I’m Wondering How Dr. Amy Bishop Ever Got Hired

Decency necessitates a prayer for those who have lost members of their immediate family to senseless violence. I encourage all of you to ask God’s healing mercy towards those who lost loved ones when Dr. Amy Bishop opened fire and killed at least three professors at University of Alabama Huntsville last Friday. When the grieving has been completed, and the departed have been bid farewell, the hard questions need to be asked so that this does not become a more commonplace event.

I think one of the first questions that UAH (and any other US college or university with an analogous hiring system) should ask is “How did Amy Bishop get hired?” The facile, blame-evading answer to this would be that Dr. Bishop had the appropriate degree in subject matter from Harvard University and a passionate desire to work in academia. She and her husband had started a biotechnology company in the Huntsville, Alabama area and had successfully patented inventions. This would make her look promising to a department head who wanted a capable researcher to bring in grant dollars.

A closer look at this question would reveal a more disturbing pattern. Mrs. Bishop had a long and documented history of violent behavior. This sort of behavior would never have gotten past a decent background check. Dr. Bishop had more red flags in her record than a May Day Parade goose-stepping towards The Forbidden Palace.

Her malicious miscreant episodes began in 1986. She shot her brother Seth with a shot-gun, but was not criminally charged. According to the Norfolk County, District Attorney’s Office, records from a Massachusetts State Police investigation indicate otherwise. Details follow below.

The analysis of the newly received documents, as well as the previously released March 30, 1987 State Police report indicate that probable cause existed at that time to place Amy Bishop under arrest charged with: Assault with a Dangerous Weapon, Chap. 265 Sec. 15B, Carrying a Dangerous Weapon, Chap. 269 Sec. 10, 12D, and
Unlawful possession of ammunition, Chap. 269 Ch. 10 (h).
(HT: Boston.com.

Dr. Bishop was also suspected of having planted a bomb intended to kill or maim a Harvard Medical School Professor in 1993. The Harvard Crimson offers details below.

Bishop and her husband had been questioned by authorities investigating the delivery of a package containing two unexploded pipe bombs to Paul Rosenberg, an associate professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School and doctor at Children’s Hospital Boston. Bishop’s concern that she would not receive a positive evaluation on her doctoral work from Rosenberg and previous violent behavior made her a suspect at the time, according to the Boston Globe.

Dr. Bishop also had other difficulties in dealing peacefully with others. In 2002, she provoked an argument inside a Peabody, MA International House of Pancakes. Ace of Spades offers details below.

In March, 2002, Bishop walked into an International House of Pancakes in Peabody with her family, asked for a booster seat for one of her children, and learned the last seat had gone to another mother. Bishop, according to a police report, strode over to the other woman, demanded the seat and launched into a profanity-laced rant. When the woman would not give the seat up, Bishop punched her in the head, all the while yelling “I AM DR. AMY BISHOP.”

Having been investigated for a security clearance myself, I can assure you that any sort of an effort to investigate her past would have resulted in a warning to UAH about hiring this person. A thorough background check will involve talking to old employers, co-workers, teachers and friends from college. They will talk to your neighbors.

In other words, had anyone attempted to background check Dr. Amy Bishop at all, she would never have landed a responsible position. As UAH mourns its slain faculty, they should thank their lucky stars she wasn’t turning that weapon on a lab full of graduate students or a classroom. The malfeasance shown in bringing Amy Bishop to the campus in the first place was astonishing. UAH, as callous as it sounds to say this, got off lucky.

So this brings up an issue that universities are not fond of addressing: “Are America’s colleges and universities decent places for a loving parent to send children?” This question usually involves issues of alcoholic debauchery or sexual predation. Increasingly, as deviancy has been defined down, and the university distances itself from what goes on when students are not in the lab or classroom, this has become an issue of public safety.

As a part-time graduate student who was on campus (in a different building) taking a mid-term one hour before Dr. Bishop unleashed her demons, this becomes a vital question. Do public institutions such as schools and universities owe their users efforts to check backgrounds before they hire professors and staff? Even a cursory check of references should have kept Amy Bishop far away from Biology Department Faculty Meetings on the UAH campus.