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?


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for noting the University of Virginia and its toleration of Ted Gennoways's behavior. Please add the University of Virginia to your Hall of Shame. I am also calling for a boycott of Virginia Quarterly Review, while Ted Gennoways remains there as editor.