Princeton's Antonio Calvo Kills Himself After Contract Dispute

Spanish lecturer stabbed himself amid speculation his contract was revoked.

April 20, 2011, 3:01 PM

April 20, 2011— -- Beloved Princeton University Spanish teacher Antonio Calvo stabbed himself to death in his Manhattan home last week, leaving his friends and colleagues wondering why.

Calvo's death was ruled a suicide by the New York City Medical Examiner's office, which said his death had been caused by "multiple incised wounds of the neck and left upper extremities" of his arm.

The Ivy League university in Princeton, N.J., initially released a statement after Calvo's death, saying the 45-year-old senior lecturer in the department of Spanish and Portuguese languages and cultures had died, without providing details.

But colleagues say the administration had defied department recommendations and not renewed Calvo's contract in a decision that seemed mired in academic politics.

"We do not speak to rumors," said Princeton University spokesperson Cass Cliatt. "We continue to feel that it's not the university's place to make any statements that might be taken as some kind of official determination about the circumstances of Antonio's passing."

Cliatt also said, "As a policy the university does not speak to matters of personnel, which are not public."

Princeton has planned a campus memorial service that is not public, she said.

"[Calvo] was full of life, an incredible personality," said Marco Aponte, a close friend who was a lecturer at Princeton in 2007 to 2008 and was supervised by Calvo.

This week, Aponte started a Facebook group called "Justice for Antonio Calvo," which gained more than 200 followers in two hours. But he said he had to shut the page down when he got "hate mail," some from Princeton.

"He was probably the most popular teacher in that department and one of the most popular lecturers at Princeton," said Aponte, who now teaches international business at the University of Surrey in England. "All the students pretty much loved his classes, and he always got good grade evaluations. He was very devoted and worked morning to evening."

Aponte said Calvo had been at Princeton for 10 years and his five-year contract had been under the routine renewal process since last fall. As a senior lecturer, Calvo was in charge of graduate students who often groused about their working conditions.

"This is nothing unusual coming from graduate students," Aponte said. "For them, it's not a real job and they cancel more classes, which is unacceptable at Princeton, and they don't want classes at 9 in the morning."

Princeton Colleagues Baffled by Dispute

But in March, said Aponte, the graduate students and one lecturer began to build a campaign against Calvo's contract renewal, but he still had the full support of the department and his reappointment seemed assured.

At one point the situation seemed to shift, and one of the lecturers -- someone who was also married to "an important professor," said Aponte -- joined in protest with the graduate students. One of the major complaints was that "Antonio was from Spain and had a loud voice in meetings," Aponte said.

"We don't know why the university did it," Aponte said. "By Friday before his death, the decision was made -- the contract was not renewed and he was let go immediately."

The campus newspaper, The Daily Princetonian, reported that security officials had entered Calvo's office and demanded he return his keys, informing him of his dismissal.

Aponte said he'd spoken with another close friend -- Ana Belen Martin-Sevillano, a professor in Canada -- who said Calvo was "very distressed" just a week before his death but that "he was still going to fight it. He didn't think it was fair -- no gross misconduct was recorded. That's why we all believe somebody had a personal problem with him.

"He was getting more and more nervous, according to Ana," Aponte said. "And he wasn't eating very much." spoke to Martin-Sevillano, who said she was too upset to talk now.

Another friend, who got worried after he received a "goodbye letter" from Calvo, according to Aponte, found Calvo's body in his Chelsea apartment April 12.

Antonio Calvo 'Remarkable'

"Antonio was an absolutely remarkable man and friend," Princeton student Philip Rothaus, who graduates this year, told "Funny doesn't begin to cover it. We used to send each other hilarious and totally bizarre YouTube videos while G-chatting at 2 a.m. 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."

"What's also becoming apparent is that his productivity was superhuman," he said. "We truly loved him and will miss him deeply."

Rothaus had written to the university, saying that Calvo's contract may have been canceled "against the wishes of [his] department," according to an open letter obtained by IvyGate.

"Antonio's dear friends, his colleagues in the Spanish and Portuguese department, have been forbidden from speaking about this to anyone," he wrote. "I am, thankfully, not subject to the same constraints, and, at this point, am angry enough not to care.

"Herein lies the greatest mystery: They must have had some reason -- otherwise nothing makes sense -- but they continue to suppress it," he wrote. "There were two weeks left of classes that he was teaching, and of school for students he was advising -- was he dangerous? If so, where is the evidence? And why won't they tell even the department itself?"

When asked for more details about the university's handling of the incident, which was reported by the Princetonian as a "cover-up," Rothaus responded, "I think "cover-up" is an inflammatory and misleading term. Please respect my privacy."

Molly Bagshaw, a former student and advisee told the The Princetonian, "Antonio had a huge impact on me, in terms of both my academic career and love of the Spanish language."

Students and Colleagues Ask Why Suicide

"If it weren't for his advice and counseling, I probably wouldn't be pursuing a certificate in the department or going to Peru this summer, two things I am extremely excited about," she said.

Calvo, who was hired in 2000, also taught linguistics, poetics and the arts of the Harlem Renaissance. He was also passionate about the music of Greg Ogsby and Lupe Fiasco, photography and hiking.

Aponte vowed to find out why his friend and colleague had resorted to suicide over what seemed like campus politics, and he had no explanation for the violent method used. "It's awful," he said. "It's awful."

This was the second high-profile suicide at Princeton in three months. In January, 27-year-old Bill Zeller, a promising graduate student who had been haunted by childhood abuse, died after hanging himself.

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