Staff of Virginia Quarterly Rebel in Wake of Editor's Suicide

Turmoil at Highly Regarded Virginia Quarterly Review

August 17, 2010, 3:49 PM

Aug. 30, 2010— -- The winter issue of the award winning Virginia Quarterly Review was abruptly canceled after staff members removed their names from the masthead while an investigation procedes into accusations that a top editor committed suicide as a result of workplace bullying.

"There will be no winter issue," Carol Wood, spokeswoman for the University of Virginia, where the journal is published, said in an email. "We felt it was important for all members of VQR to take some much-needed leave while the internal review is underway."

An internal investigation was launched last month after Kevin Morrissey, the review's 52-year-old managing editor, walked to the old coal tower near campus and shot himself in the head. Co-workers said Morrissey's death underscored the management turmoil at the high-profile journal.

Morrissey's sister, Maria Morrissey, and co-workers acknowledged that he long suffered from depression. But they insisted that he took his life only after the university failed to respond to repeated complaints about alleged bullying by his boss, Ted Genoways. Other employees, they said, also complained about being bullied by the journal's top editor. Genoways vehemently denied the bullying charges.

Two VQR staff members said they agreed to take paid leaves after learning that Genoways, who had been on a fellowship at the time of Morrissey's suicide, had stepped in last-minute to close the fall issue, which appears in early October. A third staffer, who took another job at the university, also took leave after Genoways took control of the fall issue in recent weeks. The staffers, however, removed their names from the magazine's masthead and website.

Genoways' lawyer, Lloyd Snook, confirmed that staff members requested that their names be removed from the masthead after his client stepped in to finish the fall issue. "At this point he's still listed as being the editor," Snook said.

Wood said the fall issue, which includes a page dedicated to Morrissey's memory, was sent to the printer last week.

"Finishing up the final issue was a team effort and staff did participate in the process," she said.

The winter edition of the magazine, however, will not be sent to the printers.

"He is back and the rest of us have left," one staff member, who asked not to be identified, said of Genoways. "We took our names off the masthead and we took our names off the website. We were outraged. We decided that's it. We're out of here."

The journal's former online editor, Waldo Jaquith, wrote on his blog Aug. 20: "I never could have forecast that the University would allow us to remain in this situation."

In the days before Morrissey committed suicide, at least two co-workers said they warned university officials about Morrissey's growing despair over alleged workplace bullying at the review.

Maria Morrissey said her brother's phone records showed that he placed at least 18 calls to university officials in the final two weeks of his life. The phone records, obtained by, showed calls to the human resources department, the ombudsman, the faculty and employee assistance center, and the university president. Morrissey said she is consulting lawyers about a possible lawsuit against the university.

Virginia Quarterly Review Cancel's Winter Issue

Genoways, who is highly regarded in literary circles, has said Morrissey's own depression prompted the suicide. "His long history of depression caused him trouble throughout his career, leading often to conflicts with his bosses," he said in a statement to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

In the statement, Genoways claimed that the university already "reviewed all the allegations being made against me and found them to be without grounds." But a university spokeswoman said the investigation, including a financial audit of the magazine, was continuing.

On Aug. 1, two days after Morrissey's death, Genoways sent an e-mail informing friends and colleagues of the suicide and defending himself against the accusations of bullying.

Genoways said he had known Morrissey since 2000 and they had been close friends. When Genoways' son was born in 2002, the first flowers to arrive at the hospital were from Morrissey. He hired his friend as managing editor in 2004, Genoways wrote.

"But I never had any illusions about who Kevin was," he continued in the e-mail, which ABC News has obtained. "He was prickly, mercurial, often brooding."

Genoways said the two men basked in the small review's recent literary success, but that Morrissey had become withdrawn and "his mood darkened" in recent months, leading to strained relations with his boss.

Genoways wrote that Morrissey "felt less important to me professionally as our staff grew. I know that he came to feel trapped, paradoxically, by a job he considered too good to quit. As Kevin struggled through these issues, particularly in the last year, his work suffered and his demeanor, to my mind, was often unacceptable for the workplace. We feuded over this often, and the majority of the VQR staff sided with Kevin.

"That tension between my staff and me grew poisonous," he wrote."I don't doubt that these conflicts fed Kevin's depression, but I cannot accept the final blame. ... I feel unspeakably saddened by Kevin's death, but I do not feel responsible," Genoways wrote.

Genoways had recently argued with Morrissey and another employee and banished the pair from the office for one week, ordering Morrissey to not communicate with any of his colleagues, according to co-workers.

At times, co-workers said, Genoways could be heard yelling at Morrissey behind closed doors. Other times, they said, the Genoways was openly dismissive of Morrissey.

Work Place Bullying Becomes Issue at Virginia Quarterly Review

Though the workplace tension at the journal had been mounting for years it seemed to escalate recently, even though Genoways was out of the office much of the time on a fellowship.

Experts acknowledge that it is nearly impossible to pinpoint what pushes a depressed person to the brink of suicide.

David Yamada, director of the New Workplace Institute at Suffolk University Law School in Boston, studies workplace bullying. Yamada said he was not involved in Morrissey's case, but said a confluence of factors -- including limited family support, isolation and work stress -- often contribute to a suicide.

"Especially when someone takes their life, we don't know what may have pushed him over the top," he said.

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