Sine ira et studio: bullies in the academia

Workplace bullying is a messy affair – check this.

CAVEAT:  the allegations discussed in his post are just this – allegations.  For an actual lawsuit in which the plaintiff successfully sued his boss for bullying, cf. Raess v. Doescher (court’s opinion reaction to the ruling from an employer’s lawyervarious links to the hearings in the case).  For links to more recent bullying cases, click here.  For discussion of how bullies’ underlying mental problems may result in protection under ADA, see this.

After Kevin Morrissey – the managing director of the high-profile Virginia Quarterly Review (VQR) – killed himself last month, allegations surfaced that his death was the result of workplace bullying.  The alleged bully is Morrissey’s boss, Ted Genoways, “the creative genius” behind VQR’s success (see quotes below), who has already – just in case – retained a lawyer.

The story is making national news as more details are coming out.  Morrissey had a history of depression but managed to stay highly functional.  He and Genoways were close friends at first, until Genoways began to take bold steps to ensure the financial viability of VQR.  Morrisay disagreed with those steps, and their relationship quickly deteriorated.  At one point, Morrissay and three other VQR staff members complained to the University of Virginia authorities about Genoways’ decisions and management style.  The response from the university authorities was the equivalent of “deal with it.”

“In the wake of Mr. Morrissey’s death,” according to an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education , “Mr. Genoways’s office has been cleaned out, and police have been stationed at the doors of the award-winning journal.”  It’s good to know that some investigation is going on.  Below are more excerpts from the Chronicle article.

Genoways’ take on Morrissey’s death:

[Ted Genoways] 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.”

What Genoways’ supporters say: 

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.”

“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.”

Genoways hires a rich young woman as his right hand, as his staff disagrees with his choice:

While there may be disagreement over who was responsible for the breakdown in relationships at VQR, everyone who talked to The Chronicle seems to agree that the situation grew much worse late last year after Mr. Genoways hired a young UVa graduate, Alana Levinson-LaBrosse, to help raise money for the journal. Ms. Levinson-LaBrosse is the daughter of Frank H. Levinson, a wealthy Silicon Valley entrepreneur who has made generous donations to the university. Ms. Levinson-LaBrosse herself has already given $1.5-million to the Young Writers Workshop at the university’s Curry School of Education, from which she earned a master’s degree in 2008.

Mr. Genoways, say those close to the publication, had been worried that despite its success, VQR might eventually be the victim of budget cuts, like so many other university literary journals.

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.

The University of Virginia’s baffling response to the complaint:

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.

Morrissey feels trapped:

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.

Morrissey trying hard to cope with his bully-of-a-boss:

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.

Genoways adds some fuel to the fire as the University issues an apology:

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.

It was around that time that Nancy A. Rivers, Mr. Casteen’s chief of staff, reportedly got involved and, in what appears to be the only official action from the university, apologized to VQR staff members.

This here doesn’t make sense:

In an e-mail response to questions from The Chronicle about Mr. Morrissey’s complaints and the university’s response, a UVa spokeswoman said she was “unable to respond to many of them as they are part of individuals’ confidential personnel records.”

But this does:

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.

Cf. also my earlier post on bullies in the workplace.  The situation is messier than it seems…


4 thoughts on “Sine ira et studio: bullies in the academia

    1. Update:

      There are no anti-bullying policies in place at the University of Virginia. A little over a year ago, Canada-based workplace bullying expert Valerie Cade led the first-ever anti-bullying workshops there. She says she’s been consulting the University in the VQR case. Drawing a parallel to rape victims, Cade emphasizes an important legal point: if a bullying victim does not file a formal complaint, there is little chance of relief. But she also concedes that “with no firm policies in place, and with the boss answering only to former president Casteen…Morrissey may not have felt confident enough to file a formal complaint.”

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