Washington Post on the suicide of Kevin Morrissey, Virginia literary journal editor

Today’s Washington Post features an extensive piece by Daniel de Vise on the suicide of Kevin Morrissey, editor of the Virginia Quarterly Review (VQR) whose death has been linked to allegations of workplace bullying at the hands of the journal’s editor in chief:

Surviving relatives and some co-workers portray Kevin Morrissey, 52, as the target of a workplace bully. Their narrative has an unlikely villain: Ted Genoways, 38, a decorated poet who led a transformation of the Review from a low-budget black-and-white journal into a colorful, edgy magazine that is cited among the best literary publications in the country. According to Maria Morrissey, Kevin Morrissey’s sister, a caustic e-mail from Genoways was on her brother’s computer screen when he died.

Genoways and some of his supporters say Morrissey’s death was simply a suicide: a man choosing to die and blaming no one, leaving a note that said, “I can’t bear things anymore.”

The article further notes that the University of Virginia, which publishes the VQR, expects to complete its internal investigation by the end of the month.

Two stories

The Post article reiterates the two competing accounts of what happened: (1) Morrissey was bullied to the point of suicide by his boss and the failure of the University to respond to his pleas for help; or (2) Morrissey was a deeply troubled individual who chose to take his own life.

As I have written earlier on this blog, the “bullycide” narrative is a plausible one for this situation. We have allegations involving a vulnerable individual, a bullying boss, repeated requests for help to the employer ignored or neglected, ending in a tragedy. However, allegations do not equal proof, and it appears that all the pieces of this story have yet to be assembled, at least in terms of what has been shared with the public.

Some of the criticisms of the press coverage suggest that reporters have jumped to conclusions about what happened here without sufficient evidence. I disagree; given what we know about the insidious nature of workplace bullying, this event merits the general substance of the coverage it is receiving.

***

For previous commentary on this blog about the Kevin Morrissey/VQR tragedy, see here (NBC Today Show coverage), here (developing media coverage); and here (initial story via Chronicle of Higher Education).

4 responses

  1. David,
    there is a rather important thread of comments on staff downsizing at UC – labor relations, change management and transition coordinators being hired , reorgs etc. if you get a chance take a look at it,here:

    http://utotherescue.blogspot.com/2010/09/staffing-downsize.html

    i wanted to point to your site in the comments, but, frankly, I wanted to wait until you had something other than the Morrissey story, given the subject matter- the folks at UC are really suffering and that particular story could perhaps just make it more painful- perhaps you could even write a piece about downsize “change, transition management experts” and also discuss how employers sometimes point employees to on-site counseling centers and the potential hazards for the employee in seeking counseling services within the workplace (even when it is a University setting).

  2. Cloudminder, thanks for the comment and the link, which I will check out. Sadly, the Morrissey story has become a teachable moment for those of us committed to public education on workplace bullying. But I do understand that other, acute situations — such as the crises facing workers within the University of California system — are deserving of attention.

    David

  3. of course.
    -just as a clarification-your site is not solely about bullying- it is a look at the workplace as a whole, correct?
    I ask because the way that I read blogs it seems e.g. the Namies seem to take on bullying exclusively and your site seems to take on various issues in the workplace.

    • Yes, this blog covers a wider span of employment issues. But a majority of readers — at least based on “hits” to specific posts — are drawn to the commentary on workplace bullying.

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