Princeton's Mysterious Suicide Scandal: Why Was Antonio Calvo Fired?

On Thursday we reported the death of Princeton lecturer Antonio Calvo, who committed suicide in the midst of a complicated game of academic politics. In the last 48 hours, articles in the New York Times and international media outlets have pushed campus conspiracy theories to a fever pitch. But we still have no real answer as to why the popular Spanish teacher lost his job—and why he chose to take his life.

But we do know about some of Calvo's detractors' gripes about him, courtesy of NYT:

As director of the university's Spanish language program, 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, using a common Spanish expression that implores someone to get to work.

The phrase in question was likely some variation of "Deja de tocarte los cojones y ponte a trabajar," which literally means "Stop touching your balls and get back to work." It's the rough equivalent of "Get off your ass and start working." That said, nobody knows whether these incidents played into the University's decision not to renew Spanish citizen's contract—and, friends say, his work visa.

Asked about Calvo's employment—or lack thereof—Princeton spokesperson Cass Cliatt responded:

As a policy in keeping with our commitment to preserving the privacy of our employees, the University does not violate privacy and confidentiality to speak to matters of personnel, which for employee privacy reasons are not public. Members of the press continue to ask us about rumors, and to ask us about what they have read and heard, but we will not violate privacy and confidentiality. Because of privacy concerns and respect for employees, matters of personnel simply are not public, and we cannot speak to them, whether to confirm information or correct misinformation.

With a hint of frustration, she continued:

And because we have found that some reporters are relying on other news report for information—and so to anticipate a follow-up question you might have about why our announcement did not contain information about a cause of death—our initial announcement did not contain this information because of the limited information available at the time. While we were given information about the cause of death, we didn't have independent verification. So how we approached this is consistent with how we have approached similar circumstances, and this is distinct from cases that take place on campus where our own Department of Public Safety might be involved and have access to information. We feel it's inappropriate to speak to unconfirmed information when it comes to personal or private family matters. In fact, we continue to feel that it's not the University's place to make any statements that might be taken as official determination about the cause of death.

Cliatt concludes:

That said, what we really feel is most important here is that we have tragically lost a member of our community, and our campus is mourning his death. We are heartfelt in extending our condolences to his family, and we continue to offer sympathy and provide support to the many students and faculty who knew him and admired him. We, like they, are very saddened by his death.

Meanwhile, Princeton senior Philip Rothaus—whose open letter about Calvo's "horrid treatment" helped spark the media free-for-all—doesn't want to talk about Antonio's death any longer. "I would now just like to focus on remembering and grieving for my friend," he told us by email. He described the Antonio Calvo he'd like to remember as an intellectually insatiable role model with a "superhuman" work ethic:

Antonio was an absolutely remarkable man and friend. Funny doesn't begin to cover it; we used to send each other hilarious and totally bizarre YouTube videos while G-chatting at 2am. Even when he wasn't acting as my professor or adviser, he was amazingly generous and helpful offering advice on papers, translations and other academic issues. His knowledge was unbelievably broad. He gave so freely of himself.

Calvo's family has yet to speak publicly about Antonio's death. [NYT; photos via Wikipedia and Princeton]

Previously:

The Mysterious Case of a Princeton Lecturer's Suicide


Contact the author of this post at maureen@gawker.com