Granted, that real life is a lot more complicated than a Sayers mystery. But something like Wimsey’s may be said to address the continuing mystery — and controversy — surrounding what President Tilghman calls “the specific events leading up to Professor Calvo’s abrupt leave-taking from the University.”
While President Tilghman rightly is concerned about “protect[ing] the privacy of the individual faculty or staff member, and his or her family,” sometimes — and this looks like one of them — a person’s confidentiality interest must yield to the larger public interest in fuller disclosure. I did not know the late professor Calvo, but from the many post mortem tributes it seems he was a truly caring, devoted, energetic and gifted teacher. The University’s sudden dismissal of Calvo, mid-spring semester no less — the “abrupt leave-taking” — is clearly an extraordinary event that demands better explanation than has been given out to date.
This would be so, even if not for Calvo’s tragic suicide a few days after his removal from campus. The inescapable point, that President Tilghman appears to minimize, is that the public focus — rightly or wrongly — is now on the University’ and the “abrupt leave taking”; in other words, the “why did it happen?,” and the “was it justified?” and the equally important “can it happen again?” must now be answered.
In her statement, President Tilghman, whom I regard with the highest respect and admiration, writes that “procedures were followed,” and in answer to those who are “asking [her] for full disclosure ... I must stand on the principle of confidentiality and of respect for Antonio Calvo’s privacy and that of his grieving family.”
Here then is the Wimsey reply: The late professor is sadly no longer with us and his “privacy” has already been breached in the most public way. He was suddenly dismissed from his teaching position at one of the most prestigious universities in the world. No public explanation was given at the time and none has been produced since then. And the fact that “procedures were followed” begs the question of whether those procedures were fair and proper.
Given all that, never mind the tragic death that followed, the University must recognize its duty to the larger community. As one student summed up during a memorial service on April 19, “I don’t think anyone is going to find closure until we have some kind of understanding.” (James Williams ′ ’13 quoted on April 20 in the ‘Prince.’) Closure indeed. What then should be done? Three things:
First, professor Calvo’s estate and family should be delicately asked if there is objection to the full disclosure of the circumstances of his “abrupt leave-taking.” If they do not object, then the file should be opened and the “closure” process would begin, even at the risk of much second-guessing.
Second, regardless of the first, the University should enlist a respected “special reviewer” from outside the University. He or she would have full access to the Calvo files and all relevant personnel procedures to provide the University with an account of the matter and with his or her recommendations for any changes to “procedures” for the future.
Finally, the work of this “special reviewer” should be considered by an independent committee — i.e., independent of the “Committee of Three,” who apparently made the final decision leading to Calvo’s “abrupt leave-taking” — and report to the Board of Trustees on his or her findings and proposals for change, if any.
Doubtless no one could have foreseen that Antonio Calvo would take his own life after his sudden dismissal, but surely it was predictable that he would experience great anguish. The question now is whether that anguish was unavoidable, or could it be repeated again someday for someone else.
R. William Potter ’68 is an attorney in Princeton and a frequent preceptor in law-related courses at the University. He can be reached at email@example.com.