Friday, August 13, 2010

Oh, Geeze...

This is just very sad and not good for anybody at the VQR. Condolences to all involved.

Updates by a colleague here and here.


Anonymous said...

Whether it was "just" depression, or an actual case of bullying, the man was hurting; may he rest in peace.

Anonymous said...

I cannot help but remember the snarky comments about their rejected submissions that VQR editors "leaked" last year. Who knows what demons caused this unfortunate man's suicide? But it is clear to me that VQR is a toxic little workplace with a culture of meanness.

Anonymous said...

It's not a secret that the family of the victim is blaming the other editor, TG, for bullying that led KM's suicide. As depressed person who has been in a mental hospital for attempted suicide, I think it's a lot of bunk. The family needs to face the reality that the guy was mentally ill and not able to cope. TG may be a pompous ass, probably a loud-mouth bully to boot, but what editor isn't? Blaming him for the death is cheap shot. I think in time when their sadness subsides they will regret having made those implications.

Steve said...

Latest anon: this article appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education, a publication whose audience is largely made up of university administrators and professionals. The larger point for them is that the university now has a problem and a potential lawsuit (to say nothing of a PR mess). The fact that the man in question was apparently, and repeatedly, blown off by the university hr people; and the fact that he was allegedly, and repeated, bullied by a university employee. . .sure, none of it changes the fact that he was the one to ultimately pull the trigger, but there are policy issues on the university's end that, had they been followed, could have potentially saved this man's life. Had the hr folks given him a full hearing, for example, they may have realized just how depressed and suicidal and in need of help he was; or they may have helped him solve his workplace dilemmas (which is their goddamn job, by the way). But they didn't do these things, so we'll never know. Should they have? You bet--it's their job.

Now, all this said: did I think the article was very off-putting and emotionally cold? Absolutely. But that's what I expect from academia, where the behavior of bullies is very much like pedophiles in the priesthood: something that has been tacitly accepted for too, too long.

Anonymous said...

Apparently there's an in-house email the editor sent to VQR staffers that is rather damning.

I don't think the implications are just "bunk". As someone's already said much better than me, the cruel comments they publicly posted about failed submissions says quite a bit about the atmosphere in that office.

Hiring the daughter of one of the donors to the program is morally and ethically questionable at best.

Anonymous said...

Oh - and read between the lines here - Waldo Jaquith, who stepped down shortly before the suicide, has a blog here:

Anonymous said...

As a writer, I've found the literary world to be -- at least toward the Great Unwashed -- full of indifference, callousness, meanness, etc.
Kindness, compassion? -- welders, as a group, have far more of those qualities than do editors, agents.

T said...

I sense that the family feels tremendous guilt for not helping the man, but there is really no one to blame but the man who pulled the trigger. The man clearly had problems that went way beyond a hostile work environment. I'm sure there was stuff that pre-dated all of this VQR office intrigue. Bullying may have been the last straw, but it wasn't the worst of the straws.

Hypothetical: If Morrissey had snapped and killed Genoways instead, how would all these stories run? They would be glowing accounts of Genoways, and damning accounts of Morrissey, that's what they would be, I'm certain. It's very weird how this is all playing out as a Genoways hate-fest on some blogs. I feel more sorry for what the living are going through.

Steve said...

I think the story would be very much the same had the situation you hypothesize taken place--if it were published in Chronicle of Higher Ed. In fact, if it were a murder instead of a suicide, the failure of the university to intervene in the matter would seem an even more glaring dereliction of duty. I mean, hell, this is what conflict-resolution is all about! Keeping people from killing each other at work.

The point isn't whether it was the bullying that 'caused' the suicide. The point is that the bullying should have been dealt with properly by university hr. That it wasn't opens up a legal can of worms.

Also, how easy it is to write off a suicide. There is a little something sociologists call 'fundamental attribution error.' It means that we tend to blame people's actions on their inner-states rather than the situations in which they find themselves. Bottom-line: we don't know why he did, and we don't know what role Genoways may or may not have played. All that we really know is that hr didn't take Morrissey seriously, and it was their job to do that.

Anonymous said...

There is a little something sociologists call 'fundamental attribution error.' It means that we tend to blame people's actions on their inner-states rather than the situations in which they find themselves.

We tend to do that because statistically, most suicides, including this one, are the result of mental problems. Not all judgmental tendencies are in error.

The Chron piece makes thinly veiled allegations that bullying contributed to his death. Even if they don's say it explicity, it's implied. This is so profoundly irresponsible, I imagine Genoways would have grounds to sue them. The piece should not have been printed.

Where is Genoways's side? Why was he yelling at the deceased? What was the deceased doing that caused such bad blood? There are two sides to every conflict.

The Chron piece has several comments by person named "Ellen Hunt" who seems to have some inside knowledge about what was really going on in the office. His/her comments describe a very different scenario that what the Chron hints at. Interesting.

I truly feel for the deceased and his family. But we are not getting the whole story here, and think people should take this bullying story with a huge grain of salt. Maybe a big spoonful.

Anonymous said...

I'm the poster who first forwarded the story. I am surprised - perhaps I shouldn't be - by the persistence of people covering for Genoways, who has clearly behaved unethically and questionably, as well as for UVA, who may not have resolved a workplace issue appropriately. I can only assume that Genoways' defenders have refused to read any of the coverage about him and about long-standing ethical questions in the way he was running UVA.

No one is saying that Kevin Morrissey isn't ultimately responsible for choosing to take his life. But the man had an illness, one that may have been exacerbated by a toxic working environment, which was not dealt with appropriately by UVA.

Here is another follow-up for those of us open to considering this seriously, as it uses named sources who speak frankly about their run-in with Genoways:

I don't know any of the players on a personal level. I have been on both sides of the table as a writer and as an editor, and I assure you, regardless of whether he was a bully, Genoways' behavior and management of VQR was questionable at best.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, anon!! You said what I wanted to. The take it with a grain of salt person. . .well, that's not the attitude hr should take complaints of workplace bullying. After all, people with diseases--including mental illness--have their rights.