Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Professor Warned University About Alleged Killer's Mental State

According to this article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, the University of Alabama at Huntsville professor still fears for his safety:
Another professor, however, has long been wary of Ms. Bishop. He asked The Chronicle not to use his name because, considering recent events, he is worried about his own safety. The professor, who was a member of Ms. Bishop's tenure-review committee, said he first became concerned about Ms. Bishop's mental health "about five minutes after I met her."

The professor said that during a meeting of the tenure-review committee, he expressed his opinion that Ms. Bishop was "crazy." Word of what he said made it back to Ms. Bishop. In September, after her tenure denial, she filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging gender discrimination. The professor's remark was going to be used as possible evidence in that case.

It was then, the professor said, that the associate provost of the university, John Severn, came to him and asked whether he truly believed what he had said about Ms. Bishop. (Reached by phone, Mr. Severn declined to comment.) The professor was given the opportunity to back off the claim, or to say it was a flippant remark. But he didn't. "I said she was crazy multiple times and I stand by that," the professor said. "This woman has a pattern of erratic behavior. She did things that weren't normal."

No one incident stands out, the professor said, but a series of interactions caused him to think she was "out of touch with reality." Once, he said, she "went ballistic" when a grant application being filed on her behalf was turned in late. The professor said he avoided Ms. Bishop whenever he saw her, on or off the campus. When he spotted her not long ago at a Barnes & Noble bookstore, he made sure he was out of sight until she had left the store. He even skipped a faculty retreat because he knew she would be there.

To be clear, it wasn't as if the professor told the university that he thought Ms. Bishop was potentially violent. And, at the time, the university was narrowly focused on the legal fallout from a possible lawsuit by Ms. Bishop, he said.
The Chronicle also republishes some responses, including this interesting observation from a psychoanalyst:
Prudence Gourguechon, president, American Psychoanalytic Association:
Every story in the media I've seen so far mentions the fact that she was recently denied tenure. This is an experience likely to lead to feelings of anger, humiliation, shame, and resentment in any human being. ...

These feelings, these life events, do not lead to mass murder.

This has become a habitual approach for the media in stories of this type. When Major Hasan killed 13 fellow service people at Fort Hood last November, the media reports focused obsessively on the stress of working with veterans returning from combat, Dr. Hasan's imminent deployment to Iraq and his opposition to the war, and burnout among military mental-health professionals. ...

Getting it wrong in the media does us all a disservice. If true but irrelevant facts are continually referenced, we start to think these things (e.g., stress) are relevant and truly causal, as opposed to possible triggers. And, the media rarely or never mention the factors that are more important to consider: Delusions. Paranoia. Major mental illness. Schizophrenia. Psychosis. The vast majority of human beings who suffer from these symptoms or disorders are not violent or dangerous and can do very well with appropriate treatment. But these might be the things that lead a few human beings pick up a gun and shoot their colleagues. That, plus easy availability of firearms.

Why have we substituted "stress" for psychosis as a causal concept? Why have we confused triggers for causes? What is the consequence for our society? One consequence I fear is that there will be a continually diminished tendency to consider and diagnose and treat psychosis and major mental illness, and therefore there will continue to be undiagnosed and untreated disordered minds picking up guns and going to a meeting to kill. (Psychoanalytic Excavation, Psychology Today)