Killer among us – Dr. Fabrikant

In the wake of all the talk of gun control re: Sandy Hook, I looked into the Concordia University massacre. It was big news in Quebec in 1992, and I remember hearing about it as a kid. I think many of you will be interested in the case as the shooter was a university professor and he went on a shooting spree after being denied tenure. There’s a fantastic article by Morris Wolfe on the subject; it won a Canadian journalism award in 2002.

Here’s the short version. Dr. Valery Fabrikant was a professor of mechanical engineering at Concordia University in Montreal. After being denied tenure because of his erratic behaviour, he walked into the department and shot and killed 4 people. This was a man who had been with the University for more than 10 years, and had shown several signs of being mentally unstable.

Prior to the tenure episode, he had told several people in the department that he would solve his grievances, related to authorship, possible misallocation of funds from others in the department, and minor squabbles over teaching duties and budgeting, “the American way”. He had in fact asked one of the department heads to sign off on a gun carrying permit, which should have, and in fact had raised red flags. But how could they have kept an obvious nutjob on the payroll for so long?

The guy published a dozen papers a year, and was getting grants from everywhere, including NASA. So although several people tried to get him fired, there was always some department head or other that stepped in and kept him on board, because, you know, papers & grants. With hindsight, it seems so obvious that he should have been fired a long, long time ago. There’s a habit in academia of keeping people on board no matter how antagonizing and weird as long as they’re productive. This was not a good decision in this case.

The really crazy bit is that he continued to publish after his trial – from jail. He even has a graduate student that stayed with him through the ordeal. He has a peer-reviewed 2003 paper called “Computation of infinite integrals involving three Bessel functions by introduction of new formalism” where he lists his affiliation as prisoner #167932D, Archambault jail, Ste-Anne-Des-Plaines, Québec. The article has been cited 20 times according to Google Scholar. Seriously, go read the article on the guy, it’s crazy.

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