is a fellow academic. Amy Bishop, a biology professor, is facing murder charges in the shooting deaths of three faculty members and will be charged with the wounding of three other employees Friday.

In relation to the Virginia Tech shootings, I wrote about how such acts shatter the protected realm of the “academic circle,” here. It is particularly shocking to see a faculty member causing such mayhem.

Bishop is an assistant professor of biological sciences and allegedly killed the professors at Shelby Hall, named after U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama.

It has also been reported that Bishop shot her brother 25 years ago, here.

Killed were professors Gopi Podila, chairman of the biological sciences department; Maria Davis, associate professor of biology; and Adriel Johnson, associate professor of biology.

Bishop is a neuroscientist who joined the faculty in 2003. With her husband, Jim Anderson, chief science officer of Cherokee Labsystems in Huntsville, she created a portable cell-incubator called “InQ” which won a state prize. In one possible contributor of the incident, she was denied tenure. For those details, here.

Our condolences to the entire Alabama faculty, students, and families.

For the full story, click here and here.

47 thoughts on “Professor Arrested for Murders at University of Alabama

  1. Enough said Harvard Trained. Enough to Ruin a Country. I was surprised to see that this occurred. Something must really be remiss that she resorted to this to settle a dispute. I am presuming it was a dispute. Could Tenure have been in question or plagiarism at work. This is sad for all, including the alleged perpetrator.

  2. Another tragic incidence of apparent work-place violence will have as its predictable consequence more restrictions and safeguards to protect us from ourselves. These incidents generally reveal outrageous conduct as perceived by the perpetrator, accompanied by feelings of rage and hopelessness as procedures designed to address personality-based decision-making either fails or are deemed too troublesome to employ. Add to this, the seeming insatiable need to attain, progress, and be recognized so prevalent today, and you have a recipe for violent flare-ups. What we see here is how close– even in the “civilized” realm of the academe– we are from crossing the line into barbarism. If justice has but one virtue, it is the perception by most that it is attainable, if nowhere else, in a court of law. When that perception vanishes, we have what we have here.

  3. AY:

    “Enough said Harvard Trained. Enough to Ruin a Country.”


    Two Roosevelts, two Adams’, a Brandeis, and an Oliver Wendell Holmes would seem to make up for scores of George W. Bushs’ wouldn’t you think?

  4. Ok, I am Bushed out on this one. But then, don’t fergit that Scalia will only look at folks that think like he does.

    I am reading a book about TR right now. The River of Doubt. I do stand corrected. I do indeed.

  5. My first reaction was–I’m surprised this doesn’t happen more often. I’ve known quite a few very talented people who didn’t get tenure. Often they were great teachers but not very effeicient at getting the evidence of research productivity (publications, big grants), and sometimes had rather little talent in research. Some were weak across the board. Given that this isn’t a major reserach institution, I have to wonder what their expecations were and how she performed. It may be that she was a great second banana to her husbnad, but not a productive independent scholar. many academic couples in the same field are like that. In my experience, the wife is usually the dynamo and the husband is the one either is a great project managere or just a lox, but happens both ways.

    Re: Harvard—my relatives with advanced degrees from Harvard enjoy making fun of the place and its pretensions. Like most elite research universities, some departments are better than others and not all graduates go on to distinguish themsleves. I used to work with a Yale PhD whose degree was in a field where Yale has long had a pre-eminent department. He was, in a certain sense, dumb as a fence post–good at regurgitating info and sucking up to powerful people, but an utter flop in his field. probably had great GREs and letters. He was a part-timer with us and later vanished into the private sector. OTOH, his classmates included some extremely bright people, a few of whom went on to be among the most disntinguished academics of their generation. After people have been out of school for awhile, a degree from an elite university means less and less, often they are terrible places in terms of mentoring.

  6. mespo–

    Harvard can lay claim to both great and infamous alumni. Here are a few Harvard alumni of the latter category who come to mind: Jeffrey Skilling, John Thain, John Yoo, Robert McNamara, Theodore Kacyzinksi.

  7. Let’s not forget:

    Isoroku Yamamoto; He studied at Harvard from 1919 to 1921 and later became the commander-in-chief of the Imperial Japanese Navy during World War II. Yamamoto was instrumental in planning and executing the attack on Pearl Harbor and the Battle of Midway.

    Some other infamous Harvard alumni include Charles K. Lee, who embezzled over $100,000 from a charity for children with leukemia, and Ernst Hanfstaengl, who became a close friend and confidant of Adolf Hitler.

    I don’t think it’s the school, but the number of students and the long history. It’s like the lottery; the more you play, the better your chances of winning. The ore you increase the numbers, the better chance you have of finding a bad apple.

  8. rcambell:

    I was thinking the same thing. Well said. The NRA will be on this like white on rice.

    More guns, isn’t that always the answer?

  9. I was just thinking about this one. It would be better if everyone had revolvers. My great Granddad Daniel started the latter half of what is known Smith and Wesson. We need better armed citizens, everyday and every way.

    Guns do not kill people, people kill people. It could have as easily have been a board or knife.

  10. People with guns kill people. Bishop would not have been able to kill and wound as many co-workers with a knife or a board–which can’t compare to guns as weapons of choice for mass murders.

  11. So what’s with all the Hahvahd-bashing? Methinks a lot of whingers must be overcompensating for small … something-or-others.

    One thing that’s interesting here is the degree to which the coverage omits discussion of motivation. LOTS of Harvard-bashing though. Implying, with no rational basis or explanation, that something that many years in the past should control her current situation.

    It would make significantly more sense to bash Alabama, which was in fact the current situation. Harvard has no real gun culture, for example, in the way many parts of the South do.

    I found one assertion that in addition to the insult (surely perceived as such) of being denied tenure, the department was trying to commit the injury of taking over that invention which was mentioned. That starts to make sense.

    When a bunch of folk are adding insult to injury against you, you have a grievance. If the University was doing nothing to address that grievance, I’m sure she felt boxed in.

    What can you do to recover those kind of major (many years, most of your youth) personal investments, or the now-denied future major income potential? (Likely no tenure anywhere else either, and your company gone/stolen.) Snapping isn’t the socially preferred option, true. All too often “let them get away with it” is the proferred solution. Doubleplus ungood.

  12. Duh:

    “Isoroku Yamamoto; He studied at Harvard from 1919 to 1921 and later became the commander-in-chief of the Imperial Japanese Navy during World War II. Yamamoto was instrumental in planning and executing the attack on Pearl Harbor and the Battle of Midway.”

    I wouldn’t call Yamamoto infamous, a brilliant strategist yes, a patriot yes. If I remember correctly he was no fan of war.

    “Yamamoto personally opposed the invasion of Manchuria in 1931, the subsequent land war with China (1937), and the 1940 Tripartite Pact with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. As Deputy Navy Minister, he apologized to United States Ambassador Joseph C. Grew for the bombing of the gunboat USS Panay in December 1937. These issues made him a target of assassination by pro-war militarists.”

  13. It would be interesting to find out how many of these spree-killers
    are themselves NRA members. But, I agree that the core problem is not access to guns. It’s the gun culture itself, the widespread perception that guns are a problem-solving tool.

    Yes, the NRA and its ilk bear a significant portion of the responsibility for propagating the perception that guns are somehow sacred and therefore should not be subject to any restrictions at all. Think of an NCA, a National Car Association that advocates making cars available to everyone, even convicted drunk drivers, even underage children, and without the necessity of such nuisances as a drivers license or a vehicle registration. Cars are sacred, too.

  14. I found this quote, that I was unaware of, on gun control. I think this makes a pretty good case for allowing the people to bear arms.

    “Germans who wish to use firearms should join the SS or the SA — ordinary citizens don’t need guns, as their having guns doesn’t serve the state.”

    Heinrich Himmler

    Doesn’t serve the state is right, our founders knew what they were doing when they penned the Second Amendment.

  15. About the 1986 shooting (refer to the aforementioned link):

    “She shot her brother, an 18-year-old accomplished violinist, in the chest, said Paul Frazier, the police chief in Braintree, Mass., where the shooting occurred. Bishop fired at least three shots, hitting her brother once and hitting her bedroom wall before police took her into custody at gunpoint, he said.

    However, the police chief at the time told officers to release Bishop to her mother before she could be booked. At the time, it was logged as an accident.”

  16. Sorry for the double posting — I see that her brother’s death was mentioned in the primary article. So much for the news flash.

  17. “Three of Color Dead in Alabama Campus Shooting
    Suspect Bishop shot her brother in accident two decades earlier.
    By: The Root Staff | Posted: February 13, 2010 at 2:57 PM

    Three of Color Killed in University of Alabama Shooting
    Suspect Bishop shot her brother in accident two decades earlier.
    Professor accused of killing three colleagues shot her brother two decades earlier.

    Professor accused of killing three colleagues shot her brother two decades earlier.
    02/13/2010 14:57
    The three University of Alabama Huntsville faculty members who were killed Friday were all people of color. Gopi Bodila, the, the chairman of the biology department, was of Indian origin. Dr. Adriel Johnson, an associate professor, and Dr. Maria Ragland Davis, an assistant professor who specialized in plant sciences, were both African-American.
    Amy Bishop, a Harvard PhD who was denied tenure, has been charged with capital murder in the killings. Three other faculty members were wounded, two of them critically, at a faculty meeting on the Alabama campus.
    Ray Garner, a spokesman at the Huntsville campus, said 42-year-old Amy Bishop had been denied tenure months earlier and this was to be her last semester at the school. She became an assistant professor at the school in 2003. Some news stories reported that Bishop was considered bright by students but had difficulty explaining difficult concepts.
    Authorities declined to discuss a motive at a Saturday news conference, though Garner said the faculty meeting wasn’t scheduled to discuss tenure issues. The neurobiologist, who became an assistant professor at the school in 2003, has been charged with capital murder, and other charges are pending.
    She was taken Friday night in handcuffs to the county jail, and said as she got into a police car: “It didn’t happen. There’s no way. … They are still alive.”

    The Boston Globe reported that Bishop accidently shot and killed her brother more than two decades ago. The paper cited earlier articles that Bishop shot 18-year-old Seth Bishop while cleaning a shotgun in the presence of their mother in December 1986.”

  18. The latest NYT article links her publication history. She would have had trouble getting tenure in a lot of fields at a major research university, even one considered second- or third-tier Less than 1 paper/year in the last decade and the journals that I recognized weren’t very good. If her invention was as groundbreaking as described, I would think that they’d have raised more money and been picked up by a large multi-national.

    Biology is extremely competitive and she would up in an applied, multidisciplinary department (a common path, but one with little prestige for an Ivy PhD). I would guess that even in that environment her cv wouldn’t be highly competitive. No mention of what her grant history was like.

  19. I think that you fine folks are confusing the gun culture with the thug culture.

    No gun lover I know advocates using guns for anything else than preservation of human life (self-defense; hunting) or the sheer enjoyment of shooting.

    I’m sure that this educated woman could have built a bomb or cultured some bacteria and killed some people. She just fell back on what she learned from the catch and release culture of Massachusetts.

    Maybe a future MIT graduate will invent a time machine and go back in time to wipe out the Chinese before they invent gunpowder.

  20. A Harvard educated thug is still a thug … witness all the Ivy League educated gang-bankers freely roaming the streets wrecking havoc on law abiding citizens.

    How fitting that the murders should occur in the building named for Shelby who believes that “gun control legislation is violative of both the letter and the spirit of the United States Constitution. … I will vote against all attempts to infringe upon the rights of law abiding citizens.”

    On the other hand Shelby also believes that “Individuals who commit crimes with firearms should be dealt with quickly and effectively. I support the death penalty and imprisonment without parole.” Of course he does.

  21. This case will be remembered for government corruption that allowed Bishop to walk away free the first time she went on a shooting rampage in 1986.

    Bishop shot her brother in an argument with a shotgun, and attempted to carjack a passing motorist with the same weapon when she fled. Bishops mother was a public official on the Personnel Committee at the time, and the DA ordered Bishop released before the booking process was even completed.

    More here.

  22. From the link supplied by puzzling, “Everybody described her as gentle.” This was said by her husband, I believe.

    Thanks for the additional information, puzzling.

  23. Puzzling:

    thanks for the info, it appears she was a wackadoodle from the get go and her parents covered it up to keep her out of prison.

  24. According to the NY Times, she was questioned in the investigation of the bombing at Harvard a number of years ago. The husband appears to exaggerate: he speaks of many papers and bringing in “millions”. the only thing I’ve seen is the 1.5M for a device she and her husband developed. No mention of federal or other grants. At her career stage. only people at major research institutions are likely to have even anywhere near even $1M in their own grants. Her publication list is not what one would normally expect in a successful tenure applicant in the sciences. Apparently she had appealed the dept’s decision, the appeals board ruled in her favor, but the provost decided differently. She probably has no more appeals, but in most places she would have another year of appointment, so she could find another job.

  25. To bad someone wasn’t packing in that meeting, she could have been stopped.

    That said, the tenure system is a dinosaur. It is now an immoral remnant of a system that (almost) no longer exists: the private college or university. There are only two exceptions now as all colleges and universities received federal dollars (this is called fascism).

    Tenure came out of an era when moral character was important and now character is now only what the fascists say it is. For example, your research must show that global warming is true.

    Anyway, a person shouldn’t be denied advancement because of politics at work when work is under the auspices of federal dollars. There should be benchmarks, which when achieved, lead to promotion. All should be equally free to advance.

    If advancement is not happening (as clearly revealed when not achieving those benchmarks), then the employee can make other arrangements before a lifetime of effort is cut off by some sums of britches who have an attitude and wish to destroy your career.

    Nevertheless, this woman was CLEARLY not stable. That said, tenure is a brutal in immoral system that doesn’t guarantee intellectual freedom, but buries it and ruins the lives of people who hear different drummers.

  26. Toasted,

    It would be nice if we could go back to the days of academic freedom and have the colleges funded with money that had no strings. That was the time frame that I went. Towards the end of my academic career (long btw) they started getting Corporate Dollars. At first it was joint ventures one particular department of the school. Then the college (Business) sold out. Then the whole university became an alter ego for a major corporation.

    Not only is the Football team whores for the rest but the department learned to become sluts for grants. Then once they own you, well, is slavery really over, or does it have a different name?

    Taxes come to mind as a form of slavery.

  27. Blousie

    “A Harvard educated thug is still a thug … witness all the Ivy League educated gang-bankers freely roaming the streets wrecking havoc on law abiding citizens.”

    That’s why I keep a red sharpie under my pillow.

  28. Anusmously Yours,

    I don’t care what a private school does in their hiring process. There are only two schools that I know of which are truly private (they take no students bringing federal dollars). They are Grove City and Hillsdale Colleges.

    I’m saying that when federal dollars go to colleges and universities (and that means virtually all of them), then hiring practices should be regulated like any other government jobs: job descriptions, benchmarks, evaluations, etc.

    Tenure in America is a remnant of a private system that no longer exists because colleges and universities feed at the public pig-trough.

    It is now a political tool/weapon used mostly by leftists to keep right-wingers out of the Ivy League and state schools. The better to grow Marxism and fascism.

  29. I am very aware of Hillsdale College. Oh they have had problems of there own. The professors DO NOT HAVE TENURE. I think if I recall correctly, they even had a scandal with the conservative College President Roche have an affair with his daughter in law Lissa. Yes, he was doing the bump and grind on his son’s time. Apparently, she ended up committing suicide. I think that Buckley and Newt considered him a dear, dear friend while slamming Bill Clinton.

    They do not accept any federal funds. They do not want the scrutiny of admissions or the faculty employed.

    So far Vince Foster is the only person that committed suicide on the Clinton’s watch and I have my suspicions on that one.

  30. Anonymously:

    I didn’t say tenure was good if it was at a private school. I said it was a remnant of an old system of private institutions. My point is that it is only justifiable in a private setting and completely unjustifiable in a public one (where federal dollars are used). Whether or not it is fair in the private setting is not my point.

    I never said Hillsdale College used the tenure system. I only pointed out that it, and one other institution, is among the only two schools in America that rejects students bringing federal dollars. If more schools do the same, I’d be happy to hear it. And as such only those two schools could rightly use the tenure system. I did not say they must use it.

    You seem to be spreading rumors about Roche and using a fallacy to make your argument. Roche denies any affair with his now dead daughter-in-law and here you seem to be using her tragic suicide to advance an argument that since Roche might have had an affair with her it must have some application to the fact that there is no tenure at Hillsdale.

    Why resort to silliness and fallacy?

    You can easily make a case for private schools and tenure without dissing Hillsdale, if you wish.

    But perhaps what is really happening is that you are having a problem defending the wholly unjustifiable tenure system among schools which feed from the federal pig-tough.

  31. Tootie,

    Maybe I am missing something. Are you for tenure or against it?

    I guess only the rich will be able to afford tenure as they will soon be the only ones that will be able to afford college for the kids anyway. So the argument is academic in this sense.

    People need tenure to be secure in the position to teach write and not be subjected to the whiles and whims of the administration. Something about security that enables some to express otherwise suppressed ideals. But then that goes with book banning, burning. When you have one you will soon have no need for the other….

  32. @Pinandpuller : You say “I think that you fine folks are confusing the gun culture with the thug culture.”

    Might it be the there’s just recognition that “gun culture” is not monolithic, and that what you call “Thug culture” is necessarily a subset of it? Just like “hunters”, “target shooters”, “sellers”/pushers, “collectors”, gun pornographers/publishers, and so on.

    That said, you’re the one introducing “thug culture”.
    Somehow I can’t see Amy Bishop as someone to walk with gold chains, expensive sneakers or a diamond-studded dental grill … rapping and pimping ho’s at faculty meetings. But I’d admit I’m just speculating; I have no idea what goes down at the University of Alabama Faculty Club. Maybe that really is how they roll there. That’s certainly a more interesting speculation than other’s I’ve seen here.

  33. dAVE:

    “Thuggee (or tuggee, ठग्गी ṭhagī) (from Hindi ठग ṭhag ‘thief’, from Sanskrit स्थग sthaga ‘cunning’, ‘sly’, ‘fraudulent’, ‘dishonest’, ‘scoundrel’, from स्थगति sthagati ‘he conceals’)[1] is the term for a particular kind of murder and robbery of travellers in India.”

    origin of the word Thug

  34. UPDATE: Apparently former students have now weighed in with the predictable reactionary response from the School. When an alum wrote a letter demanding that Alabama-Huntsville shoulder at least some of the blame for a poor work environment, he was met with this response:

    “In his letter to the editor, [Samuel] Parks called the shootings a “heinous crime,” but added:

    By routinely treating the faculty and staff as expendable livestock, and by regarding the students as blank checks ripe for cashing, the university has spawned an atmosphere of doubt, fear and animosity. Such conditions will always breed radical responses from the chronically oppressed.

    Parks’ letter apparently struck a nerve with the UAH administration, led by President David B. Williams. Says Parks:

    Since my graduation last May, I have volunteered with the student government to pass along some of the institutional knowledge I gleaned during my career as a student. After the publication of the letter in the Huntsville Times, the administration forbid me from communicating with any of the current student leaders. They cited an unwillingness to perpetuate my “dissension.”

    Thus further evidencing the larger problem with the system.”

    Legal Schnauzer has the rest of the story:

  35. AY:

    “I do not know why Dr Freud is attacking you today.”


    Like most lost puppies, he thinks I’m his mom. Very Oedipal.

  36. Just Thought I would let everyone know that This happened in my home town of Huntsville Alabama, and the university is UAH-University of Alabama Huntsville, not the University Of Alabama which is mentioned above. I currently attend the University Of Alabama which is in Tuscaloosa Alabama and would appreciate it if you would correct your error. Just one more thing, that kind of mistake is ridiculous and unprofessional. The teacher had mental problems dating back to her childhood when she was accused of killing her brother. No investigation was ever pursued because her mom was having romantic relations with the sheriff at the time of her brothers death.

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