Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search

Professor charged with murder: Did tenure pressure play a role?

A neuroscience professor at the University of Alabama-Huntsville has been charged with capital murder for killing three people after opening fire at a faculty hearing. Dr. Amy Bishop reportedly had learned that her request for tenure had been denied for a second time.

By Staff writer / February 13, 2010

Amy Bishop is taken into custody by Huntsville, Ala. police Friday Feb 12 in connection with fatal shootings on the University of Alabama campus in Huntsville.

Bob Gathany/Huntsville Times/AP



A Harvard-trained neuroscientist known for her strong opinions allegedly shot and killed three colleagues after hearing for the second time that she was denied tenure at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

Police say that Dr. Amy Bishop killed three colleagues and injured three others at around 4 p.m. Friday. She’s been charged with capital murder.

Police have not suggested a motive. But friends and colleagues say Dr. Bishop had been upset about her failure to get tenure at the college, which sits in the center of Alabama’s space hub in Huntsville.

Skip to next paragraph

Sammie Lee Davis, the husband of slain researcher Maria Ragland Davis, a tenured professor, told the Associated Press that his wife had mentioned Bishop, describing her as “not being able to deal with reality” and “not as good as she thought she was.”

Internet reaction has been swift. “What a terrible tragedy,” Katherine from Michigan comments on the New York Times site. “If these killings were indeed prompted by stress over tenure, it seems like a cruelly literal culmination of the phrase ‘publish or perish.”

Most school shootings involve students

While most university and school shootings, such as Columbine High School in Colorado and Virginia Tech, have student perpetrators, murders involving professors and teachers do occur. Last year, University of Georgia professor George Zinkhan, who shot and killed three people at a community picnic, escaped the scene, but was later found dead in an apparent suicide. Police believe the shootings were related to trouble in Mr. Zinkhan’s marriage.

Whatever Prof. Bishop’s motives, experts say that academic pressures are increasing as the recession and other dynamics takes their toll on tenured positions. Politics can be rife in the Ivory Tower, as well. Witness the James Sherley case at MIT. Prof. Sherley, who is black, went on a hunger strike after declaring he had been turned down for tenure because of his race.