Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A Lecturer at Princeton Commits Suicide

On the heels of the discussion about the exploitation of adjuncts, instructors and lecturers at our universities, comes the horrible news that Dr. Antonio Calvo, a senior lecturer at the Department of Spanish and Portuguese Languages and Cultures in Princeton, has taken his life after his contract was not renewed by the university:
The University has not released further details about the recent passing of senior lecturer Antonio Calvo, a member of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese Languages and Cultures and the director of the department’s Spanish language program and the Princeton in Spain summer program in Toledo, Spain.
The circumstances surrounding Calvo’s passing have not been made public. “We don’t feel that it’s our place to speak to private family matters,” University spokeswoman Cass Cliatt ’96 said on Monday evening. “As a policy, we never discuss matters of personnel.” However, former colleagues and friends of Calvo’s said that he took his own life last Tuesday in New York City. They also said that he had recently learned that his contract as a lecturer would not be renewed.  Several calls to the Spanish and Portuguese department offices went unreturned on Monday afternoon, and several department faculty members and administrators did not respond to calls or emails. 
Apparently, Dr. Calvo's colleagues at the Department of Spanish and Portuguese were not consulted in the matter of whether he should be retained or not. The Department's recommendation that his contract be renewed was disregarded. Now, Dr. Calvo's colleagues are forbidden to speak about what has happened:
Philip Rothaus ’11, a Spanish and Portuguese concentrator who described himself as a “good friend of Antonio Calvo’s,” said in an email that he understood that faculty and staff members had been forbidden from speaking about the situation in public. “Antonio’s dear friends, his colleagues in the Spanish and Portuguese Department, have been forbidden from speaking about this to anyone,” he said. “I am, thankfully, not under subject to the same constraints, and, at this point, am angry enough not to care.” Marco Aponte, a friend of Calvo’s who was affiliated with the University as a Ph.D. student and then as a lecturer during the 2005-06 and 2007-08 academic years, said that Calvo had been undergoing a routine review process. As part of the review process, the University solicits letters from colleagues of the faculty member in question, but Aponte said he had never been contacted and questioned the University’s choices of colleagues to contact. He said the University only asked for letters from people it knew had "some sort of conflict" with Calvo. On Monday, Aponte started a Facebook group called “Justice for Antonio Calvo.” The group had over 100 followers by Monday evening. Rothaus said he believed the University neglected to interview members of the Spanish and Portuguese department. “The department’s recommendation was to continue his contract,” he wrote. “The reappointment committee, if they performed any sort of investigation whatsoever, never interviewed a single member of the department nor Antonio himself.” 
I'm sorry for giving these long quotes but the situation is really egregious and it's very important that we pay attention. This is what the system of higher education has come to. A person works for the university for years and is obviously loved and appreciated by his colleagues and students. Then, some paper-pusher decides that the school needs to get rid of him. A review process that only consults people who have a reason to dislike him and excludes his colleagues from the department gets started. Then, the scholar and the pedagogue gets escorted from the premises by a security guard - just think about this, people, consider the hurt and the humiliation of being escorted from your office because some shadow committee said so - and placed on leave. Nobody at the department even knows what's going on and Dr. Calvo is still scheduled to teach this semester.

To make things even worse, not having his contract reviewed would mean almost immediate deportation for Calvo. Being deported within weeks of this shady decision by a group of useless and anti-intellectual administrators is a disaster for somebody who has been living in this country for a decade.

Of course, we will now hear stories that Dr. Calvo was unstable, depressed and what not. But let me ask you, who wouldn't be? This is what the system of higher education has come to. People are placed in positions where there is no hope for tenure and they can be discarded like used Kleenex whenever some administrator says so. For those of us in Foreign Languages and Literatures this often means an almost immediate deportation since so many of us are from other countries.

The only situation when such drastic measures against a teacher could make sense is if s/he represented an immediate threat to the physical safety of students or colleagues. Judging from the comments that people left to the article I quoted, this was obviously not the case. (I will post some statements from people who were close to the situation in a little while.)

Princeton University will not be able to shroud its atrocious actions in secrecy if we all refuse to be silent. We need to blog about it and make the situation as widely known as possible. We cannot stand by and allow our colleagues' lives be destroyed by stupid and profit-driven administrators. 

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