Editorial: Ambiguous self-defense
Although Calvo committed suicide on April 12, the University did not release its initial statement until April 15. That statement erroneously explained that Calvo had “passed away” and that he was “on leave” at the time of his suicide. This characterization of the events is troubling for several reasons. First, while the press did not report the cause of death until April 19, anonymous sources reported to the ‘Prince’ that several members of the Spanish department had known the cause of death as early as April 14. Furthermore, in a statement to the Huffington Post, former University spokeswoman Cass Cliatt ’96 said, “While we were given information about the cause [of death], we didn’t have independent verification.” Taken together, these pieces of evidence suggest that the University was aware of the cause of Calvo’s death by the time of the issuance of the first public statement. The University should have called attention to the fact that the cause of death had yet to be determined.
The University was obviously aware that Calvo had been suspended prior to his suicide. That information also ought to have been included in the initial press release, as it provides invaluable context to Calvo’s suicide. In this instance, furthermore, the Board sees no constraining legal issue, and thus the University should have been far more forthcoming in describing the circumstances surrounding Calvo’s departure from Princeton.
Even after the cause of death was firmly established, the University failed to revise its statement to reflect the true cause of death or the reason for Calvo’s sudden departure. By concealing this information, the University only exacerbated the reaction to its handling of the Calvo case. Because media outlets were bound to learn of both the cause of Calvo’s death and the circumstances surrounding his dismissal, the University’s opaqueness only served to delegitimize its own behavior. Independent of such practical considerations, Princeton also has an obligation to be truthful to its students, faculty and staff — an obligation that it clearly failed to meet in this instance.
Moving forward, Princeton has an opportunity to revisit its policies concerning how it handles these situations. The University ought to adopt guidelines that call for the appropriate balance of honesty and respect for the relevant legal and personal issues. Calvo’s death reminds us that tragedy can strike even in the utopia that is the Orange Bubble and that in the wake of such events, a policy of careful honesty is superior to a policy of reflexive, ambiguous self-defense.