Post Academic

Bullies and Academia: VQR and the Death of Kevin Morrissey

post academicOur post asking “Can being a lowly grad student kill you?” provoked many comments and responses. When I wrote the post, I hadn’t heard of Kevin Morrissey, the managing editor of the Virginia Quarterly Review, who committed suicide several days before the post went up. While the post discussed the relationship between workplace status, power and health, it didn’t cover outright bullying in the ivory tower.

Perhaps it should have. According to news reports, Morrissey may have been pushed to the brink by his former boss, Ted Genoways, the editor of VQR. All charges against Genoways are alleged, and no one can change the circumstances that drove Morrissey to take his own life, but a picture is emerging of what it was like to work at VQR–and it’s ugly.

On the “Today” show, one of Morrissey’s colleagues called the behavior of Genoways “egregious.” If you want more details, by all means dive in at the Hook and the Chronicle of Higher Ed. More than likely, you’ll be grateful for your boss and your workplace.

But what do you do if you are faced with a bully at work? After reading Morrissey’s story, you might think these situations can be hopeless because UVA’s HR department was allegedly unresponsive after Morrissey complained.

So I asked David Yamada, who runs the blog Minding the Workplace. He is a law professor, Director of the New Workplace Institute at Suffolk University Law School, and author of the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill. He says, “Right now one does not have a right to sue for severe workplace bullying.”

But that doesn’t mean you’re powerless. He advises, “For those who are covered by a collective bargaining agreement, union intervention may be a possibility and should be explored early.” If you don’t have a union, Yamada recommends reading The Bully at Work by Gary and Ruth Namie.

A few other suggestions for what to do in a tough work situation after the jump! Image of Boss Tweed from Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

In many cases, sucking it up or trying to please the bully won’t help. Yamada says, “Many targets of severe workplace bullying eventually have to leave in order to avoid further abuse.”

That’s a shame, especially if you might have trouble landing another job, you really like your paycheck or you like all your other coworkers. By all means, read books about surviving workplace bullies, and go to HR, but also read up on job-changing or even career-changing, and prepare to quit. Here’s a little list of what you can do to transition your way out. It may read like dry financial advice, but you need to have a lifeboat if you’re gonna jump ship:

Start building an emergency fund. To continue the metaphor, the emergency fund will keep you afloat. Yes, I harp on it, but I used to write for a financial company, so it is second nature. An emergency fund will be your best friend if you need to make a quick exit. The more you can rely on yourself, the better your chances of getting out.

Put away a little into your emergency fund in each paycheck. You may wonder where you’ll get the money for an emergency fund. Set it up so that your bank moves a small amount of your paycheck into savings each month. Moving your money early means you’ll be less likely to spend it. You will be surprised at how quickly a small amount grows if you stick with it.

Maintain your jobs network. Put the word out among your friends that you’d like a new job. With the rise of LinkedIn and social networking, you have very little reason not to have an active jobs network.

Suppress the desire to discuss the bully in your interviews. A workplace bully can leave scars, and you’re justified in being pissed off. However, job interviews must be positive. Employers want someone who is forward-thinking and interested in the future, and slamming a bully will indicate that you’re focused on the past and that the bully still has power over you. That isn’t to say you cannot discuss the bully in the future, but if anyone asks you why you left, smile and say you were interested in exploring other skills, working for a larger company, whatever. Later on, you can tell stories of the bully, but your main priority should be finding a new job.

In the next installment of the bully series, I’ll discuss how to tell whether or not you’re working with a bully or someone who’s grumpy occasionally.

One Response to 'Bullies and Academia: VQR and the Death of Kevin Morrissey'

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  1. David Yamada said,

    Hi Caroline, thanks for bringing this topic to the attention of your readers and for referencing some of my work on workplace bullying.

    If any reader is in the unfortunate position of dealing with bullying-type behaviors, the following page from my blog collects a handful of suggestions for assistance:

    One of the linked posts, “After being bullied at work, what next?,” is a nice complement to your advice.

    David Yamada

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