Monday, February 15, 2010

When Professors Become Killers

Amy Bishop, a professor of neurobiology at the University of Alabama in Huntsville was denied tenure. So she came armed with a handgun to a faculty meeting and shot at her colleagues, killing three of them and wounding others.

She got her degree from Harvard, was well-known in the academic community, had patented inventions. The university of Alabama milked her intellectually and professionally for years and then decided to throw her out. Just like that. There are hundreds of such indignities taking place in the academic world every day.

Don't get me wrong, I think what Amy Bishop did is horrible. But when you think of what it means to be a female academic in the sciences (and in Alabama, of all places), you realize that being denied tenure after decades of struggling, humiliations, abuses, and sacrifices is a veritable tragedy. If you are denied tenure by such a backwoods school at the age of 42, your career is over. It was all for nothing.

There is something really wrong with the academic system that takes bright young academics, chews them down, and spits them out as mental wrecks ready to go on shooting rampages.

This is so horrible. I just can't get over this story.

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V said...

For Harward graduate, capable of inventing something useful, to be denied tenure at some not very renowned university means that her colleagues considered her a terrible person and did not want her as colleague.
Note two things: in natural sciences start-ups are high, hiring new faculty constitutes serious investment, which universities do not want to lose, especially in a time of crisis. In an unlikely situation I will be denied tenure, it will be very difficult for the university to find anybody who could continue my research with the equipment I accumulated in my lab. Everything is so specialized...
Second, at this time of the year it must have been the decision of a departmental tenure committee, not of any higher level of administration.

Anonymous said...

I was appalled that the people murdered were all people of color.

Anonymous said...

yeah because its not appalling when white people are murdered....dumbass

Clarissa said...

"For Harward graduate, capable of inventing something useful, to be denied tenure at some not very renowned university means that her colleagues considered her a terrible person and did not want her as colleague."

-Not necessarily. There can be a host of reasons why people would want to see her pushed out. She can be super talented and her colleagues might be envious and afraid that her research record makes them look bad in comparison. Another possibility, is that somebody's stupid spouse, lover, sibling, or child decided to play at being a professor and a spot is needed for them. Yet another possibility is that somebody in the administratiuon wanted to sleep with her and she refused. I have seen all these things happen, so I know that the possibilities are endless. And in most cases, the "colleagues" involved don't give a rat's ass about how damaging this is to the university, the department, the students, the field.

Besides, the tenure-track process lasts for years. there is a midpoint review, yearly merit reviews. I ahve my first one tomorrow, actually. The fair thing would be to tell this person years ago that she is not a good fit and should look for employment elsewhere. But sucking the person dry and then throwing her out is simply wrong.

V said...

--But sucking the person dry and then throwing her out is simply wrong.

What constitutes "sucking her dry" in this particular case?

Clarissa said...

Junior faculty always get the most difficult time-consuming boring courses that require the most prep, they never get sabbaticals, they have to participate in the most boring committees, they can never say no to any suggestion from the administration.

It helps, of course, if they are cutesy, giggly, smiley, and cheery. Kind of like me. :-)

Clarissa said...

I knew somebody back at Yale who was an absolutely fantastic teacher of Medieval literature. he could explain the most borinbg things in a way that made sense and were fun. And he was forced to work on 6 or 7 committees each semester and do a lot of boring administrative stuff. Of course, he didn't manage to publish much because it was just physiologically impossible. So after 10 years like this, he was thrown out. Just like that.

I have more stories like that and they all have to do with absolutely brilliant young academics.

V said...

I hope you are not forgetting that I am inside of similar experience as well. And I am not perceiving it as being sucked dry.

Clarissa said...

me neither. maybe it's because you are also cheery, giggly, and smiley. :-) Although I have serious trouble imagining you like that. :-)

But even if it doesn't happen to you or me today, it doesn't mean this doesn't happen to many other people.

V said...

---Although I have serious trouble imagining you like that. :-)

That is because we only drank tea together, we didn't drink wine. :) :)

But seriously, I am on various committees, and I see it as an opportunity to influence the future of the department towards what I think is right. One does not have to call the idiots idiots, one can respectfully insist on necessary changes... But I also allowed myself to ask the dean who elects the board of governors (with tone and context making it clear that I am unhappy with them). By the way, the answer was - "the corporation". And the answer to the question "and who elects the corporation?" was "the board of governors" :) :)

Clarissa said...

:-) :-) Your dean has a huge sense of humor. Or not, which makes his comments scary.

I have a big problem working on any kind of collective projects. i have this unfortunate tendency to blurt out things or make faces and this really antagonizes people. So working on committees is a huge pain in the neck.

Clarissa said...

And don't mention alcohol to me because on Saturday I got unbelievably smashed. It still hurts to think about it. :-) :-)