Questions raised about Calvo’s death
The University has not released further details about the recent passing of senior lecturer Antonio Calvo, a member of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese Languages and Cultures and the director of the department’s Spanish language program and the Princeton in Spain summer program in Toledo, Spain.
The circumstances surrounding Calvo’s passing have not been made public. “We don’t feel that it’s our place to speak to private family matters,” University spokeswoman Cass Cliatt ’96 said on Monday evening. “As a policy, we never discuss matters of personnel.”
However, former colleagues and friends of Calvo’s said that he took his own life last Tuesday in New York City.
They also said that he had recently learned that his contract as a lecturer would not be renewed.
Several calls to the Spanish and Portuguese department offices went unreturned on Monday afternoon, and several department faculty members and administrators did not respond to calls or emails.
On Friday, the University posted a statement on its website announcing that Calvo had passed away earlier that week and that he was on leave from the school at the time. It was updated on Monday afternoon to reflect the fact that Calvo passed away the previous Tuesday and that a gathering of remembrance would be held today at 5:00 p.m. in Murray-Dodge Hall. Calvo’s home department is still planning a memorial service.
Philip Rothaus ’11, a Spanish and Portuguese concentrator who described himself as a “good friend of Antonio Calvo’s,” said in an email that he understood that faculty and staff members had been forbidden from speaking about the situation in public. “Antonio’s dear friends, his colleagues in the Spanish and Portuguese Department, have been forbidden from speaking about this to anyone,” he said. “I am, thankfully, not under subject to the same constraints, and, at this point, am angry enough not to care.”
Marco Aponte, a friend of Calvo’s who was affiliated with the University as a Ph.D. student and then as a lecturer during the 2005-06 and 2007-08 academic years, said that Calvo had been undergoing a routine review process.
As part of the review process, the University solicits letters from colleagues of the faculty member in question, but Aponte said he had never been contacted and questioned the University’s choices of colleagues to contact. He said the University only asked for letters from people it knew had "some sort of conflict" with Calvo.
On Monday, Aponte started a Facebook group called “Justice for Antonio Calvo.” The group had over 100 followers by Monday evening.
Rothaus said he believed the University neglected to interview members of the Spanish and Portuguese department. “The department’s recommendation was to continue his contract,” he wrote. “The reappointment committee, if they performed any sort of investigation whatsoever, never interviewed a single member of the department nor Antonio himself.”
The University statement said that Calvo had been on leave at the time of his passing, though he is listed on the registrar’s website as teaching SPA 307: Advanced Spanish Language and Style this semester. Several students in his course said they were confused about Calvo’s sudden leave of absence two weeks ago.
Aponte said Calvo had been asked to go on leave during the final period of his review. However, Rothaus said that on April 8 “a representative of the administration, essentially a security guard,” entered Calvo’s office and asked him to leave without prior notice. "[The representative] demanded his keys and told him to leave," Rothaus explained.
"He was not 'on leave,' and certainly not for 'personal reasons,' as per Nassau Hall's press release," Rothaus added. "This is a euphemism for their having cancelled his contract against the wishes of the department."
Aponte said that Calvo was informed that day that his contract would not be renewed, which meant that he could be deported after more than a decade in the United States, as the University would no longer be sponsoring his visa.
Rothaus added that during Calvo’s leave, “members of the faculty were apparently told they weren’t allowed to talk to Antonio for any reason.”
Aponte said Calvo was invited to a meeting with a dean the next Monday but that he did not attend.
Calvo’s students and academic advisees in Butler College were not informed of his passing until Friday evening, when an email was sent to select students. Some others said they were frustrated to have not been notified.
“I’m kind of upset that I had to find out through all these back doors,” said Brian Jeong ’11, who said he has taken seven Spanish courses during his time at Princeton. Jeong said he discovered the news through the University statement on its website.
Aponte’s Facebook group counts several University staffers and students as members.
"A much-respected Princeton lecturer, Dr. Antonio Calvo, committed suicide on Tuesday 12 April after a series of unexplained events in the Spanish Department," the group's description reads. "For the sake of the Princeton community, Nassau Hall needs to investigate the events at Princeton that preceded Dr. Calvo’s death.”
Some of Calvo’s friends said they were worried about the lack of information that had been provided about his review.
“It’s not unusual — departments do this all the time, and they have the right to do this,” Aponte said of the review. “I’ve been speaking to the people who actually teach there, and they were concerned about the way the situation was handled ... The concerns are even greater because the department isn’t talking.”
Jeong said he was losing faith in the process’s transparency. “It is becoming more and more worrisome,” he said.
Rothaus called the situation “nonsensical.”
“Why would the University physically escort a member of our community who had faithfully and enthusiastically served Princeton for a decade out of his office without notice?” he asked.
“What is also clear is that Nassau Hall has been veiling the whole issue in secrecy — nobody seems to know what happened,” he wrote. “As a member of the department and a close friend of Antonio’s, there are a lot of things I know that I wish I didn’t, but it’s time the University community as a whole learns.”
The gathering of remembrance will be hosted by the Office of the Dean of Religious Life and will be open to members of the University community and Calvo’s family and friends.