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Lowdown on the Ivory Corral?
Rebecca Goldin, PhD, February 23, 2010
Academics can pack more than critical heat, but how dangerous are they really?

It seems like a pattern of violence: An academic denied tenure, allegedly shoots her colleagues; a graduate student unable to complete his degree kills his advisor; a reclusive guy with a PhD in mathematics holes up in a shack and sends bombs by mail. Is the Ivory Tower filled with violently inclined (though intellectually impressive) psychos? Does academia attract that kind of person, or create it?

Well, neither, say the numbers. According to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were just under 1.7 million jobs in 2008 in postsecondary education (i.e., jobs teaching college students). These include over 150,000 graduate teaching assistants.

In 2008, the latest year for which data are available, there were no work-related homicides for people in education, from elementary schools on up (these numbers remain preliminary until April, 2010). In contrast, there were five deaths in 2007 in postsecondary education jobs. If we assume that five people are killed every year, we come to a rate of five per 1.7 million, or .29 homicides per 100,000 academic job.

There are far more shootings in the general population. Work place violence is uncommon, but homicides do occur at work, and they are tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as well. In 2008, the preliminary data show there were 517 work-related homicides. According to the BLS, this represents approximately .36 per 100,000 workers.

In other words, academics are, on the whole, a more pacific bunch than grocers, who, preliminary data show, suffer a total homicide rate of 1.46 per 100,000 workers (35 homicides for about 2.4 million jobs).

Of course, it should be noted that homicidal students, unless they shoot a professor, are not factored into this data as they aren’t considered to be employees. But then neither are homicidal grocery shoppers.




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