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General News    H3'ed 2/18/10

Did Mismanagement Lead to Alabama Campus Shootings?

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Message Roger Shuler
Cross Posted at Legal Schnauzer
Amy Bishop, the neuroscientist who is charged in last week's fatal shootings on the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) campus, has a number of troubling incidents in her past.

News reports, so far, have focused on Bishop's actions and her background--with little scrutiny directed toward administrators at the University of Alabama.

Based on what we've learned about the UAH shootings, and on my own experience as a 19-year employee in the UA system, that needs to change. Mismanagement, particularly related to Bishop's denial of tenure, almost certainly played a major role in a tragedy that left three people dead and three others wounded, two critically.

By now, many readers probably know about the mysterious shooting death of Bishop's brother, the suspicious mail bomb sent to one of Bishop's former professors at Harvard University, and the altercation with a fellow customer at a Massachusetts pancake house. All of these help paint the picture of Bishop as a troubled individual.

But we also have a picture of Bishop as a successful researcher, caring teacher, promising entrepreneur, devoted wife and mother. We've seen no reported signs of violent behavior during her time in Huntsville.

It seems undisputed that Bishop has a prickly personality, one that can rub some people the wrong way. But what transformed her into an alleged mass murderer? What role did UAH administrators--and the overall environment in the UA system--play in this transformation?

Our guess is that mismanagement played a substantial role in the Huntsville tragedy. Several reports have indicated that the victims' family members have raised questions about Bishop's hiring, why her past troubles were not unearthed in a background check. That raises the possibility of future lawsuits against UA for negligent hiring.

Experts have said, however, that even the most thorough background check probably would not have found the incidents in Bishop's past. Her brother's shooting, rightly or wrongly, was officially ruled an accident. She and her husband were among several people questioned about the mail bomb, with no charges ever being brought. And charges over the restaurant altercation were eventually dismissed.

If the public and the victims' families want to see where responsibility is more likely to lie, they should look at the actions of UA's administrators long after Bishop was hired--particularly as her candidacy for tenure drew near.

Our guess is that liability for UA should rest with negligent (even wanton) supervision, rather than negligent hiring. Our guess is that Bishop's defense lawyers eventually will be able to make a strong case that gross mismanagement drove her to insanity.

The federal government deserves scrutiny, as well. Discriminatory practices have been evident in the UA system for quite some time; we were writing about them here at Legal Schnauzer long before Amy Bishop became a household name--and they go well beyond my personal case at UA's campus in Birmingham (UAB). (See here, here, here, and here.)

Why should the feds be held accountable? The UA system receives hundreds of millions of dollars every year in federal research grants. Those funds are predicated on a commitment to conduct business in a lawful and nondiscriminatory manner. But it has been clear for at least two to four years that UA does not live up to that commitment.

We've written extensively about the case of Seema Gupta, a woman from India who was one of at least four international trainees to leave UAB's family-medicine residency program in Huntsville after making claims of widespread discrimination. Gupta filed a federal lawsuit, and a jury found that she indeed was the victim of discrimination based on her Hindu religion. Edward Stellmacher, a former resident from Germany, has a similar lawsuit pending.

This doesn't even include my case, which is being investigated by the EEOC, or the cases of at least three veteran UAB faculty members who have combined experience of roughly 80 years. And I've lost track of the number of current and former employees who have contacted me, because of my blog, and told horror stories about their experiences with UAB managers.

The record, just from UA's Birmingham campus, is clear: The university regularly engages in discriminatory practices. But has the federal government intervened? To our knowledge, the answer is no.

UA's federal funding should have been frozen some time ago, while an investigation of alleged discrimination was conducted. But the federal government apparently has done nothing, giving UA managers and administrators a free pass to abuse employees and violate civil-rights laws.

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I live in Birmingham, Alabama, and work in higher education. I became interested in justice-related issues after experiencing gross judicial corruption in Alabama state courts. This corruption has a strong political component. The corrupt judges are (more...)
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