Questions about how universities handle tenure decisions have arisen after Amy Bishop, a professor at the University of Alabama Huntsville campus, was accused of killing three colleagues from the university’s biology department earlier this month.
Bishop reportedly was denied tenure—a distinction that ensures job security in academia—and complained about the university’s decision for months before the shootings, colleagues said in interviews with the Associated Press (AP).
Higher-ed administrators say the tedious six-year tenure process can be fraught with anxiety, and if candidates expect to earn tenure and are denied by campus officials, reactions can be unpredictable.
Maintaining communication between committees assigned to evaluate tenure candidates and those seeking the distinction is critical in preparing both sides for the momentous decision, said Julie Underwood, dean of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s School of Education.
“The worst thing is when [tenure candidates are] anxious or when they’re blindsided,” Underwood said. “You show them the path and give them support along the way so there are no surprises in the end.”
Patrick Fiel, public safety advisor for ADT Security Services, which works with 15,000 schools and 1,300 colleges nationwide, said that when campus administrators are ready to hand down tenure rejections or other negative news to employees, they should have security personnel nearby in case of a violent reaction.
“Any time you’re going to talk to a person and you know it’s going to be negative, there are measures you can and should take,” said Fiel, former executive director of school security for the Washington, D.C. public school system. “You never know how people are going to react … and in those situations, security should be in the immediate vicinity. Someone with authority should be there, other than the administrator.”
Meanwhile, questions also have arisen about whether UAH should have known about previous instances of violence in Bishop’s past.