August 30, 2010

University suicide points to nonreponsive employer

At universities, people tend to think of teaching and research faculty and staff as the only employees. At the University of Virginia, the president supports a literary journal, the Virginia Quarterly Review, prestigious to poets and fiction writers. Kevin Morrissey, 52, the VQR managing editor had been hired by a young Ted Genoways, 38, new himself to the editor post in 2003.

On July 30, Kevin Morrissey committed suicide after a reported three years of torment by Genoways despite the two having a genuine friendship at the start of their work together.

There was a record of several calls by Morrissey to university institutional helpers (HR, ombuds, EAP, president’s office). Either his call for help was not answered or treated with indifference. Those familiar with Morrissey’s complaints said that the rationalization for Genoways was that creative people like him could be difficult to work with and were often bad managers! In other words, live with him, adjust to him, Genoways is indispensable. Note the abdication of responsibility by this employer for the safe working conditions of its employees.

Said one fawning former intern, “Ted (Genoways) is the creative genius … the fulcrum of discussions about the future of VQR and, honestly, the future of journalism … Ted is the star at the center of VQR‘s constellation.” A publisher familiar with VQR lamented that “A crisis like this (triggered by Morrissey’s suicide) can be a death blow (sic), even to the strongest scholarly publication.”

The magazine had won awards and Genoways himself won a fellowship allowing him to be out of the office. His focus was on funding and enlisted the help of a 24-yr. old UV graduate, Alana Levinson-LaBrosse (she was so rich she gave $1.5 million herself to the university). Morrissey and she reportedly clashed as she, not Morrissey, was included in activities with Genoways.

Staff recalled Genoways screaming at Morrissey behind closed doors. Three VQR staffers even accompanied Morrissey to the president’s office to complain about Genoways. They were brushed off. There is evidence that Genoways sent Morrissey an e-mail accusing him of “unacceptable workplace behavior,” without specifications, ordered him to work from home and prohibited communication with other VQR staff. These are all classic tactics employed by bullies who enjoy privileged protection from the CEO (the former university president who left in July). They not completely unlike torture. The tactics were probably retaliation for Morrissey and Levinson-LaBrosse fighting.

The only tangible response from the administration was an apology by the president’s chief of staff to VQR staff for witnessing the clash between Morrissey and Levinson-LaBrosse at a meeting. No apology to Morrissey. No other official response to Morrissey’s complaints. No holding Genoways accountable. No offer of counseling to Morrissey.

Morrissey’s death followed Genoways’ draconian decisions and one last denigrating e-mail on the morning of his suicide. In that e-mail, Genoways, the espo0used “genius” and “star,” accused Morrissey of failing to help a contributor to a VQR story such that Morrissey put that man’s life at risk!

There was a report that some close to the situation warned the university that Morrissey might commit suicide.

Even after Morrissey’s death, the UVa’s official response to the request for complaint and response details from reporter Robin Wilson for the Chronicle of Higher Education (the source for this story), the university hid behind a faux shield of “confidential personnel records.” Morrissey’s surviving sister blames Genoways and the university and may file a lawsuit.

The negligent employer gets to bury the secrets to protect itself from being revealed.


There’s even more to the Univ. Virginia tale. A couple of years ago, UVa recruited WBI to come to campus. UVa instead brought in a “motivational” speaker. At WBI, we pass on several on-site speeches when employers resist creating a solution for the problem that prompted the request in the first place.

The result at UVa was that nothing was done after the speech. The President’s office was not engaged in discussions about bullying, and possibly the specific Kevin Morrissey complaints. If something had been in place, Morrissey would not have had to resort to pleading with HR and the other institutional helpers as his phone records indicated was done. HR may be implicated in Morrissey’s death. And the feel-good motivational speaker actually encouraged this negligent employer to believe that it had adequately addressed bullying on campus with a speech alone! Get serious UVa. What will it take to get American employers to stop the carnage within the ranks?


August 28, 2010

The Psychological Effects of Downsizing and Privatisation

...Early research in this area concentrated on individuals having to cope with unexpected job loss and the effects of long term unemployment. Studies began by looking at the effects of involuntary job losses and the effects on the unemployed (see, for example, the work conducted by DeFrank and Ivancevich, 1986; Leana and Ivancevich, 1987; Leana and Feldman, 1994). These studies indicated that there were emotional, physical, social and psychological effects on the individual. Further research looked at the effects of employee turnover on the individual and the effects of turnover on those remaining employed after redundancy programs had been implemented (see Mowday, 1981; Brockner & Kim, 1993). This literature provided some insight into survivor reactions to redundancy, whereby survivors may evaluate the effects on those made redundant and how that influences their own reactions...

Empirical evidence (e.g. Greenhalgh, 1983; Armstrongstassen, 1993a) suggests that the post layoff environment can be stressful for a number of reasons: survivors are worried about their own job security, there may be anger associated with the process by which the redundancy program has been implemented and there may be concerns about the creation of heavier workloads due to the reduction of manpower. Brockner (1988) suggests that the onset of stress typically leads to changes in survivors’ work attitudes and behaviors such as reduced organizational commitment, job satisfaction and increased turnover intention. Several articles identified emotional responses in survivors such as guilt, betrayal and isolation (e.g. Machlowitz, 1983). These employee reactions were compared to survivors of other distressing events, such as natural and man made disasters. Brockner et al. (1985) undertook a study directly related to layoffs, or rather designed to simulate a ‘layoff’ situation in a laboratory study using students who were required to complete a proof reading task. The students were then subjected to a ‘layoff’ and were subsequently asked to complete a questionnaire to investigate how they had felt and whether or not they felt the process had been fair. The results found, in support of equity theory, that following layoffs ‘survivors’ experienced increased feelings of remorse and negative attitudes towards co-workers (in order to redress the balance of inequity). Secondly, the study revealed that those who perceived there to be an injustice produced less in their second proof reading task simultaneously suggesting that layoffs have the potential (negatively) to influence productivity...

The complete paper: The Psychological Effects of Downsizing and Privatisation

August 25, 2010

Genoways takes charge, VQR staffers pull names

Virginia Quarterly Review staffers were stunned by the news that University officials have allowed editor Ted Genoways, whom they accuse of bullying managing editor Kevin Morrissey before he took his own life on July 30, to take control of the fall issue of the magazine.

“I never could have forecast that the University would allow us to remain in this situation,” wrote VQR online editor Waldo Jaquith on his blog last Friday.

Indeed, workplace bullying expert Gary Namie says he’s surprised by the University’s decision. Genoways was the recent subject of a Today show feature, during which a VQR staff member called his treatment of Morrissey in the last two weeks of his life “egregious.”

“I would have put Genoways on leave,” says Namie, “just to cool things down.”

Instead, it appears the staff has taken leave and the embattled editor is busy putting the fall issue together with UVA spokesperson Carol Wood, who has been ensconced in the VQR office since Morrissey’s death.

“Ted has been involved with editing and proofreading of the fall issue with Carol Wood,” says Genoways’ lawyer Lloyd Snook. “I don’t know whether it is actually ‘to press’ yet— they were proofing furiously yesterday.”

Wood did not immediately respond for comment on Genoways’ status or her own work on the VQR.

Initially, Jaquith and fellow staffers had vowed to finish the fall issue, for which Morrissey had been serving as interim editor in Genoways’ absence; but now they have removed their names from the online masthead and left the “un-proofed and non-fact checked” issue for Genoways to finish.

Jaquith, who resigned just days before Morrissey’s death, will be going on vacation before he starts a new position at the Miller Center. Associate and assistant editors Sheila McMillen and Molly Minturn will be going on leave. Wood, however, emphasizes that they are both still employees of the magazine.

“We came back to finish the issue that Kevin worked so hard on,” says McMillen, “but we’ve had enough.”

Last week, UVA president Teresa Sullivan ordered a “thorough” review of VQR’s management so that “the issues and allegations that have been raised” can be addressed.

From: The Hook

August 16, 2010

What Killed Kevin Morrissey?

How the death of an editor threatens the future of the University of Virginia's prestigious literary review.

When Kevin Morrissey walked to the old coaling tower near the University of Virginia campus late last month and shot himself in the head, he not only ended his own life, he exposed turmoil within the small staff of The Virginia Quarterly Review that now threatens the future of the high-profile journal.

Family members and people close to the review say Mr. Morrissey, the review's managing editor, had been complaining to the university about workplace bullying by his boss, Ted Genoways. But, they contend, the institution did virtually nothing to help. "Kevin had been to the university as recently as the Monday before the Friday he died," says a person who worked for the review. "The university had tools to step in and mediate, and they didn't." Some close to the situation say that in the days before the death, they even warned the university that Mr. Morrissey, who suffered from serious depression, might commit suicide.

Mr. Genoways, the journal's editor, is highly regarded in publishing circles. He is credited with taking VQR, as the review is known, from a sleepy publication to one of the nation's preeminent literary journals. He denies the allegation of bullying and says it was Mr. Morrissey's depressed state, not their rocky relationship, that caused Mr. Morrissey's suicide. "His long history of depression caused him trouble throughout his career," Mr. Genoways wrote in a statement to The Chronicle, "leading often to conflicts with his bosses."

In the wake of Mr. Morrissey's death, VQR's own stability has been challenged. Mr. Genoways's office has been cleaned out, and police officers have been stationed at the doors of the award-winning journal. The Chronicle got such details, as well as further charges of turmoil, from a half-dozen people close to the situation. None would allow their names to be used because, they said, the university has instructed them not to talk to reporters and they fear for their jobs. (A member of VQR's staff, Sheila McMillen, is the sister of a Chronicle editor. None of the information used in this article is from Ms. McMillen.)

Mr. Genoways told The Chronicle that the university had already "reviewed all the allegations being made against me and found them to be without grounds." The university wouldn't comment on that or answer most of The Chronicle's questions about the situation, citing the confidentiality of personnel matters. A statement on the journal's home page says that UVa "remains strongly committed to VQR."

Still, others are questioning whether too much damage has already been done. Elliott D. Woods, a VQR contributor and an ardent supporter of Mr. Genoways, wrote in an e-mail message to The Chronicle that he feared that accusations about what caused Mr. Morrissey's death could "ruin the greatest little magazine I know."

Gregory M. Britton, publisher of Getty Publications, agrees. "These are tough enough times for small literary magazines," he said. "A crisis like this can be a death blow, even to the strongest scholarly publication."
Former Friends

It was at the Minnesota Historical Society Press, where Mr. Britton was director during the early 2000s, that Mr. Genoways and Mr. Morrissey first came to work together. They got along well enough that a year after Mr. Genoways took over at VQR in 2003, he asked Mr. Morrissey to come to Charlottesville as his right-hand man. It was the kind of job that Mr. Morrissey had done before, those close to him say, and that he did well. People who worked with Mr. Morrissey, including Mr. Britton, say he paid close attention to details and could be counted on to take on more than his fair share of work. They also say Mr. Morrissey, who was 52 and had never been married, could be grumpy and prickly, and that he suffered from what at times seemed to be a deep depression. Some of those who spoke to The Chronicle say he had talked about seeing a psychotherapist and taking medication. "He managed his disease, and he managed to be really high functioning," said someone who worked with him.

When Mr. Genoways took over at VQR at the age of 31, it was with hopes that he would breathe new life into a stodgy-looking black-and-white publication whose editor's office didn't even have Internet access. The departing editor, Staige Blackford, had been at the journal for nearly 30 years and was in his 70s when he decided to retire.

Mr. Genoways gradually began putting the publication on the map, hiring well-known authors and photographers and taking on timely nonfiction projects in addition to the usual poetry and fiction. He paid journalists to write about high-stakes international conflicts like the war in Afghanistan and the violence of the Mexican drug cartel. The change quickly garnered both Mr. Genoways and VQR notice from those at the literary world's highest levels, winning the publication four National Magazine Awards and 14 more nominations, all of which it accomplished on a half-million-dollar budget.

During their first few years at the magazine, as it grew in stature, Mr. Genoways and Mr. Morrissey remained the closest of friends. In a letter Mr. Genoways sent to contributors this month that was obtained by The Chronicle, he said Mr. Morrissey was a fixture in his Virginia home and at holiday dinners with Mr. Genoways's wife and young son. Mr. Morrissey also traveled with Mr. Genoways to New York to accept the National Magazine Award that VQR won for general excellence in 2006. "We were the toast of the publishing world that night," Mr. Genoways wrote in the letter to contributors.

In the last few years, however, as Mr. Genoways took on more and more ambitious projects, and as he also became worried about the magazine's financial future, the relationship between the two men and the atmosphere within VQR's offices began to sour. Some of those close to the magazine say Mr. Morrissey questioned Mr. Genoways about what Mr. Morrissey felt were excessive advance payments to contributors and about bills for parties Mr. Genoways hosted that reached into the thousands.

They say Mr. Genoways, in turn, began cutting Mr. Morrissey out of key decisions and distancing himself from the office, refusing to answer staff members' e-mail messages, shirking many of his day-to-day duties, and dumping most of the work on his small staff. "The whole staff felt Ted took all the credit and did none of the work," said the person who worked for the review, adding that Mr. Genoways spent most of his time at VQR "scrambling to be a star." Mr. Genoways has been away from the office on a Guggenheim fellowship in recent months, but he still has been responsible for making sure the journal's issues are finished on time.

When Mr. Genoways was in the office, some recall, he could occasionally be overheard screaming at Mr. Morrissey behind his office door.

In his statement to The Chronicle, Mr. Genoways acknowledged there "had been tensions between staff members in the VQR offices." But people close to him, including the contributor Mr. Woods, say Mr. Genoways was hardly AWOL from his VQR duties. Nor was he depending on Mr. Morrissey and others to run the place. In fact, the exact opposite was true, says Mr. Woods. Mr. Genoways ran the magazine almost single-handedly, he says: The editor conceived of the ideas that inspired the covers, and cultivated contributors and held their hands through their reporting and writing, while at the same time he reached out to the larger world to gain renown for the journal and insure its continued vitality.

"Ted is the creative genius responsible for the magazine's success," says Mr. Woods, who worked as an intern at the magazine in 2008. "Ted is the fulcrum of the discussions about the future of VQR and, honestly, the future of journalism... Ted is the star at the center of VQR's constellation of writers, poets, and photographers."...

Seeking University Help

It was in this atmosphere, with the VQR staff growing more and more fractious, that Mr. Morrissey, together with three other journal staff members, went earlier this year to the president's office to complain. Mr. Morrissey had already registered his own complaints about Mr. Genoways with the university ombudsman and the human-resources office, according to his older sister, Maria Morrissey.

But university officials, those close to the publication say, brushed off the group's complaints, saying that creative people like Mr. Genoways could be difficult to work with and were often bad managers.

Meanwhile, people who knew Mr. Morrissey say he grew more and more despondent over the last couple of months of his life. He didn't think his problems with Mr. Genoways would ever be resolved. And he also felt trapped because while he may have been a talented editor, he lacked a college degree. Mr. Morrissey had a $76,000-a-year salary at Virginia and owned a condominium in Charlottesville, both of which he feared he might never replace if he had to leave UVa.

It was two final actions in the weeks before Mr. Morrissey's death that his family and friends believe pushed him over the edge. First, Mr. Genoways sent an e-mail message to Mr. Morrissey in mid-July, 10 days before his death (a copy of which The Chronicle has obtained), telling Mr. Morrissey that he had "engaged in unacceptable workplace behavior." In the e-mail, Mr. Genoways did not specify what that behavior was, but he ordered Mr. Morrissey to work from home for a week and warned him not to talk to other VQR staff members. People close to the magazine say Mr. Genoways was furious after learning that Mr. Morrissey and another staff member had clashed with Ms. Levinson-LaBrosse during a meeting...

Ann H. Franke, an expert on the law and higher education, said university officials should respond to all complaints of workplace bullying whether or not they determine a formal investigation is necessary. "Prompt handling of workplace complaints makes a better environment altogether," she said in an interview.

The University of Virginia paid for Mr. Morrissey's memorial service on the campus this month, says his sister, and bought plane tickets for his father and siblings to travel to Charlottesville. After the service, family members and people who worked with Mr. Morrissey went back to his home where they ate some of his favorite foods, including red beet salad and chocolate-chip cookies.

Around his apartment, says Ms. Morrissey, her brother had left signs that he was looking for a new job and considering selling his apartment. And on the bureau in his bedroom, he had a book that Ms. Morrissey believes might give some insight into how her brother viewed Mr. Genoways. It's called: Working With the Self-Absorbed: How to Handle Narcissistic Personalities on the Job.

From: The Chronicle of Higher Education

Read also: Tale of Woe: The death of the VQR’s Kevin Morrissey

And: Did Depression or an Alleged Bully Boss Prompt Editor's Suicide?

August 06, 2010

Academic cleared of harassment charge

Fredrics cleared of harassment charge, 23 July 2010

An academic has been cleared of harassing his former vice-chancellor via a “satirical whistleblower website” – but has been convicted of a public order offence relating to a meeting between the two.

Howard Fredrics, former senior lecturer in music at Kingston University, was acquitted by magistrates of harassing Sir Peter Scott, the institution’s vice-chancellor.

The charge centred on a website set up by Dr Fredrics,, which he describes as “a satirical whistleblower website containing documentary evidence, musical songs and music videos relating to alleged misconduct by university officials”.

However, Dr Fredrics was found guilty of a lesser offence under the Public Order Act relating to a chance meeting with Sir Peter in Kingston.

Dr Fredrics says in a statement: “I am pleased by the court’s decision on the harassment charge, which is a tremendous victory for the right to free speech in Britain, and quite disappointed that the Crown Prosecution Service decided to pursue these charges in the first instance.

“Most importantly, I am extremely troubled by the fact that [Sir Peter] decided to lodge such a complaint, particularly since he has made public statements in the past to the effect that he did not wish to impede my right to free speech in relation to the website.”

Dr Fredrics said he would consider appealing against the public order conviction, for which he has yet to be sentenced.

Sir Peter said: “I am glad that Dr Fredrics was found guilty of threatening and abusive behaviour likely to cause distress to members of the public after he confronted me in Kingston town centre a year ago.

“Contrary to his allegations, I have never attempted to limit his freedom of speech. My only objection has been to his using my name for his website and untrue allegations against my colleagues. Both these charges were brought by the Crown Prosecution Service – long ago I, and the university, took a decision to ‘live with’ Dr Fredrics’ antics.”

As well as criticising Sir Peter, Dr Fredrics had used the site to expose controversial practices at Kingston.

In 2008, he posted a recording of lecturers trying to pressure students into inflating their National Student Survey responses.

Yesterday’s hearing was the conclusion of a lengthy series of legal battles.

In December 2009, magistrates found Dr Fredrics guilty in his absence of harassing Sir Peter and issued a warrant for his arrest. Dr Fredrics said he failed to appear at the hearing because of ill health. In April 2010, his barrister successfully argued that the lecturer was denied the right to a fair trial with legal representation because the court would not agree to postpone the case until he was well enough to attend.

The conviction and arrest warrant were set aside on the grounds that the trial should not have gone ahead without the academic being present.