Black On Campus
Higher Education and the African American Experience

Tragic Murder at the University of Alabama Leaves 3 Dead

February 17th, 2010 by Ajuan Mance

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University of Alabama shooting victims (left to right), Dr. Adriel Davis, Dr. Gopi Podila, and Dr. Maria Ragland Davis.

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My long silence on this story is only a reflection of the failure of language to express my sadness over this senseless crime. Many have hypothesized that the accused murderer, Dr. Amy Bishop, was seeking revenge after being denied tenure. Alas, this explanation fails to account for the fact that literally thousands of people are denied tenure every year. The process is stressful and often confounding for faculty members under review; and yet few have ever taken up arms against their colleagues in response to a tenure denial.

I extend my heartfelt condolences to the families, friends, and colleagues of the deceased; and I will keep the injured survivors in my thoughts and prayers. From all reports, the deceased faculty members — Dr. Gopi K. Podila, Dr. Maria Ragland Davis, and Dr. Adriel D. Johnson — were well-respected scholars and teachers, beloved by students. Dr. Davis and Dr. Johnson, both African American, were each very committed to increasing minority participation in the sciences.

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that Dr. Ariel D. Johnson was, “widely recognized for his support of black students interested in pursuing careers in science, engineering, and mathematics.” In addition, “He directed the campus chapter of the Alabama Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation. His wife, Jacqueline U. Johnson, a veterinarian who teaches at Alabama A&M University, was a principal investigator for the alliance, which is backed by the National Science Foundation.”

The Chronicle had this to say about Dr. Maria Ragland Davis and her commitment to increasing minority participation in the sciences,

She also specialized in student encouragement, said C.S. Prakash, a professor of plant molecular genetics at Tuskegee University, Ms. Davis’s friend of almost 20 years. He said she was committed to involving young people, especially minority students and those from disadvantaged backgrounds, in science. That commitment dated back to when she was working in the private sector, he said.

“She was one of very few African-American scientists,” Mr. Prakash said. “She was a great role model.”

Over the years, Mr. Prakash would ask Ms. Davis to come speak to students at Tuskegee, a historically black institution, about working in the sciences. “She was always willing to come and help us out,” he said. Ms. Davis was personable and affable, Mr. Prakash said, and students responded to her enthusiasm for science. “She had a way of connecting with many of them.” He believes Ms. Davis motivated hundreds of students to go into science during her lifetime. “I think that is going to be her legacy.”

Although there has been no indication that the murders of Dr. Padila, Dr. Davis, and Dr. Johnson will be investigated as a hate crime, the fact that Dr. Bishop shot four out of the 5 minority professors in her department does give me pause. UC – Santa Barbara English Professor Chris Newfield expresses similar concerns:

The Department of Biological Sciences at UA Huntsville lists 14 faculty members on its website.   Five of them were faculty of color.  Bishop apparently killed three of the five, and tried to kill a fourth.  Joseph D. Ng, an Asian American, is one of two surviving faculty of color in the department, and the only one who was unharmed.

Much of the coverage is skeptical about the explanation of revenge for a tenure denial, and this skepticism is fueled by Bishop’s apparent murder of her lead supporter, the department chair. Although two surviving victimes, Leahy and Monticciolo, are white, it is worth asking whether this might have been a racial hate crime.

– from “Alabama Professor Kills Colleagues in Faculty Meeting, published on Prof. Newfield’s blog, Crime Log

In a sense, the motivation for this crime matters less than the fact that so many lives and so much talent, experience, intelligence, and skill are now lost the University of Alabama and to science in general; and, of course, none of this compares to the grief that is now a daily and painful reality for the loved ones of the deceased.

With any hope, no such horror will ever take place on a college campus, ever again.

Posted by Ajuan Mance

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Posted in African Americans, Current Events, Higher Education, race

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