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UVA issues Virginia Quarterly Review audit: No bullying on record

October 20, 2010 |  1:37 pm

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The University of Virginia issued its audit of the Virginia Quarterly Review on Wednesday. The audit, which focused on finances and management issues at the award-winning magazine, was spurred by the suicide of Managing Editor Kevin Morrissey on July 30.

In a key finding, the audit found "no specific allegations of bullying or harassment prior to July 30th."

This statement seems designed to put to rest charges of workplace bullying that had been leveled at Editor Ted Genoways after Morrissey's death, made primarily by Morrissey's estranged sister.

Yet the report doesn't let Genoways off the hook, recommending "appropriate corrective action" be taken for his management style. 

Staffers had previously gone to the university with other, less significant complaints about how the magazine was managed. The audit stated that although officials were aware of their issues, "none ever seemed to rise to the level of a serious, on-going concern."

More fully, the audit stated:

Earlier notifications this year consisted mostly of concerns about organizational structure and untimely management communication styles; more recent concerns encompassed a failure by the Editor to follow institutional procedures in a variety of areas. There were reports through the years of the Editor not being courteous or respectful with some contributors and colleagues, as well as problems with certain employees, but none ever seemed to rise to the level of a serious, on-going concern. The reports were mostly viewed by others as conflicts between a creative, innovative manager and persons who did not share the Editor’s aspirations.

Some media reports after Morrissey's death relied on the narratives of his co-workers to try to understand why he killed himself, looking to the culture inside the magazine. The audit, citing personnel concerns, was thin on details but implied that doing so may have led to distortions.

The report continued:

The Audit Department found that some individuals made incorrect assumptions, regarding other institutional personnel, without necessarily being based on or aware of all the facts. Recollections were not entirely accurate when compared to written records, and presumptions regarding the projected behavior and responsibilities of certain individuals were not on target.

The audit provided no specific details of inaccurate recollections or assumptions about behavior. 

In its financial audit, the report found that a $2,000 charge was "a possible unapproved subvention" worthy of further inquiry -- the charge was for printing costs for "the Editor's poetry," meaning Genoways'. That doesn't look good, but is a fairly small amount in an audit that covered three years and a budget large enough to include $475,000 in withdrawals from an independent investment fund. That fund, which was established by earlier management of the magazine, will soon be brought under increased university control.

The audit (available as a PDF here) included several recommendations and italicized sections labeled "management response" about plans going forward. The first step will be moving VQR from the office of the university president, where it had been since its founding in 1925, to the office of the vice president for research -- a move that had been underway when Morrissey's suicide put many of the magazine's plans on hold. The magazine's position in the president's office meant that VQR was able to operate fairly independently and with minimal supervision.

Increased supervision and oversight is recommended, with specific recommendations about management and operations, including following institutional policies with computers, staffing and delegation of responsibilities. There will also be changes in VQR's advisory board.

The audit further recommended better clarification within the university for expressing personnel concerns; complaints taken to the ombudsman, for example, are confidential and action cannot be taken on them.

A management response explained that the new board and the magazine's editor will be tasked with drawing up a mission plan and business statement, due no later than Oct. 1, 2011.

But that's a long way off -- what will the magazine do in the meantime? Although it is not explicitly stated in the audit, Assistant Vice President for Public Affairs Carolyn Wood confirmed in an e-mail that "VQR will continue to publish."

Wood also made clear that there have not been any staff changes -- yet. "All members of VQR staff may remain in their current positions, although, as was outlined in the report, there will be a different management structure put in place," she wrotes. "Staff members, who just learned about the recommendations of the report today, have been given the time they need to decide if they wish to remain with VQR or pursue other options." How this matches with the report's second recommendation -- "Appropriate corrective action should be taken with regards to the Editor" -- remains to be seen.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: The University of Virginia. Credit: neotint via Flickr

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