Did workplace bullying trigger the suicide of a University of Virginia literary journal editor?

Robin Wilson of the Chronicle of Higher Education reports on the suicide of an editor for a University of Virginia literary journal:

When Kevin Morrissey walked to the old coaling tower near the University of Virginia campus late last month and shot himself in the head, he not only ended his own life, he exposed turmoil within the small staff of The Virginia Quarterly Review that now threatens the future of the high-profile journal.

Family members and people close to the review say Mr. Morrissey, the review’s managing editor, had been complaining to the university about workplace bullying by his boss, Ted Genoways. But, they contend, the institution did virtually nothing to help.

Workplace bullying in academe

As I said in a posted comment to the piece, while it is premature to make final judgments on what happened here, the basic scenario raised by the piece — workplace bullying, in an academic setting, targeting of a vulnerable individual, an employer ignoring pleas to intervene, with suicide as a consequence — is not over the top.

By far the most popular entry on this blog is one on bullying and mobbing in academe, posted here.  Readers should take special note of the work of University of Waterloo sociologist Ken Westhues, whose thorough, exhaustive case studies of bullying/mobbing behaviors in academe are remarkable and frightening.

And lest anyone think that workplace bullying cannot push an adult to harm himself or herself, please look at the story of Jodie Zebell, a young health care worker in Wisconsin who committed suicide.

We should not rush to judgment based on one news article. But we definitely should weigh the emerging facts in a context of understanding what workplace bullying is all about.


Aug. 18 followup — The Hook, a weekly newspaper in Charlottesville, Virginia, ran an exhaustive news & investigative piece on the UVA tragedy by Dave McNair.  It’s required reading for anyone who is following this story.

Aug. 20 followup — I’ve added a post about emerging media coverage.

Aug 23 followup — NBC’s Today Show did a segment on the Morrissey suicide.  Link here.

Free article — Readers seeking an overview of workplace bullying and organizations may find helpful my 2008 article, “Workplace Bullying and Ethical Leadership,” available without charge here.


6 responses

  1. Just posted on the same article, with extensive excerpts. What infuriates me in this particular case is the callous initial response from the University of Virginia. Btw, one of my earlier posts (linked to today’s post) deals with the possibility that bullies may sometimes be protected under ADA. In which case, the situation becomes messy and entangled…

    • Thanks for your comment. Yes, employer resistance to complaints about bullying only worsens these situations. According to a 2007 survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute and Zogby pollsters, when employees complain of bullying to their employers, 62% of the time the employers either ignore the complaints or make the situations worse.

      The ADA does not necessarily protect or legally excuse bullying behavior, even when the offender has a qualifying disability. It does complicate things for the employer, however.

  2. I have read about a number of situations in which the management refused to deal with bullying. At my last job, the boss told me “Don’t let it bother you so much.”

    Good management is so rare.

  3. Pingback: Media tracks workplace bullying angle in suicide of Virginia journal editor « Minding the Workplace

  4. Pingback: NBC’s Today Show on bullying-related suicide of Virginia journal editor Kevin Morrissey « Minding the Workplace

  5. Pingback: Washington Post on the suicide of Kevin Morrissey, Virginia literary journal editor « Minding the Workplace

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