Saturday, February 13, 2010
Professors Who Kill
This demonic face (click to enlarge, unless you are prone to nightmares) belongs to the University of Alabama professor who is alleged to have shot six colleagues yesterday, killing at least three, because they had voted to deny her tenure. As the police took her away, it is reported that she screamed: "It didn't happen! There's no way ... they are still alive!"
Maybe it's because I'm a professor myself, but for whatever reason I find this personally very disturbing. It's hard to think about anything else for the moment. I'm sitting here googling to find other cases of homicidal academics. They seem to be very, very rare. We academics are really uncommonly peaceful as a group. So far, I have only found three other cases, aside from the U of A shooter:
Of course, there is the loathsome George Zinkhan, University of Georgia business school prof who killed his wife and two others, then committed suicide after burying himself alive. This last was probably part of an malicious attempt to prevent the world from ever finding out what happened to him (it nearly succeeded).
Then there was Valery Fabrikant, a Canadian professor of engineering who shot four colleagues to to death for denying him tenure. [Update: But see comment thread on this.] Reportedly, he continues to do research from his prison cell. A decade after the killings, he posted on a web site a comment that suggests an utter lack of remorse: “I hope to be remembered as a person who had enough courage to fight lawlessness with deadly force and I hope to encourage others to do the same.”
Strangest of them all was Eric Muenter, a Harvard German instructor who slowly killed his wife with arsenic and then skipped town. He resurfaced in Texas under a different name and eventually became a professor at Cornell. He re-entered history when he decided to single-handedly end World War I by blowing up the Capitol in Washington D. C., assassinating J. P. Morgan, and blowing up munitions ships. His cleverly designed bomb took out the reception room at the Capitol and knocked a guard at the other end of the building off a bench on which he had been snoozing, but otherwise did no harm. He did manage to get a slug into Morgan before being subdued by Morgan's butler, but Morgan later recovered. As to the ships, one of them did mysteriously catch fire on the day Muenter claimed his bomb was set to go off, but this could be a coincidence. The ship frantically sped to the nearest port so the fire could be extinguished before its cargo could blow the whole thing to smithereens.
You know, I just noticed something all four cases have in common, other than being profs and killers: they were all bat-sh*t crazy.
Perched on the platform of this tiny sample, I hereby heroically leap to the conclusion that, compared to other people, academics have a powerful inhibition against committing heinous acts, unless they are actually insane.
So, despite yesterday's horrors, you don't have to worry about our behavior. As far as that is concerned, we are bovine and harmless. On the whole, it's our ideas that do real the damage.
Update: The story of the U of A shooter keeps getting stranger. She is no stranger to violence, it tuns out. When she was about 20, she "accidentally" shot her 18 year old brother to death. I have long suspected that many fatal gun "accidents" are murders or suicides. This looks like it is just such a case. Guns are scary things and adults naturally handle them with care.