Slain Department Head Supported Accused Killer’s Tenure Bid

Huntsville, Ala.—The chairman of the biology department at the University of Alabama at Huntsville, Gopi K. Podila, had supported the tenure bid of Amy Bishop, the biology professor who has been accused of killing him and two other professors and critically injuring two more.

That’s according to William Setzer, chairman of the university’s chemistry department, who said he had spoken to Mr. Podila directly about Ms. Bishop’s failed tenure bid. Some have speculated that her tenure denial may have been the reason she pulled out a gun one hour into a department meeting Friday afternoon and opened fire on her colleagues.

As for why she had been turned down for tenure, Mr. Setzer said he had heard that her publication record was thin and that she hadn’t secured enough grants. Also, there were concerns about her personality, he said. In meetings, Mr. Setzer remembered, she would go off on “bizarre” rambles about topics not related to tasks at hand — “left-field kind of stuff,” he said.

Sometimes she would mention during meetings that she didn’t get tenure. “She was right upfront about not getting tenure,” he said. “And she didn’t seem, you know, overtly pissed off or anything like that.”

Mr. Setzer is also an adjunct member of the biology department, and he knew Ms. Bishop, though they were not friends. “She was kind of weird,” he said. “I mean, all scientists are weird, right? But she was just kind of weird. She didn’t strike me as psychotic.”

While there were those who supported her tenure and promotion, Mr. Setzer said, he didn’t believe she had any friends in the department.

There was no doubt, however, about her intelligence or pedigree. “She’s pretty smart,” said Mr. Setzer. “That was not a question. There might have been some question about how good of a [principal investigator] and mentor she was. Yeah, she knows her stuff, and she’s a good technical person, but as far as being the boss and running the lab, that was kind of the question.”

Mr. Setzer said he was “mildly surprised” that Ms. Bishop had not received tenure last year. He asked Mr. Podila about it and was told that while the chairman supported her, most of the faculty members in the department did not.

Along with Mr. Podila, two professors — Maria Ragland Davis and Adriel Johnson — were killed in the shooting. Another professor in the department, Joseph Leahy, and the department’s secretary, Stephanie Monticciolo, are in critical condition. Yet another professor, Luis Rogelio Cruz-Vera, was released from the hospital earlier today.

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