Category Archive 'Academic Politics'

25 Apr 2011

PC Kills at Princeton

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Antonio Calvo

International news sources, including Britain’s Daily Mail are reporting on the tragic recent death of Antonio Calvo, formerly a Senior Lecturer at Princeton University, whose 10-year-career at the university was abruptly terminated for reasons the Princeton Administration refuses to explain.

A popular Princeton professor who mysteriously stabbed himself to death last month did so because he was abruptly dismissed from his job and faced deportation to his homeland Spain.

Antonio Calvo, 45, who was called St Antonio by students due to his kind heartedness and generosity, stabbed himself to death in his Manhattan apartment on April 12.

Less than a week before, a security guard escorted the Spanish instructor from the building after an unblemished ten-year career that should have culminated in tenure.

Devastated colleagues and students are blaming a campaign by another lecturer and several students for his death, saying they launched a hate campaign against him to get him ousted from his job.

On the Princeton campus where he worked, private grieving has erupted into public recrimination, with a tight community of scholars and students demanding the university take responsibility for his death.

It is unclear what exactly led to his departure from the job but because the university sponsored his visa, he would have had to leave the U.S. and return to Spain.

According to the New York Times, several graduate students and a lecturer mounted a campaign to block the renewal of his contract as a senior lecturer of Spanish and Portuguese.

As director of the university’s Spanish language programme, Dr Calvo supervised graduate students, most of whom teach undergraduates. The graduate students, his friends said, criticized his management style and singled out comments that they felt were inappropriately harsh.

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, saying: ‘You’re spending too much time touching your balls. Why don’t you go to work?’ which is said to be a common Spanish expression.

One ex-colleague told the New York Post: ‘He knew that something was happening. He commented to a couple of friends that some people at the school were trying to ruin his reputation.’

Another colleague said: ‘Those people didn’t want his contract renewed. The campaign was led by graduate students who teach Spanish who were essentially under Antonio’s supervision, and a lecturer also teaching there.

‘Some people saw him as politically incorrect, but it was just the way he was — his personality.


The Center-Left Madrid national daily El Pais reported:


Although his department had advised its renewal, this past April 8th an employee of the university took away the keys to his office, six weeks before the end of the semester. It was the last day for Calvo in a job for which he lived. “Antonio was confident that they would renew his contract and apparently had the support of the Spanish Department,” said his friend and, in the past, also an employee of Princeton, Marco Aponte Moreno, who now teaches in Surrey, UK. “Antonio had told several colleagues and friends who believed that a group wanted to discredit him. I knew he was trying to find out what was going on and that several colleagues had been called to talk about it. However, he felt safe, at least until Friday April 8th, when he was suspended, that the administration of Princeton would confirm the renewal. ”

The University Administration maintains a total silence on the matter. Their spokesmen maintains that contractual negotiations are a personal matter and that the rules prevent him from talking about them publicly. On the day of dismissal, his students were waiting in the classroom for 20 minutes without being given information. The same scene was repeated the day before his suicide, his students waited 20 minutes until they received a substitute and were told that Calvo no longer taught at Princeton. Three days after the suicide, the rector sent a letter to students saying that their teacher had died, without giving further details. The university newspaper covered the story in the same way on April 18th.


The Daily Princetonian‘s report today essentially confirms the essentials of he story and especially the allegations of stonewalling on the part of Princeton’s Administration.

In a statement to The Daily Princetonian on Sunday, University President Shirley Tilghman expressed her condolences to the University community and elaborated on the University’s position of remaining silent on issues of personnel in order to protect employees’ privacy.

“Those of you who knew Professor Calvo as a valued and beloved colleague, teacher and friend are seeking answers,” she said in the statment. “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.”

Reiterating previous statements by University spokespeople and Dean of the Faculty David Dobkin, Tilghman said she would continue to uphold University policy and that the school would not reveal any further details about the circumstances leading to his termination.

“The specific events leading up to Professor Calvo’s abrupt leave from the University came out of a review whose contents cannot be disclosed without an unprecedented breach of confidentiality,” she said.

Shortly before his death, Calvo had been undergoing a routine reappointment review after his first three years as a senior lecturer.

According to Marco Aponte Moreno, Calvo’s close friend and a former University lecturer, “Antonio was confident that his contract was going to be renewed as the department had recommended his reappointment.”

Members of the department confirm that Calvo was expected to continue as a senior lecturer. “The department wanted to renew his contract but for whatever reason, they couldn’t,” said one undergraduate concentrator who asked to remain anonymous.

As a normal part of the review process, statements are solicited from coworkers of the faculty member in question. According to Aponte Moreno, only those with known problems with Calvo were asked to provide letters.

Instead of the reappointment Calvo expected, Aponte Moreno said, the University “decided to send a security guard to Antonio’s office on Friday, April 8, removing his keys and closing his email account.”

Calvo was not physically escorted from the building or from University grounds, as some outlets have reported, but he missed a scheduled meeting with a dean on the following Monday.

In the early hours of Tuesday, April 12, Calvo took his own life at his apartment in New York City. The cause of death was slash wounds on his neck and upper arm, according to the New York City medical examiner’s office.

In response to questions about the transparency of Calvo’s review process and accusations that the decision about his contract renewal was made based on intradepartmental politics, Tilghman denounced what she described as the “untrue and misleading rumors” that have been implicating “innocent individuals on campus.”

Those rumors sound perfectly true and the implicated individuals President Tilghman refers to sound anything but innocent.

Hat tip to Karen L. Myers.

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