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UPDATED: U-Va. audit finds school took 'appropriate action' in bullying allegations

An internal audit of the University of Virginia's esteemed Virginia Quarterly Review finds that the institution took "appropriate actions" in handling the personnel crisis that unfolded at the literary journal before and after the suicide of an editor last summer.

Kevin Morrissey, the 52-year-old managing editor of the award-winning journal, shot himself inside a Charlottesville coal tower July 30. Colleagues and surviving relatives alleged that Morrissey had been the target of a workplace bully, Review Editor Ted Genoways. A wave of national publicity followed.

Genoways maintained that he never verbally harassed Morrissey and in no way contributed to his death. The case divided the literary community, with some observers passionately defending Genoways and others holding him up as a national symbol of workplace bullying.

The audit doesn't settle this issue, stating enigmatically, "It is sometimes difficult to define where the line gets crossed between a tough manager and an unreasonable one."

Neither Genoways nor any other journal employee is out of a job. He and all other members of the Review staff "may remain in their current positions," although with an overhauled management structure that strips away some of the journal's independence from the university, said U-Va. spokeswoman Carol Wood. At least two journal staffers have resigned and others have been on extended leave.

The nine-page audit attempts to review both Genoways's management and the finances of the Review, a publication that had reported directly to former U-Va. President John T. Casteen III.

Auditors conclude that "appropriate actions were taken by the institution" to address the problems within the journal, considering what university officials knew and when they knew it. "UVA personnel responded to employee concerns in accordance with institutional policies and procedures, given the information they were provided," the report states.

Auditors write that "no specific allegations of bullying or harassments" reached university leaders before Morrissey's death. That seems to contradict reports by colleagues and loved ones that Morrissey himself and some of his co-workers had reported the matter to university officials multiple times.

In some cases, though, the reports apparently went to university offices that hold matters in confidence and don't pass information on to university leaders. The reports that did reach university leaders, the audit says, were not particularly dire.

"There were reports through the years of [Genoways] not being courteous or respectful with some contributors and colleagues, as well as problems with certain employees, but none ever seemed to rise to the level of a serious, on-going concern," the report states. "The reports were mostly viewed by others as conflicts between a creative, innovative manager and persons who did not share the Editor's aspirations."

The audit never directly addresses the question of whether Genoways' actions contributed somehow to the death of his deputy. It states repeatedly that many detailed findings cannot be printed, because they are confidential matters of personnel.

The auditors conclude, in broad terms, that Genoways was essentially a strong editor but weak manager.

"The VQR received national awards and [Genoways] has many supporters in the literary community," it states. "However, not everyone has managerial skill, and the Editor's capacity to supervise and lead his staff well, and to operate his department in accordance with University policies, is questionable."

Genoways, "by his own admission," failed to respond to e-mails promptly, failed to follow some university policies and didn't always document financial transactions. One $2,000 payment by the journal to a publisher to subsidize the printing costs for some of Genoways's poetry was apparently not approved and "merits further inquiry." The journal's investment funds "arguably were not spent in a judicious manner" to sustain the publication in the future.

The audit recommends "appropriate corrective action" toward Genoways, to address both the financial lapses and "his management style," but it does not state what that action should be. University officials say any such response will be handled confidentially.

Auditors also recommend an overhaul of university human resources to clarify what an employee must do to properly notify the institution of workplace problems. Going to the U-Va. ombudsman, for example, does not trigger an official notice of a problem, but there's nothing printed on the wall of that office to convey that fact to visitors.

They suggest forming a stronger process for processing employee complaints, one with the power "to intervene when necessary."

This post has been updated since it was first published.

By Daniel de Vise  | October 20, 2010; 2:46 PM ET
Categories:  Administration  | Tags:  Kevin Morrissey, Ted Genoways, UVA literary journal, VQR literary journal, workplace bullying suicide  
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Comments

Can you bully a 52-year-old man?

Posted by: Peejay | October 20, 2010 3:38 PM | Report abuse

Yes, an adult can be bullied. Bullying can take different forms but verbal abuse is most common. I had a friend who divorced her husband. Only then did she divulge the verbal abuse he subjected her to. I recognized that the kids didn't like him but I figured he was a strict parent. People who are bullies when they are young usually carry that with them into adulthood. You don't hear about it much because the average adult won't tolerate that behavior. If Mr. Morrisey committed suicide because Genoway and/or others, the authorities for the state should been involved.

Posted by: skinfreak | October 20, 2010 8:26 PM | Report abuse

If UVa simply adopts a "lets talk about it more" policy, it shouldn't bother. Adult bullies, after all, somewhere along the way never learned the simple concept of the golden rule - emotionally, they are 3 year olds.They are not capable of "talking it out like adults." If they were, they wouldn't behave so boorishly. Discipline needs to have some teeth (suspension without pay for a couple of days, maybe?) and targets need better support. Until employers stand up and show (simply saying it isn't enough) that they have no tolerance for jerks at work, nothing will change.

Posted by: barretmb | October 21, 2010 7:06 AM | Report abuse

Genoways may have been a weak manager, but it's equally clear that Morrissey was a weak employee. His death is a tragedy, but I think it's unreasonable to say that his boss should have foreseen that snarling at him to do his job would have driven him to such an extreme.

Posted by: tomtildrum | October 21, 2010 12:24 PM | Report abuse

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