Bully buster? VQR spurs UVA launch of ‘respectful workplace’

"We will not tolerate retaliation against an employee who reports an incident," says UVA President Teresa Sullivan.

A year-and-a-half after the suicide of the Virginia Quarterly Review’s managing editor Kevin Morrissey launched a national debate about whether it was the scene of workplace bullying, UVA President Teresa A. Sullivan has launched the Respect@UVA program, a comprehensive workplace initiative designed to promote “kindness, dignity and respect.”

But one workplace bullying expert thinks the reforms announced February 15 don’t go far enough.

Gary Namie, director of the Workplace Bullying Institute, contends that bullying should be put in the context of real violence to avoid letting programs like this get “shackled by all its shortcomings.”

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Life behind bars: it’s more than just pouring drinks

Everyone knows the story of Charlottesville’s most famous bartender, you know, that musician guy who worked at Miller’s before becoming a world renowned rock star… what’s his name?

Well, many other local bartenders have attracted their own, albeit smaller, fan base. Indeed, while lots of factors go into creating a bar’s atmosphere– lighting, decor, and menu choices, among them– in many cases, the single most significant element of a bar’s appeal– and what keeps the regulars coming back– is the man or woman doing the pouring.

“They’re friends out in the public square,” says attorney Benjamin Dick, whose name adorns a stool downstairs at C&O restaurant where for years, bartender Barry Umberger would have drinks ready for regulars before they could order and knew the details of his frequent patrons’ lives. READ MORE

Rotunda rehab: Good-bye and good-riddance to magnolias?

UVA architect David Neuman says the magnolias need to come down.

As UVA gears up to begin a $4.7 million roof replacement project for the Rotunda, part of a planned $50 million restoration of Thomas Jefferson’s famous centerpiece on the Lawn, a major visual transformation of the UNESCO World Heritage site (along with Monticello, one of only four in the country) could take place before the first piece of old sheet metal is removed.

According to a statement by University architect David Neuman, the six 100-year-old magnolias in the two courtyards that flank the Rotunda need to be removed, both because they have become a danger to the structure and because of the need to erect scaffolding for the roof work. What’s more, according to UVA’a leading Lawn historian, the giant magnolias, which have grown to the roof line and crowd the Rotunda’s curved walls, would mostly likely displease the structure’s original architect, who preferred that his major buildings “stand up and stand out” against the horizon.

However, according to over 3,000 people who signed an online petition opposing the removal of the trees, they should stay up and stay put. READ MORE

Glitchy system: Inside the student software debacle

Why did Albemarle County school officials commit nearly $2 million to a software system that has proven faulty, despite multiple complaints from teachers that using it was a “waste of time,” and an admission from one County school official that it was “glitchy, to say the least”?

At a time when school systems are facing budget cuts, losing teachers, and seeing classroom size increase, spending on technology has soared. Indeed, terms like “digital learners” and “data driven education” have captured the imaginations– and purse strings– of school administrators.

Just recently, the Charlottesville School Board announced that it will spend $2.4 million on new tablet-type laptops for students. According to a recent article in the New York Times, education, technology, and big business are now entangled to the tune of $1.89 billion a year, the amount that schools spent on software for classroom use in 2010. Spending on hardware, researchers say, was likely five times that amount.

However, according to experts interviewed by the Times, there is very little specific evidence that using technology in the schools enhances learning.

“There is insufficient evidence to spend that kind of money. Period, period, period,” said Larry Cuban, an education professor emeritus at Stanford University, in the Times. “There is no body of evidence that shows a trend line.”

However, a Hook investigation reveals one possible trend line in the County school system: implementing the software system may have benefited top school administrators, and the company they contracted with, more than it has teachers and students.

But getting answers hasn’t been easy. read more

The bully pulpit: Documentary explores VQR tragedy

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Last summer, the tragic suicide of Virginia Quarterly Review managing editor Kevin Morrissey, who made a 911 call reporting his own shooting down by the Coal Tower on former UVA president John Casteen’s last official day in office, made national headlines, including a segment on the Today show, which revealed a troubled office environment at the award-winning magazine and launched a discussion of so-called “workplace bullying.”

That caught the attention of New York City-based documentary filmmaker Beverly Peterson, a former bullying victim herself, who has devoted herself to telling these kinds of stories. Almost as soon as the VQR story broke, she called the VQR offices.

“Our arrival was delayed a few weeks when the Today show segment came out and no one wanted to talk on camera anymore,” says Peterson. “I was pretty surprised at the way the story was framed in that segment, so of course it only intrigued me more as events continued to unfold in both the press and the comment boards.”

Eventually, Peterson managed to get just about everyone connected with the story on camera, including VQR editor Ted Genoways, whom former VQR employee Waldo Jaquith had accused on the Today segment of treating Morrissey “egregiously” in the last few weeks of his life. Indeed, Genoways appears in Part I of the documentary, along with his wife Mary Anne, who tearfully says, “We did so much for Kevin, but it was never enough.” read more

Rock Hill forever: Charlottesville’s not-so-secret gardens

Forget about the impending Meadowcreek Parkway and the 250 Interchange project for a minute, as well as the fabulous history of the nearby eight-acre Rock Hill estate, once the site of a circa-1820 two-story Federal style house (which, thanks to a mischievous youngster, burned down in 1963). Forget that famed architect Eugene Bradbury once called it home, and that the Rev. Henry Alford Porter, minister of Charlottesville’s First Baptist Church (Park Street), who bought the place in the 1930s, created the extensive rock gardens that one UVA architectural historian has called the “most complex residential garden landscapes in all of Charlottesville.”

Forget its history as a controversial segregation-era school in the 1960s. Forget that it’s now the overgrown back yard of the Monticello Area Community Action Agency (MACAA), which has expressed interest in selling the property to the City. (read more)

Forget the City’s and the Federal Highway Administration’s promise (broken?) to restore the garden and add it to the park system as

Extreme makeover: rich edition– State program benefits those who need it least

Ask most preservationists what they think of Virginia’s Rehabilitation Tax Credit Program, and you’ll hear them proudly say it’s one of the most generous, if not the most generous, programs in the country, leading to the rehabilitation of thousands of historic properties. Indeed, since the program’s inception in 1997, the state has awarded nearly $700 million in tax credits to homeowners and developers.

“This is free money,” writes Charlottesville architect Brian Broadus, who has specialized in historic building projects for over 20 years. “Why don’t more homeowners come and grab it?”

(http://www.readthehook.com/90675/extreme-makeover-va-rehab-tax-credit-edition)

Submission guidelines: Will the fallen VQR rise again?

For 86 years the Virginia Quarterly Review, UVA’s award-winning literary journal, had appeared on bookstore shelves and in mailboxes each season. But that publishing streak was threatened last summer when the magazine’s managing editor, 52-year-old Kevin Morrissey, took his own life. In a burst of violence and grief, the reputation of one of the nation’s oldest and most distinguished literary journals, along with that of the youthful editor who had lifted the magazine to new heights, appeared in tatters.

Eight months later, however, the magazine has managed to preserve its publishing streak, gotten nominated again for several National Magazine Awards, and has already won in the digital category for an interactive website about the war in Afghanistan.

Despite the cloud that had been hanging over VQR, the good news suggests things are back to normal.

Or are they? (read more)

Groupenomics: Getting schooled on the daily deal craze

They’ve got an offer you can’t refuse.

Yes, the so-called ‘group buying’ or ‘social buying’ craze spearheaded by websites like Groupon and LivingSocial has made its way to Charlottesville. While local consumers might have reason to rejoice about saving 50 to 90 percent on local purchases, and while some local businesses are embracing the concept, others are bracing themselves for a daily deal invasion.

In case you haven’t heard, Chicago-based Groupon and Washington, D.C.-based LivingSocial have been busy taking over the world lately. Last month, Groupon, which claims to have 50 million subscribers and yearly revenue around $500 million, walked away from a rumored $5 to $6 billion takeover bid from Google. And Amazon.com recently invested $175 million in LivingSocial, which claims it hauls in an average of $1 million a day. Even though we’re in the midst of a recession, or supposedly recovering from one, Forbes has called Groupon the “fastest growing company in history.”

Indeed, the recession may have even fueled the growth of the two READ MORE

Seeing Red: Safety measure or cash grab?

With the arrival of Charlottesville’s first red light cameras comes the end of an honor system between drivers that has existed for decades, at least at one tricky intersection. Now it’s come to this: tickets for red light running will be generated by machines, not cops. Welcome to the world of 21st Century law enforcement.

But is this a legitimate effort to promote traffic safety? Or simply a cash grab by a private company and local government? More importantly, will the cameras actually stop red light running or simply have local drivers seeing red?

At a press conference last month announcing the installation of four red light traffic cameras (capable of taking photos and “situational” video footage of vehicles, not drivers) at the intersection of Rio Road and 29 North, County officials emphasized it was an effort to “increase traffic safety” at the dangerous intersection.

It’s an idea that has been discussed for nearly a decade, and after the Virginia General Assembly READ MORE