UD‘s friend and editor, Scott Jaschik of Inside Higher Ed, alludes to UD‘s most recent IHE column – which includes criticism of an article in the Christian Science Monitor – in a piece this morning in USA Today:
… Almost as soon as word of the Alabama murders spread came the news that [Amy] Bishop, who has been charged in the killings, had been denied tenure and that an appeal of the denial had been rejected. This news prompted some media speculation that tenure stress may have led to the killings. The Christian Science Monitor ran with this theme, prompting criticism from academic bloggers (including one on Inside Higher Ed) who have noted that people are rejected for tenure all the time and don’t kill anyone.
Scott quotes psychology and security experts “dismiss[ing] the idea that the shootings could be blamed on a recent tenure denial.”
Likewise, in Psychology Today, the president of the American Psychoanalytical Association, Prudence Gourguechon, writes:
Stress, disappointment, PTSD, frustration, burnout, loss, shame and humiliation DO NOT LEAD A HUMAN BEING TO PICK UP A GUN AND START KILLING HIS OR HER FELLOW HUMAN BEINGS. Not having examined them, I can not know what is wrong, psychiatrically, with these killers, but I know that something is. And it’s not these human difficulties I just listed that are constantly referenced in the media stories.
It is important to distinguish between triggers–what might light the fuse–and the explosives that lead to the catastrophe.
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 (eg 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 [to] 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.
Society needs to know and be reminded that people can– in rare but significant instances– lose touch with external reality, and substitute a dangerous irrational inner world where, for example, they feel persecuted and terrorized.
With her long history of violence, paranoia, and cold-bloodedness (After the massacre, Bishop’s husband told a reporter, she phoned him, and in a perfectly calm voice said to come to the building and pick her up for their dinner date.), Amy Bishop is a poster child not for tenure unattained, but for psychosis misperceived.