Princeton Students Demand 'Justice' for Antonio Calvo

Antonio Calvo was suspended by university then stabbed self to death.

May 3, 2011— -- Princeton University students are demanding to know why Anthony Calvo, a colorful and well-liked Spanish teacher, was suspended from his job three weeks ago, an incident that may have led to his suicide.

Calvo, 45, stabbed himself to death in his New York City apartment on April 12, just four days after the university wrote him a letter suspending him while an investigation was conducted about his "workplace" behavior.

Today students will meet with Princeton President Shirley Tilghman, "looking for answers about whether or not procedures were properly followed by the university," said Marco Aponte, a former friend and colleague, who started the Facebook page, Justice for Antonio Calvo.

Princeton officials confirmed today's meeting, but have provided no other details about the suspension, citing privacy policies.

Calvo had taught at the university for 10 years and ran a variety of successful Spanish department programs. He had been undergoing a routine reappointment review after his first three years as a senior lecturer at the Ivy League college.

The Daily Princetonian said students had "felt belittled" by the administration's response. "I think that an office in this university should never ignore students," said student Anna Toledano.

So far, 153 students, professors and friends have signed a petition asking Princeton to release all the information related to Calvo's suspension.

One petitioner accused the university on Facebook of "classic mean girls treatment" of Calvo. "When people are out to get someone, they wait until that person does or says something which is relatively minor but can be blown out of proportion and tied to potential legal liability, thus scaring the institution into taking the complaint seriously."

Those who were close to Calvo, who was gay, say that he was disciplined -- possibly on sexual harassment accusations -- because of two incidents.

As a senior lecturer, he was in charge of graduate students, who often complained about their working conditions. Calvo, with his typically Spanish loud voice, was more casual with them, say friends.

In one incident, he told a graduate student she deserved a slap in the face and in a second one, he sent an email joking about a male student's testicles, using a Spanish phrase that urges someone to get to work, according to documents cited in published reports.

In a letter to the Princetonian to the university community last week, President Shirley M. Tilghman expressed sympathy with student questions but said, she could not release more information "without an unprecedented breach of confidentiality."

"Those of you who knew Professor Calvo as a valued and beloved colleague, teacher and friend are seeking answers," she said in the statement. "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."

She said the "unfortunate consequence" of confidentiality policies is that without facts, "untrue and misleading rumors have been swirling on campus and the blogsphere."

Antonio Calvo Wrote of His Despair at Suspension

This week The New York Times obtained an April 8 suspension letter to Calvo from Princeton and an entry in his personal notebook, both of which shed light on the incident.

"We have received information from multiple sources that you have been engaging in extremely troubling and inappropriate behavior in the workplace," the chairman of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese Languages and Cultures, Gabriela Nouzeilles, reportedly wrote to Calvo.

Nouzeilles did not answer an e-mail or telephone call looking for comment on the matter.

The letter explains that Calvo was suspended on April 8, just four days before his death. He was banned from campus and told to leave his identification and keys in his office, according to the Times. That would mean that as a Spanish citizen, on a work visa, he would have to leave the United States.

Aponte said that the graduate students and one lecturer had begun to build a campaign against Calvo's contract renewal last March, but 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.

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

Three days before he suicide, Calvo wrote in his notebook, "The emotional torture of the months-long wait has become unbearable in my job," said the entry, according to the New York Times, which translated the note from Spanish.

"It is better to leave it here instead of continuing this road toward a greater torture, left exposed as if I were guilty of a crime when in reality the committee refused to see the merit of my work, focusing instead only on the fact that I raised my voice at my subordinates," Calvo wrote.

Police were tipped off about the teacher's death when a New York City friend received a "goodbye letter" from Calvo, and, according to Aponte, found Calvo's body in his Chelsea apartment April 12.

"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."