Mystery over Princeton’s Spanish lecturer’s suicide

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Dr Antonio Calvo

TWO weeks after his suicide in his Manhattan home, the circumstances surrounding the death of Spaniard Dr Antonio Calvo, head of Princeton University’s Spanish Department, remains a mystery. “We do not answer rumours,” said Princeton spokeswoman Cass Cliatt.  “We feel it’s not the university’s place to make statements that might be taken as official determination of the circumstances of Antonio’s death.”

Initially, the university announced the death on April 12 of 45-year-old Antonio Calvo, who was summarily sacked on April 8, without providing further details.

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He had been awaiting renewal of his contract and earlier had told friends that he did not foresee problems.

Following his dismissal he was due to return to Princeton, accompanied by a lawyer, to discuss his situation on April 11 but did not appear and was found dead in his Manhattan apartment the next day.

Calvo, who had been at Princeton for 10 years, five of them as departmental head, died from “multiple incised wounds of the neck and left upper extremities” said the New York City Medical Examiner’s office, ruling suicide.


“He was very devoted and worked morning to evening”, said Marco Aponte, a former Princeton lecturer supervised by Calvo.  Nevertheless, he explained, as a senior lecturer Calvo was in charge of graduate students who frequently grumbled about working conditions.

His turn of phrase was occasionally criticised and after chiding one shirker for “Sitting there holding your b—-s”,  a commonplace if crude Spanish saying, he was allegedly reported for sexual abuse.

In March some graduate students began a campaign against renewing his contract and were joined by a lecturer.  “One of the major complaints was that Antonio was from Spain and had a loud voice in meetings,” Aponte added.


“Antonio was probably the most popular teacher in that department and was full of life, an incredible personality,” said Aponte, whose Facebook group “Justice for Antonio Calvo” had to be closed down after receiving hate mail.

Princeton President Shirley M. Tilghman said: “The specific events leading up to Professor Calvo’s abrupt leave-taking from the University came out of a review whose contents cannot be disclosed without an unprecedented breach of confidentiality. That policy is in place to protect the privacy of the individual faculty or staff member, and his or her family. An unfortunate consequence of this policy is that in the absence of the facts, untrue and misleading rumors have been swirling on campus and in the blogosphere. Most problematically, innocent individuals on campus have been identified and fingers pointed in a manner that is deeply unfair, hurtful and unworthy of this university community.“

Here is the full statement issued by Princeton President Shirley M. Tilghman

To members of the Princeton University community,

The tragic death of Senior Lecturer Antonio Calvo last week has left many members of the community with a deep sense of loss. Those of you who knew Professor Calvo as a valued and beloved colleague, teacher and friend are seeking answers to the painful question of what could have driven him to take his life. This is natural, but in my experience it is never possible to fully understand all the circumstances that lead someone to take such an irreversible decision.

The specific events leading up to Professor Calvo’s abrupt leave-taking from the University came out of a review whose contents cannot be disclosed without an unprecedented breach of confidentiality. That policy is in place to protect the privacy of the individual faculty or staff member, and his or her family. An unfortunate consequence of this policy is that in the absence of the facts, untrue and misleading rumors have been swirling on campus and in the blogosphere. Most problematically, innocent individuals on campus have been identified and fingers pointed in a manner that is deeply unfair, hurtful and unworthy of this university community.

Although I cannot divulge the details surrounding this case, it might be helpful to describe the policies and procedures that are used to review the appointments of senior lecturers. These reviews are routinely conducted at three- or five-year intervals, depending upon the length of service of the individual. Views regarding the quality of teaching and scholarly work are solicited on a confidential basis from those on campus, and, when appropriate, peers at other institutions. If any allegations of improper conduct arise in the course of the review, they must be thoroughly investigated, and the findings reported to the Faculty Advisory Committee on Appointments and Advancements (often referred to on campus as “the Committee of Three”). The committee consists of the University’s president, provost, dean of the faculty, dean of the college, dean of the graduate school and six faculty members who are elected by the faculty. In rare cases the committee recommends immediate suspension. Before a suspension or termination becomes final, the faculty member is given the opportunity to respond to the findings of the investigation and to appeal any decision to the Committee on Conference and Faculty Appeal, an elected faculty committee, which reports directly to the Board of Trustees.

These procedures were followed in this case. Some have written to me asking for full disclosure of all the details in this case. I must stand on the principle of confidentiality and of respect for Antonio Calvo’s privacy and that of his grieving family.

I extend my heartfelt sympathy to all members of our community who are mourning the loss of a great friend and colleague. The outpouring of concern and sadness reflects the positive way in which Professor Calvo touched so many in this community very deeply.

Shirley M. Tilghman

 

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