Valued commenter wc just left us a link to one of the most insightful articles to date on Dr. Amy Bishop, the University of Alabama in Huntsville biology professor charged in the shooting deaths of three colleagues where two other professors and an administrative assistant were injured.
In today’s Decatur Daily, staff writer Eric Fleischauer has an extended interview with UAH psychology professor Eric Seemann. You really should read the whole thing because it provides an inside view of Bishop’s personality and relationships. But here is a critical passage:
Despite her excellent research ability, Seemann was not surprised she struggled to obtain tenure.
“Amy was kind of hard to get along with,” he said. “I’ve talked to people who said, ‘Wow, she can be really arrogant,’ or be really headstrong. I knew that to be true. But at the same time she was brilliant. She was really one of UAH’s rising research stars. People I know in biological sciences would say, ‘She’s a great researcher, but she’s lousy to work with.’ ”
She was brilliant and she knew it.
“At one meeting I was with Amy, she was complaining to a group of us. She said she was denied tenure not because she was a lousy researcher — she’s not, quite the opposite — and not because she didn’t have good classes, she believed she did — I think some might say otherwise — but because she was accused of being arrogant, aloof and superior. And she said, ‘I am.’
I recently had the opportunity to lead an effort to draft from scratch a reappointment, promotion, and tenure document for a newly-established department. With a committee of deans and department chairs, the final document pretty much included your typical quantitative requirements for teaching, research, and service. But one dean strongly suggested to me that we include a section on collegiality, defined loosely as the ability to interact constructively with individuals for the greater good of the department and the university. While wording to that effect was included, it was not explicitly defined as an evaluative criterion.
In academia, we often tolerate a great deal of destructive and defiant behavior that disrupts the organization in the name of “genius,” perceived external stature and, perhaps most importantly, grant dollars (which generate indirect cost dollars for the institution). When describing some situations I’ve encountered to my colleagues in other non-academic businesses, their conclusion was that some of these people would often be let go if such behavior occurred in their workplaces.
For this consideration, let us step away for a moment from the horrible tragedy in Huntsville. Let us assume that an assistant professor there adequately met all of the explicit quantitative criteria for promotion and tenure in terms of teaching, research, and service. I would expect, however, that if the candidate under consideration was not an otherwise constructive member of the organization, comments in this regard would have been included in the chair’s recommendation to the college dean’s promotion and tenure committee based on the deliberations of the departmental promotion and tenure committee.
The questions for you, dear academic reader are:
1. Do you think that lack of collegiality is grounds for denial of tenure for a candidate that otherwise meets the basic quantitative criteria outlined in university guidelines?
2. Do you feel that collegiality – or whatever you want to call it: teamwork, cooperation – should be an important factor in making academic tenure decisions?
Update Feb 15 – One of the most collegial academics I know both online and IRL, Prof Janet Stemwedel, has an excellent post this morning on her blog, Adventures in Ethics and Science, entitled, “Collegiality Matters.” She expands there on what comprises academic collegiality and why she thinks it is an essential consideration in tenure decision.