HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – Students said they signed a petition and complained to no avail about the classroom conduct of a professor accused of killing three colleagues and wounding three others in a shooting rampage at a faculty meeting.
The students upset with biology professor Amy Bishop told The Associated Press they went to administrators at the University of Alabama in Huntsville at least three times a year ago, complaining that she was ineffective in the classroom and had odd, unsettling ways.
The students said Bishop never made eye contact during conversations, taught by reading out of a textbook and made frequent references to Harvard University, her beloved alma mater.
"We could tell something was off, that she was not like other teachers," said nursing student Caitlin Phillips.
Still, they said, they saw no sign she might turn violent.
Bishop is charged with one count of capital murder and three counts of attempted murder in the shootings Friday in a campus conference room where members of the biology department were meeting.
She is being held without bond and does not yet have an attorney. Police have not revealed a motive, but colleagues say she was vocal in her displeasure about being denied tenure in March of last year. Her appeal was denied in November.
There have been revelations since the shooting that she killed her brother with a shotgun in Braintree, Massachusetts, in 1986 but was never charged because police said it was an accident, and that she and her husband were scrutinized in 1993 after someone sent pipe bombs to a Harvard professor she worked with. The bombs did not go off and no one was ever charged in that case either.
In 2002, Bishop was charged with assault, battery and disorderly conduct after a tirade at the International House of Pancakes in Peabody, Massachusetts. Peabody police Capt. Dennis Bonaiuto said Bishop became incensed when she found out another woman had received the restaurant's last booster seat. Bishop hit the woman while shouting, "I am Dr. Amy Bishop," according to the police report.
"The whole incident was just stupid," Bishop's husband, James Anderson, said Wednesday.
Asked if he was referring to his wife's actions, he said: "Everything."
"It was way overblown," he said. "Someone trying to make something out of nothing."
He also defended his wife's teaching, saying the "vast majority" of students were happy with her. He said his wife taught the "cut course" for nursing students, who would either go on toward a degree or quit the program based on how they did in her class.
"If they didn't make it through, they didn't make it," he said. "So it's natural for some to be unhappy."
He said classroom performance was not an issue in her tenure file, which has not been made public.
Bishop's students said they first wrote a letter to biology department chairman Gopi K. Podila — one of the victims of Friday's shooting — then met with him and finally submitted a petition that dozens of them had signed.
"Podila just sort of blew us off," said Phillips, who was among a group of five students who met with him in fall 2008 or early 2009 to air their concerns.
After students met privately with Podila, Phillips said, Bishop seemingly made a point in class to use some of the same phrases they had so they would know she knew about it.
"It was like she was parroting what we had said," Phillips said.
University President David B. Williams said Tuesday that student evaluations were one of many factors in the tenure evaluation process, but he was unaware of any student petition against Bishop.
Other tenured professors in the department made the decision not to grant her tenure, a type of job security given to academics, but the votes of the committee were not made public. Podila was supportive of her, Williams noted.