UVa Audit Finds 'Questionable' Management by Journal Editor

October 20, 2010

An audit of The Virginia Quarterly Review released on Wednesday by the University of Virginia says that Ted Genoways, the respected journal's editor, had "questionable" managerial skills and had spent magazine money without approval to publish a book of his own poetry. But the audit report stops short of saying that Mr. Genoways was guilty of workplace bullying, which some journal staff members have said contributed to the suicide last summer of the magazine's managing editor, Kevin Morrissey.

The internal investigation, which was commissioned in August by the university's new president, Teresa A. Sullivan, also found that while UVa should streamline its procedures for dealing with employee complaints, the university did take "appropriate actions" in dealing with complaints from members of the journal's staff about Mr. Genoways. "Because some individuals were not aware of all that was going on," says the eight-page report, "they incorrectly concluded that things were not being done."

While the report was careful not to cast blame, it did paint a picture of Mr. Genoways as an independent operator who needed to be reined in.

But it does not appear as if Mr. Genoways's job is on the line. A university spokeswoman said Wednesday that Mr. Genoways is still the editor of VQR, as the journal is known, and that he and the other remaining members of the small staff have been given a chance to decide whether they want to stay in their jobs. The spokeswoman said the university is "committed to publishing VQR," although she noted that the university will make several changes in the way the journal is managed as a result of the investigation.

Neither Mr. Genoways nor other VQR staff members returned telephone calls and e-mail messages from The Chronicle seeking their comments.

The university's audit department completed the investigation, with the help of an outside consultant, based on interviews with 25 people and a review of 23,000 e-mail messages sent by the staff of VQR. The audit explored the journal's financial operations and personnel management, as well as the university's oversight of the magazine. Although the report does not specifically mention the accusations of workplace bullying made against Mr. Genoways by some staff members, and subsequently by Mr. Morrissey's sister, Maria Morrissey, it does say that such behavior can be hard to discern. "It is sometimes difficult to define where the line gets crossed between a tough manager and an unreasonable one," says the report, which points out that "no laws exist" banning workplace bullying, as they do banning sexual harassment.

But the report says that, by his own admission, Mr. Genoways's "capacity to supervise and lead his staff well and to operate his department in accordance with university policies is questionable." And it recommends that the university establish a panel "to strengthen the institution's policies and structure with regards to acceptable workplace conduct," something the university has agreed to do.

Banished From the Office

Mr. Genoways came to Virginia as editor of VQR in 2003 and brought Mr. Morrissey in as his deputy. By all accounts, the two were quite close until about a year ago, when Mr. Genoways hired Alana Levinson-LaBrosse, a young UVa graduate and donor, to help raise money for the magazine. Mr. Morrissey, who had suffered from serious depression for which he had taken medication, felt he was being pushed aside, say those close to the magazine. In the months before Mr. Morrissey took his life, people close to the magazine say, Mr. Genoways barely communicated with Mr. Morrissey and other members of the journal's small staff and shirked his duties, frequently working from home instead of from the VQR offices.

Mr. Genoways and many contributors to the journal, however, say he was the creative force behind the magazine's flashy style and stories, and was firmly in charge. He had brought the publication renown, winning it four National Magazine Awards. In a letter that Mr. Genoways sent to contributors and others after Mr. Morrissey's death, he said it was Mr. Morrissey who had been distancing himself—and he blamed the behavior on Mr. Morrissey's depression.

Last July, after becoming angry about an exchange that Mr. Morrissey and another staff member had with Ms. Levinson-LaBrosse that had upset her, Mr. Genoways banished Mr. Morrissey to work from home. Mr. Morrissey, worried that he might lose his job, made 17 calls to the university's human-resources department, the president's office, and university officials responsible for employee assistance and faculty-staff relations, said his sister. Other staff members also complained to university officials about Mr. Genoways, say those close to the magazine, and told UVa administrators they worried that Mr. Morrissey was so distraught he might kill himself. In late July, Mr. Morrissey shot himself in the head, leaving a note that said: "I just couldn't bear it anymore."

Control Over Funds

The audit report says VQR is unusual in that it has reported directly to the university president's office and has maintained both an internal university account and a separate bank account and credit-card outside the university. Between July 2006 and June 2009, the report said, $475,000 "was withdrawn" from an investment account VQR had at the university. Those funds "arguably were not spent in a judicious manner with regard for the needs of the future," says the report.

The report also says that Mr. Genoways gave $2,000 of the magazine's money to a publisher to put out his own book of poetry, a purchase that was not approved by the university. In addition, says the report, "documentation was missing" for many purchases on the magazine's credit card. The report recommends that the university take "corrective action" against Mr. Genoways because of the financial irregularities, "as well as his responsiveness on administrative matters and his management style."

In one of several sections of the report called "management response," which Ms. Sullivan wrote herself, she states that how the university will deal with Mr. Genoways "is a personnel issue that will be handled confidentially."

The report also recommends that all of the magazine's finances be handled out of university accounts and that it report to an entity other than the president's office.

In her response, Ms. Sullivan writes that VQR will now be part of the university's Office of the Vice President for Research and that all of its spending will be handled according to regular university rules and procedures. Also, the magazine's advisory board will be reconstituted. Along with the editor, the board will prepare a mission statement and a business plan for the journal.

Although the report did not find fault with the university itself, it said the institution's way of dealing with complaints from employees should be re-evaluated. Under the management response, President Sullivan wrote that a new structure will be established for complaints to be taken, registered, and tracked—and for them to be investigated and have the findings reported.