There is a very sad story out of Princeton where Professor Antonio Calvo, 45, has committed suicide after the university refused to renew his contract — a decision that not only meant the loss of his directorship of the Spanish program but his having to leave the United States since the move terminated his visa. He had taught at Princeton for ten years.
Calvo was found with self-inflicted slash wounds to his neck and arm just four days after being informed of the decision.
His friend British professor Marco Aponte said that Calvo was the subject of a campaign by some over “political correctness.” What is odd is that the Spanish Department recommended renewing Calvo’s contract, which is usually determinative, but in this case it was overruled by the university. One of his students, Philip Rothaus, described Calvo as “an absolutely amazing man.”
Aponte started a Facebook group called “Justice for Antonio Calvo,” which garnered a lot of support. In one article, he is quoted as saying “he was probably the most popular teacher in that department and one of the most popular lecturers at Princeton. All the students pretty much loved his classes, and he always got good grade evaluations. He was very devoted and worked morning to evening.” Newspaper reports have stated that a few graduate students complained about demands on their academic schedule and work. The articles state that the graduate students enlisted the support of a lecturer who is married to “an important professor” and Calvo was accused of using “a loud voice in meetings.” He was known to criticize graduate students for not meeting their obligations. One article also notes:
In one episode earlier this academic year, Dr. Calvo told a graduate student that she deserved a slap on the face, and slapped his own hands together. In another, he jokingly referred to a male student’s genitalia in an e-mail, using a common Spanish expression that implores someone to get to work.
That would seem the type of problem easily handled by a call from the Dean. Moreover, the actual department reviewed the case and supported renewal of Calvo. Critics have said that this is a case of a “small vocal minority” undermining the professor despite his overall popularity.
We have not heard the other side to this controversy and the university is declining to respond to the allegations. This has only seemed to increase the rumors about the facts in the case. One friend, Princeton senior Philip Rothaus, gave a time line that indicated a harsh treatment for the long-standing professor:
1. On Friday, April 8, a representative of the administration, essentially a security guard, entered Antonio’s office (without informing either him or anyone else in the department more than a few minutes beforehand), demanded his keys and told him to leave. He was not “on leave,” and certainly not for “personal” reasons,” as per Nassau Hall’s press release. This is a euphemism for their having cancelled his contract against the wishes of the department.
2. He was under a standard 5-year review, as a result of which the Department’s enthusiastic recommendation was to continue his contract. The reappointment committee, if they performed any sort of investigation whatsoever, never interviewed a single member of the department nor Antonio himself.
3. On the morning of Tuesday, April 12 Antonio Calvo committed suicide at home in New York City. He did not merely “pass away” as per Nassau Hall’s official line.
Rothaus added that the university appears to be actively squelching statements from faculty: “Antonio’s dear friends, his colleagues in the Spanish and Portuguese Department, have been forbidden from speaking about this to anyone…There is a clear effort to suppress this information–members of the faculty were apparently told they weren’t allowed to talk to Antonio for any reason after he was suspended.” Here is a full version of his letter.
What concerns me is the denial of faculty governance on the question. While all university presidents have the right to reject such recommendations, it is rarely done in deference to the department. It usually takes a very significant problem to trump a departmental recommendation. The problem with this type of university action is that a professor may not have a full opportunity to respond to allegations given to a university president through back channels. The professor is usually not consulted at the university level in such renewal decisions. It is not clear if Calvo was given a chance to present his case against any allegations on the university level in this case.
I am also disturbed by Rothaus’ account of how this man was treated after ten-years of service and the subsequent allegation that the university was silencing faculty in speaking out on the matter. Princeton will have to be more forthcoming in light of the questions raised in the tragedy. There are some serious questions of due process and fairness raised in the case.
It is a very sad end for an obviously talented academic and a very sad moment for Princeton.