In the two weeks since lecturer Antonio Calvo took his own life, members of the University community and global news outlets alike have demanded explanations for Calvo’s abrupt departure from the University.
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.”
The New York Times reported that the termination of Calvo’s contract on April 8 partially stemmed from complaints of perceived inappropriate comments on the part of the Spanish lecturer, who has often been described as “vivacious” and “feisty” by his students.
The department undergraduate who spoke anonymously said that, at a dinner with Calvo a few months before his death, the lecturer had mentioned that he got along better with undergraduates than he did with graduate students. “Honestly, I do think the University is withholding some information and is being dishonest,” the student said.
“I think the process of annual evaluations/review should be transparent and as fair as possible, especially in a competitive/stressful environment,” one University staff member, who asked to remain anonymous, said in an email. “Departmental politics ought not to play a main role, but rather a person’s competency [and] ability to do their job well.”
The staff member noted having seen similar situations in which departmental politics led to poor reviews. “There should be measures to control intradepartmental mobbing, personal vendettas through implementing laws prohibiting that,” the administrator explained. “I think this would help creating friendly, productive, nonthreatening, healthy work environment.”
In her statement, Tilghman also elaborated on the policies and procedures used to review the appointments of senior lecturers. “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,” she said.
The Faculty Advisory Committee on Appointments and Advancements, referred to as the Committee of Three, reviews any allegations of improper conduct, and a terminated or suspended faculty member can appeal any decision to the Committee on Conference and Faculty Appeal, an elected faculty committee reporting to the University Board of Trustees, Tilghman wrote.
“In rare cases the committee recommends immediate suspension,” she noted.
None of these policies are explicitly referenced in the Office of the Dean of the Faculty’s “Rules and Procedures of the Faculty of Princeton University and Other Provisions of Concern to the Faculty,” a document available on the office’s website and last updated in 2010.
Under Chapter IV, subsection N, which covers suspension and dismissal, only the procedures involving professors, associate professors and assistant professors are described. The document states that the suspended or terminated faculty member “shall receive a statement in writing of the reasons for the proposed removal” and the opportunity to arrange a hearing before the Committee of Three.
The procedures for suspension and dismissal were last updated in 1951 and 1918, according to the Office of the Dean of the Faculty’s website.
Since the administration first emailed students on the night of Friday April 15, four days after Calvo’s death, with the news, there has been a campus-wide outpouring of grief, love and anger.
Despite the reassurances of top-level administrators that the perceived silence on Calvo’s death was dictated by University policy, some community members have begun to protest what they describe as a lack of transparency on the part of the administration.
At an event called “Justice for Calvo: Forming a Student Response” held on Saturday night in the Wilson Blackbox Theater, James Williams ’13 led 30 students and faculty in a discussion on how best to uncover details about University protocol and the particular events surrounding Calvo’s absence.
Emily VanderLinden ’13, who said she has been contacting members of the faculty and administration for answers since learning of Calvo’s death, said she is joining other students to form an as-yet unnamed group, which plans to meet again this week.
“I want to be able to be proactive and do something to make sure this does not happen again,” she said.
VanderLinden echoed the sentiments of the other attendees of the “Justice for Calvo” event, many of whom said they felt belittled by the administration, noting that she had received responses from Calvo’s home department but not from the Office of the Dean of the Faculty.
“I think that an office in this University should never ignore students,” event attendee Anna Toledano ’11 said.
Wilson College Dean Lisa Herschbach also participated in the discussion and presented a different attitude from the official stance of Nassau Hall, explaining that the University would be open to talking with students about the issue.
“The administrators I’ve spoken to have been incredibly taken by the thoughtfulness and the constructive way in which you all have approached memorializing Antonio and also thinking through how to frame a response,” she said, adding, “The administration also sees a lot of value in trying to have a conversation with a group of you.”
Students and faculty present at the “Justice for Calvo” event said they were hoping to spearhead efforts to memorialize Calvo by renaming the Princeton in Spain program after him and also to clarify University policies regarding reappointment.
Ultimately, as questions continue to be asked, most of those who knew Calvo said they preferred to remember the enormous contributions he made to the lives of students.
Philip Rothaus ’11, a senior concentrator in the department and a close friend of Calvo’s, said at the “Justice for Calvo” event that the group’s actions “cannot be about some sort of anger, or vengeance.”
Rather, he emphasized the love that Calvo had for the University and its students. “However we proceed, it must be done with love for Princeton and not anger at Princeton,” he said. “The past few days have proven that Princeton loves him back.”
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that President Tilghman wrote that faculty members may appeal decisions made by the Committee of Three to that committee. In fact, she wrote that faculty members may appeal to the Committee on Conference and Faculty Appeal, an elected faculty committee that reports to the University Board of Trustees.