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.
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Tenure and tenure-track positions declined from more than 50 percent of all teaching positions to less than 40 percent between 1997 and 2007, according to the American Federation of Teachers. In the 1960s, 75 percent of college teachers were tenured.
“You are expected to produce, and produce more quickly, and the road [to tenure] has gotten steeper and steeper,” North Carolina State University professor Richard Felder told Prism Magazine in 2007. “It’s a killer environment. I’d imagine the stress levels are through the roof.”
The class divide between tenured and non-tenured can be pernicious, as well.
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“While many adjuncts are talented teachers with the same degrees as tenured professors, they’re treated as second-class citizens on most campuses, and that affects students,” Samantha Stainburn wrote recently in a New York Times piece titled “The Case of the Vanishing Full-Time Professor.”
Competition for research funding
Research budgets are also being cut, meaning grants are harder to come by – all of which can ramp up work pressures and professional jealousies on campus, experts say. The Huntsville area prides itself on having some of the heaviest concentrations of PhDs in the country, largely because of its work with NASA. But the city is also part of the ultra-competitive arena of high- and bio-tech start-ups, where associations with universities can be a determinant for research funding.
Prof. Bishop had been working on an invention called “The Neuristor,” a kind of living computer made up of neurons. She had reportedly filed a lawsuit about her tenure case, the Decatur Daily newspaper reports.
“A person of her obvious talent and intelligence does not go around murdering someone,” writes commenter “Alabama Rooster” on the AL.com website, which represents major state papers in Alabama. “This is most bizarre and demands a lot of answers, not just about the shooting, but the climate at UAH which might lead to such a confrontation. There is something rotten here and it may be professional jealousy, which is rampant in the research and development community....egos awash with the possibility of $$$$$$.”
The Associated Press reported that Bishop was taken Friday night in handcuffs from a police precinct to the county jail and could be heard saying, “It didn’t happen. There’s no way … they are still alive.”
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