• April 16, 2014

UVa Audit Finds 'Questionable' Management by Journal Editor

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.

Comments

1. 22228715 - October 21, 2010 at 08:43 am

The situation seemed to come to a head during the small window of time when there was a changeover from the last president, who had served for many decades, and the current brand-new president. I wonder if/how that affected the situation... and whether that was bad luck or somehow not a coincidence.

2. getwell - October 21, 2010 at 04:25 pm

Decisions such as these are similar to decisions that are made at busy road intersections, where stop lights are added only after enough people are killed.

How sad that we continue to push the boundaries in all phases of life, until common sense finally prevails! Why does survival of the meanest seem to be the norm?

3. sand6432 - October 22, 2010 at 12:26 am

The audit confirms the suspicions that many of us had that, while he may be a brilliant editor, Mr. Genoways lacks some basic managerial skills including both financial accountability and personnel management. The University administration is generous to give him a second chance, in light of such clearly inappropriate actions as his use of VQR funds to support publication of his own book.---Sandy Thatcher

4. alleyoxenfree - October 22, 2010 at 01:28 am

Being an editor is a managerial job, not solely a matter of hobnobbing. He shouldn't be managing people. It's depressing to see how far a bully can go, with so many people taking the extraordinary steps of going to admins about him, and still, he continues. What greater example is there, really, to how bullies thrive?

5. sand6432 - October 23, 2010 at 09:56 am

To clarify, I was speaking of the editor's role as editor simply, i.e., the communications with authors, editing of their work, making decisions about what to publish, etc. "Alleyoxenfree" is right that a journal editor's role also involves managerial duties. But these require quire different skills from the purely editorial ones, and it is not surprising that the two types of skills do not always co-exist comfortably.---Sandy Thatcher

6. ciceronow - October 23, 2010 at 10:29 pm

If you are interested in the real story here you should read the local newspaper the Hook's latest article by Dave Mcnair (hook.com). It takes other news outlets to task for stilted and incomplete reporting and provides additional information from a former employee of VQR who reinforces the bullying and the institutional bullying story. Its some of the best journalism as other media outlets are just shils for institutional interests.

The matter came to a head because the old president apparently had reasons to avert his eyes from the bullying and probably didn't care and the new president made it clear she didn't want to inherit any of his messes. So the whole, it was a function of the presidential transition hides the fact that the institution itself is the problem no matter who is president. What matters now is what President Sullivan will really do about the whole situation.

Of course the "internal audit" is going to exonerate the Institution. The University engages in institutional impression management (authorized obfuscation) so, of course it could never have been their fault because after all there are no laws against bullying. There is a fine line between legal bullying and immoral behavior.

If the new president is sincere (and we have to give her the benefit of the doubt at this point), she will conduct a real investigation of the VQR and EVERY other unit, school, department, program in the University. If you think this was just reserved to the one unit you have got to wake up. Work place bullying is probably highly correlated with the lack of work place democracy and participation. You could not find another institution with less work place democracy, its organizational leitmotif resembles a feudal manor. If an independent researcher did a study and got the trust of employees (except for administrators and the star faculty they support and rely on to bring in big dollars) and looked across all the units of the university and asked staff and most faculty, it would be clear that bullying is an institutional culture problem and pervasive. I challenge a research to give a work place bullying survey to the staff and non-administrative faculty.

The audit just tells other people who are the subject of bullying that the University won't own up so watch out for retribution if you come forward.

The University is on its way to becoming a full fledge private, top-down corporation and after all this type of bullying is rampant and almost expected in American Private corporations. The American Economy is democratically bankrupt. When we in the university emulate the private sector we get management behavior like the private sector.

Where is the Faculty Senate in all of this? Why haven't you interviewed the faculty Senate and everyday faculty at UVA? Why don't the faculty protest? ....oh yeah fear of retribution. Of course there is no staff union to protect the staff workers like Kevin. Sad. If we wanted to honor Mr. Morrissey someone should start a fund to educate and prevent work place bullying at Universities.

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