Updated Tuesday with comments from a former journal staffer.
Maria Morrissey, sister of deceased literary journal editor Kevin Morrissey, will speak next week at a news conference in support of New York legislation on workplace bullying.
Morrissey committed suicide last summer. The incident prompted a wave of news coverage when some of his colleagues asserted that Morrissey had been verbally harassed by his boss at the Virginia Quarterly Review, editor and poet Ted Genoways.
Sister Maria has emerged as a sort of national spokesperson on workplace bullying, and it is in that capacity that she will speak Monday in support of the Healthy Workplace Bill in Albany, N.Y. She sent me a news release from the organization New York Healthy Workplace Advocates that lists her as one of three speakers, all giving personal accounts of alleged workplace bullying. A spokeswoman for New York Sen. Diane Savino, a Democrat and chief sponsor of the bill in that chamber, confirmed the Monday event.
Supporters and detractors of Genoways — who still runs the journal on the University of Virginia campus — remain divided on his role in the affair.
An internal investigation by the university faulted Genoways for “questionable” management and the university for weak oversight. It did not directly address whether the boss bore any responsibility in the death of his employee.
The report stated that “no specific allegations of bullying or harassment” reached university leaders before Morrissey's death. Based on that statement and others, Lloyd Snook, Genoways’s attorney, concluded that the report did not support “accusations in the media that Ted Genoways was a bully — a conclusion with which we agree.”
At least one lengthy article on the case, in Slate, concluded that bullying wasn’t quite the right word for what had happened in the journal offices. It asked, “Did Genoways act with malice — the bar set even by the bullying advocates — or did he just act clumsily or unfeelingly? And does it make sense to use the bullying framework to look at dysfunctional work environments?”
Fellow writers rose to Genoways’s defense. But Morrissey’s siblings and much of the journal’s small staff supported the theory that the top editor bore some measure of blame.
Genoways himself, who has tracked public comments on the case by his former colleagues and U-Va. administrators, said in an e-mail today that some who spoke out against him last summer subsequently backed away from the “bullying” allegation, while others didn’t use the term in the first place: “No one with first-hand knowledge of events — not former staff, not university officials — now describes what happened as bullying,” he said.
Update: His comments drew responses from two former journal employees, both of whom strenuously objected to Genoways’s assertion that their views had softened. One former staffer, Molly Minturn, spoke on the record:
“Every single one of us, as far as I know, complained about Ted Genoways to the President’s Office at one point or another, and many of us went to [Human Resources], the Ombudsman, and [the Faculty and Employee Assistance Program],” she said in an e-mail. “I have avoided using the term ‘bully’ publicly in the past because I think it is a catchphrase. I think ‘created a toxic work environment’ is more precise. But for Genoways to say, ‘No one with first-hand knowledge of events — not former staff, not university officials — now describes what happened as bullying’ is not true. I hope it will become clear to Ted that I absolutely consider him a bully and many others do, as well.”
Meanwhile, copies of the struggling journal’s Spring 2011 issue have sold out.
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This post has been updated since it was first published.