The comments attributed to Murder Prof. Amy Bishop in the aftermath of her rebuttal to her negative tenure decision read like a Letterman top-ten list. When handcuffed and shoved into a police car last Friday, she calmly told a reporter that her murder spree “didn’t happen. There’s no way. They’re still alive.” Then, after she’d lawyered up, she claimed to her counsel “I don’t know anything about it. I don’t know when it began or when it ended or anything.” Careful readers will recall that this is the same I-can’t-remember excuse she used to great effect when she avoided being charged for accidentally blowing a hole through her brother’s gut. And the latest AP story has her mouthpiece Roy W. Miller paraphrasing her latest remark: he “also added that his client felt bad about the murders, and had stated that she was sorry. ‘I believe she has,’ said Miller, when asked about an apology. ‘We haven’t talked much on that, but she’s obviously sorry for all this mess.’”
So while both client and attorney have foggy memories about the crime and any possible remorse for it, Amy Bishop is still sharp as a tack about what matters most to her: “‘Do I still have a job out there?’ She asked me that yesterday,” Miller said. “She said, ‘Do you know if I have a job? I assume they fired me. Did they fire me?’”
Interestingly but not surprisingly, “they” have not: “University officials have said she remains on the payroll, but her $83,000-a-year job was ending at the end of the semester because she was denied tenure.” If it seems odd to you that gunning down six colleagues, killing three of them, does not constitute a fire-able offense, then you, dear reader, are not an academic.
Let me tell you what is going through the minds of those officials, even in the midst of what I have absolutely no doubt is genuine grief for their slain and wounded colleagues: will Amy sue us if we fire her now, without due process? As I have said here and here, process is everything in the academy, and the more arcane and complex the process the better, for it provides all the more opportunities for lawsuits. On what grounds do you think Bishop appealed her tenure decision? On the substantive issue of her job performance? Don’t be silly. On procedural grounds. And when those failed, on grounds of discrimination, which, if you buy into the “institutional racism/sexism” theory of colleges and universities, is nothing more than a specialized form of procedural appeal.
And why do you think so many of these decisions are appealed? Because there’s money for the plaintiff (who will shut up and go away for a tidy sum) and money for the lawyers, who do everything in their power to encourage cowering administrators to remain in their crouched and defensive positions. Think about that the next time you open your kid’s tuition bill and read about the “rising costs” that have occasioned its hefty hike. The suits at the University of Alabama Hunstville will take what they will justify as the prudent course of action: they’ll keep Bishop on the payroll until her contract expires, then wash their hands of her. They will justify this course of action as saving the university attorney costs should Amy sue for wrongful termination—on procedural grounds, of course. The costs to their souls, or to the hearts of the survivors and the victims’ families, will not enter their minds.