Stress of Tenure

With most jobs, there is a level of stress that comes with it. Hence, that is the joy of life. But, not knowing your fate after 5 years of work is “real stress. I am not a fan of the year to year contract system offered by some schools. Part of my proposal for the independent school conference I am co-presenting with a Dean of faculty from a Florida private school discusses the concept of creating an academic community by way of promoting academic security. I will blog more on this topic when all is close to being doing. Right now I am still reading through the literature of my research for the national independent school conference.

Regardless, nothing should promote an act of violence. I am still shocked that this incident did not get much coverage regarding tenure:

Amy Bishop, a Harvard PhD, a wife and mother, a successful biology researcher, a University of Alabama professor whose students seem to admire her, took out a gun during a biology department meeting on the Huntsville campus  and shot everyone in sight.

She killed three of her colleagues, including the department chair, and left three people (two professors, one administrator) in critical condition. Police arrived within seconds and took her into custody within minutes. Within hours, her apparent motive emerged: Denial of tenure.

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8 thoughts on “Stress of Tenure

  1. I remember wondering why this didn’t get more play in the academic community as well, Carson.

    I wonder if it’s a sort of backlash against the idea of tenure; I have heard a lot of people start their discussion of the practice with “Well, *I* work as a (nurse/mechanic/librarian/insert profession here) and *I* don’t get tenure…” and I think that, perhaps, the idea of a guaranteed position in academia isn’t running its course.

  2. You know my feelings about tenure, so unless it becomes necessary I won’t rehash them here. That being said, if she was passed over for tenure, that’s sad, I suppose, but there’s not tenure anywhere else and NOTHING gives you the right to kill a roomful of colleagues.

    People have crappy things happen to them all the time. Imagine if we all killed people when that happened.

  3. I may be misremembering this, but I think there were at least a few articles on The Chronicle of Higher Ed website (and possibly publication, but I don’t get that) relating the tragedy to the practice of tenure. My take is that the lives lost and the shocking nature of the events made the discussion of tenure, at that time, seem inappropriate. With some time for reflection, I think it’s a subject that desperately needs discussion keeping in mind the Bishop tragedy.

    Tenure issues or not, Amy Bishop was clearly unstable. Since the Alabama tragedy, she has been charged with the murder of her brother from years earlier.

  4. I used to work at UAH and still have many friends there. Bishop was clearly unstable, had been planning the act for months (i.e. took shooting lessons), brought a change of clothes for her getaway, etc. Plus, as the previous commenter noted, it came out that she “accidentally” shot her brother (3 times with a shotgun) when she was around 20.

    She was denied tenure many months prior to the shooting.

  5. I’ve been working in a non-tenure academic job for 23 years. It hasn’t always been easy.

    I can safely say that in a non-tenure environment it is much easier for administrators to stifle dissent from the faculty because nobody is guaranteed employment from one year to the next.

    It may be a crass observation but I wonder if Amy Bishop would have responded any differently in a world where you can be released without cause by a university.

  6. I think the matter of not setting standards for this works against an institution; it is about stability and showing hardworking folks that they are valued for their teaching, service, and scholarship. But, I do wonder why certain institutions fear this? Freedom of academic voice in the classroom — maybe?

  7. It still sounds like you’re saying that being passed over for tenure makes it acceptable to murder people. As I know you, I know that’s not what you mean, but you might want to be more clear.

    Additionally, yeah, you’re right it’s hard to be in a field where you get passed over for stuff and you don’t know what your job situation might be in a few weeks, even after 5 years. Well, that may be true, but it doesn’t make it ok to kill people or really to even to do a lot of yelling, and it does, in fact, make you like the entire rest of the world. I appreciate the desire for academic and intellectual freedom, and I think they’re important, but they’re important when you do research as something other than an academic too, and they’re important when you’re an engineer and go to work every day and design your dams and buildings. I mean, I get your point, but I’m not so sure that academia should be all that different from everywhere else, or perhaps that everywhere else should be all that different from academia.

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