The ‘Harvard Mentality’ as a Plea for Mitigation

by Henry on February 19, 2010

Noted without comment, from the “Chronicle”:

Amy Bishop’s court-appointed lawyer says the professor accused of killing three of her colleagues appears to have paranoid schizophrenia and while she is “aware of what she’s done” and is full of remorse, she can’t remember the shootings. Roy W. Miller, the lawyer, told the Associated Press that her failure to get tenure at the University of Alabama at Huntsville was the likely key to the shootings. “Obviously she was very distraught and concerned over that tenure,” Mr. Miller said. “It insulted her and slapped her in the face, and it’s probably tied in with the Harvard mentality. She brooded and brooded and brooded over it, and then, ‘bingo.'”



Kieran Healy 02.19.10 at 9:22 pm



Steve LaBonne 02.19.10 at 9:39 pm

Ooh! How many people do I get to kill under my Harvard exemption? I’ve got a little list…


shabadoo 02.19.10 at 9:40 pm

That’s one of them fancy legal terms, I think.


Jacob Christensen 02.19.10 at 9:47 pm

Aparently paranoid schizophrenia is being mentioned as a possible factor as well.

But surely this could be tested on existing data from faculty shootings.

Oh, this is a first? Well, then it might be a bit difficult to establish the effects of the Harvard mentality with statistical significance.


Michael Bérubé 02.19.10 at 9:47 pm

But imagine how many lives might have been saved if only Bishop’s colleagues had been allowed to conceal and carry their Harvard degrees.


kid bitzer 02.19.10 at 9:51 pm

i know what you’re thinking. “did he go to a degree mill, or to an ivy?” well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement i kind of lost my transcript. so you’ve got to ask yourself one question: do i feel lucky? well, do ya, punk?


Stuart 02.19.10 at 9:57 pm

Trying to work out the joke in the first sentence of #3, did anyone else get it?


stostosto 02.19.10 at 10:05 pm

Like Kieran said: “Bingo”?


Treilhard 02.19.10 at 10:11 pm

Christoph Waltz: It’s a Bingo!
Brad Pitt: In America, we just say “Bingo”…


Jacob Christensen 02.19.10 at 10:23 pm

@6 No joke (in the first sentence). A bit of googling yielded some articles where a known psychiatric disorder was mentioned as a possible factor. But expect a complicated court case.


Stuart 02.19.10 at 11:14 pm

Ok, was just confused, because that is exactly what the first sentence in the quote being posted says as well.


Jonathan Dresner 02.19.10 at 11:20 pm

Great, just what I need: another reason for people to look at me funny in faculty meetings. Is this why my department never meets? Is it me?


Hmmnnn 02.20.10 at 2:57 am

“Ooh! How many people do I get to kill under my Harvard exemption?”

It used to depend on whether or not you got a job in government, but things changed with the invention of the MBA. These days I dunno.


Colin Danby 02.20.10 at 3:48 am

Glad you’re tenured.


Barry 02.20.10 at 4:44 am

Jonathan Dresner :

“Great, just what I need: another reason for people to look at me funny in faculty meetings. Is this why my department never meets? Is it me?”

Oh, they meet, but they make sure that you don’t know where and when.

And they lock the door.

And they have donuts :)


Jonathan Dresner 02.20.10 at 5:07 pm

Oh, they meet, but they make sure that you don’t know where and when.
And they lock the door.
And they have donuts :)

As long as it isn’t twinkies….


Barry 02.20.10 at 6:43 pm

No, but if *you* are seen buying twinkies, expect trouble.


qb 02.20.10 at 7:04 pm

Again, but: “bingo?” Jesus fucking Christ.


kid bitzer 02.20.10 at 8:34 pm

from the nyt:
“In 2002, she was charged with assault after punching a woman in the head at an International House of Pancakes in Peabody, Mass. The woman had taken the last booster seat, and, according to the police report, Dr. Bishop demanded it for one of her children, shouting, “I am Dr. Amy Bishop!””


Michael Drake 02.20.10 at 10:06 pm

Yes, bingo.


gmoke 02.20.10 at 11:37 pm

Oh, that explains Larry Summers.


Jon H 02.21.10 at 2:20 am

Normally they just go into government and sate their blood lust there.


Matt McIrvin 02.21.10 at 4:21 am

I shot Marvin in the face!


peter 02.22.10 at 8:08 am

Sheds new light on the Yale Shooting Problem – perhaps is were a Harvard Man wot done it!


Kragen Javier Sitaker 02.22.10 at 10:46 am

I can’t help but be reminded of Olin Shivers’s acknowledgments in the introduction to the scsh manual, the force of which are somewhat diminished now that there are four names above them. Fortunately for his colleagues, although Shivers has studied and taught at many schools, Harvard is not among them, so they’re safe, for now.


Walt 02.22.10 at 1:25 pm

Those are the greatest acknowledgments ever. You can hear the crazed hissing tone through the word choice alone.


Glen Tomkins 02.22.10 at 3:56 pm

The insanity defense

It’s been mentioned as applying to this case here and in the press, but it would really be a stretch, just based on the admittedly sketchy story we have to work with. Different states have different exact wordings of their standard for using insanity as a defense, but, as far as I know, they all require that the accused have an uncontrolled thought disorder active at the moment of the crime, because they would have to have been unable to tell right from wrong, or be unable to understand obvious and direct consequences of their actions, to use this defense.

Even if this person did have some history of Chronic Paranoid Schizophrenia, she would have to prove that it was uncontrolled at the time of the shooting, and uncontrolled to the point of causing her to either not recognize that pulling the trigger would cause bullets to fly out at speeds sufficient to kill people who were in their paths, or to not recognize that society would consider that consequence murder, which society thinks is a wrong thing to do. That’s pretty major league disruption of thought processes, which would have reflected in all sorts of other behavior at the time. It’s not as if CPS turns on and off like a light switch, even if she was being treated for it at the time, and stopped her meds. It would take days to weeks to decompensate, and in that time she would have left a trail of social encounters showing a progressive difficulty hewing to conventional thought patterns. There’s no chance that the judge and jury would accept an insanity plea unless she can produce witnesses to that progressive deterioration.

There is a lot of mental illness in this ocuntry, and a lot of crime, and probably a fair chunk of that crime is committed by mentally disturbed people. No doubt this person, with her history of having killed her own brother, was mentally disturbed in some way. But the insanity defense is rarely applicable in crimional cases because the degree and quality of mental illness required is rare itself, and almost always renders it victims incapable of much of any action towards others. People with severe, out of control, CPS mainly harm themselves, and that mainly by inability to attend to their own needs. The idea that criminals routinely evade justice by using the insanity defense is just one of those myths, similar to the idea that foreign aid or welfare are breaking the US budget.


kid bitzer 02.22.10 at 4:13 pm

…and then there’s bishop’s husband. no reason to think he’s insane, but his cluelessness reaches epic proportions.

i mean: what was he thinking? he knows his wife shot her brother. he knows his wife punched a woman in the head in an international house of pancakes (and why that didn’t go straight to interpol and the icc, i can’t understand).

and he also knows that her tenure case has gone down the tubes, and she’s under a ton of pressure.

so then she gets ahold of a gun a few weeks ago, but he’s not sure how. and the two of them go target-shooting, but he has no idea why. and then she takes it and shoots up some people, and he lies about what he knew.

i mean–i honestly don’t think he can have been an accessory, because what exactly could the plan have been? “sure, honey–you go in and shoot your colleagues, and i’ll take care the kids that afternoon”. or were they both assuming she’d go down in a hail of gunfire (a.k.a. “american suicide”), and were disappointed that the cops didn’t cooperate?

what was he thinking? on any scenario, what was he thinking?


Seth Gordon 02.22.10 at 7:52 pm

Perhaps Prof. Bishop’s lawyer went to Yale.


Colin Danby 02.23.10 at 12:07 am


—–excerpt from the NYT 20 February 2010

Tom Pettigrew, who was working in the body shop of a Ford dealership, said he and his friends saw a young woman walking around, looking into cars, carrying a shotgun.

“I kind of stepped back and said, ‘What’s going on, what are you doing here?’ ” Mr. Pettigrew said in an interview. “She said, ‘Put your hands up.’ I put my hands up and repeated the question.”

He continued: “She was distraught. She was hyperaware of everything that was going on. She said: ‘I need a car. I just got into a fight with my husband. He’s looking for me, and he’s going to kill me.’ ”

Minutes later, the police found Amy Bishop, still holding the gun, near a village newspaper distribution agency, where workers were busy unloading Sunday papers. According to Officer Ronald Solimini’s report, she appeared frightened, disoriented and confused, but she refused his orders to drop the gun until another officer approached her from the other side.

When the police took her into custody they found one shell in the shotgun and another in her pocket.


Just how white do you have to be to (a) ignore a police order to drop a gun and not get shot and (b) wander about in public threatening people with a loaded shotgun and _not even get charged_.


Chris 02.23.10 at 1:01 pm

@30: I think that has more to do with being female. Nobody will believe that a woman will pull the trigger until she already has (with the possible exception of women in uniform).

I can easily imagine a white guy getting shot in that situation.


LFC 02.25.10 at 3:37 am

Jon H @22: “normally they just go into government and sate their blood lust there”
On the assumption that this comment may refer to, e.g., the planners of US intervention in Vietnam or the planners of the ’03 Iraq invasion, if you look you will find a variety of alma maters. There’s a fair amount of blood to go around and no grounds to suppose that every last drop of it emanates from one particular institution.

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