What Motivated Amy Bishop?

Academic pressure, politics, personality...?

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The arrest of Amy Bishop, a neurobiologist who allegedly shot and killed three faculty members at the University of Alabama, has sparked speculation about her motives. Commentators are asking what role academic pressures, left-leaning political views, and Bishop's shy personality may have played in the attack.

  • Academic Culture?  The Chronicle of Higher Education collects reflections from academic readers of the site. Gabriela Montell presents many views, beginning with one arguing that the arduous tenure process may have played a role: "This woman obviously had some mental problems, but the pressure in academia and the presure to gain tenure, and her subsequent denial of tenure (the scarlet letter in academia) were likely contributing factors." Some readers objected to this view, however, saying "obviously, Dr. Bishop had issues that went deeper than a denial of academic work."
  • An E-mail 'Trigger'?  In his first interview since the arrest, Bishop's husband James Anderson was at a loss to tell The Chronicle of Higher Education why it happened. "Since the shootings, Mr. Anderson said, he's been searching for 'the trigger'--that is, what might have caused his wife to open fire on her colleagues. He wondered if perhaps an e-mail message might have upset her. Often, according to Mr. Anderson, higher-ups at the university sent 'nastygrams' on Fridays. ... So far he hasn't found anything."
  • Politics?  Dan Collins at POWIP writes a commanding post weighing the politicization of Bishop's alleged killings. He defends right-wing bloggers who have linked to a student's review of Bishop calling her a "socialist," and a Boston Herald quote that suggested Bishop was "obsessed" with Obama. But Collins says that while it's fair to bring evidence to light, the facts on whether politics had anything to do with Bishop's motives just aren't clear: "I'm not sure what her political leanings have to do with this; there's simply not enough information." John Cole of Balloon Juice argues that it's not even clear that Bishop was a "socialist," and that even then politics would be irrelevant.
  • Violent, 'Oddball' Psychology?  The Boston Herald reports on speculation about her motives. The Herald quotes Bishop acquaintances who viewed her as unsociable, shy, and introverted, though "not overly emotional" about being denied tenure. Then the Herald notes, as many outlets have, that Bishop shot her younger brother many years ago, and was a suspect in the bombing of a Harvard professor.
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