U-Va. suicide probe faults officials' oversight
Thursday, October 21, 2010
An internal investigation into the suicide of Kevin Morrissey, an editor of the University of Virginia's literary journal, concluded Wednesday with a report that faults Morrissey's boss for "questionable" management and the university for weak oversight.
The nine-page report, from U-Va.'s Internal Audit Department, doesn't directly address whether Ted Genoways, editor of the Virginia Quarterly Review, bears responsibility in the July 30 death of his deputy. It largely clears U-Va. of blame, stating that leaders of the public university took "appropriate actions" based on what they knew of the trouble brewing in the journal's Charlottesville offices.
Morrissey, 52, shot himself inside a coal tower near campus. His suicide note blamed no one. Relatives and some Review employees alleged that he had been the target of workplace bullying by Genoways, a decorated poet who has raised the currency of the literary magazine.
Genoways said he never harassed Morrissey or anyone else on the journal's small staff, and all involved said that Morrissey had a lengthy history of depression.
Lloyd Snook, Genoways's attorney, said in a statement that the report "apparently found no support for early accusations in the media that Ted Genoways was a bully - a conclusion with which we agree." Snook said Genoways was traveling and unavailable to comment.
University President Teresa Sullivan met individually Wednesday morning with Genoways and two other journal employees to divulge the results of the investigation, which she began Aug. 19. The university "remains committed to publishing VQR" but with changes that strip away some of its independence from the university, spokeswoman Carol Wood said in a statement.
Sullivan said she would change university policies to make it simpler for employees to report workplace issues and for those reports to reach U-Va. leaders and be addressed.
A wave of national publicity followed Morrissey's death, with some observers passionately defending Genoways and others portraying him as a national symbol of workplace bullying.
The audit doesn't settle the 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, Wood said. At least two staffers have resigned. The others, including Genoways, remain on leave, and the journal is on hiatus.
The report reviews the roles that Genoways and university leaders played in handling the journal's staff and finances.
Auditors said that "appropriate actions were taken by the institution" to address the problems within the journal, considering what little university officials apparently knew. They wrote that "no specific allegations of bullying or harassment" reached university leaders before Morrissey's death.
Colleagues and friends said Morrissey and some co-workers had reported the matter to university officials multiple times. In some cases, though, the reports went to offices that hold matters in confidence and don't pass information on to university leaders.
The accounts that did reach university leaders, the audit said, were not dire.
The investigation recommended "appropriate corrective action" toward Genoways but did not state what that should be. University officials said that any response would be handled in confidence.