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Clarissa's Blog

An academic's opinions on feminism, politics, literature, philosophy, teaching, academia, and a lot more.

New Developments in the Tragic Case of Antonio Calvo

More than a month has passed since the suicide of Dr. Antonio Calvo who took his life after a humiliating dismissal from Princeton University. And still, Princeton is providing no answers as to what happened. Why was it so necessary to remove a professor who had worked for the university for a decade from the premises in the midst of the semester? What were the charges against Dr. Calvo? What happened during the secret proceedings that culminated in an outright dismissal of an educator while the students were waiting for him in class?

In the US, the issue attracted some attention for a while but many things have happened since then and the interest in the subject has waned. This plays right into Princeton’s hands, of course. Dr. Calvo is dead and soon he will be forgotten. If nobody asks questions about what happened, Princeton will be able to escape all responsibility for this tragedy.

The Spanish-speaking world, however, is not letting the matter rest. A famous Argentinean writer Ricardo Piglia, who is a member of the same Department of Spanish and Portuguese Languages and Cultures in Princeton, has been demanding answers from the university. Piglia published an article in an Argentinean newspaper that was immediately widely quoted in other Spanish-speaking countries. Here is what the writer had to say (translation is mine, the link is, understandably, in Spanish):

The authorities based their decision on observations and opinions expressed in several letters of evaluation that the administration requested from Calvo’s students and colleagues. What matters in this most painful event is not the content of these letters which habitually circulate during the multitudinous and kafkaesque evaluation procedures but rather the way they were read. In the ten years that Calvo worked at this university, not a single thing has taken place that would have justified this decision.

So what do you think Princeton’s response has been to Piglia’s attempts to find justice for his dead colleague? I thought that we’d seen the heights of contempt and cynicism that this university can reach but it turns out that Princeton can do much better. Cass Cliatt, the university’s spokesperson, has declared (again, the link is in Spanish) that Piglia, who has been on a sabbatical leave since December, has no knowledge of what took place during the discussions of the committee that decided to dismiss Dr. Calvo. This, according to Princeton’s spokesperson, prevents the writer from judging for himself whether Dr. Calvo’s dismissal was justified.

Princeton’s cynicism here is mind-boggling. They refuse to tell us what happened and why exactly Dr. Calvo was dismissed and then inform us that we cannot judge because we have no idea what happened. Well, of course, we have no idea. That’s because nobody is telling us anything.

It’s good to see that Ricardo Piglia and the most important Spanish newspaper El Pais are not letting this matter rest. Dr. Calvo is dead, and Princeton is doing all it can to make the truth about  what happened hidden from public view forever. Only a sustained effort on the part of academics, writers, and journalists will manage to make the truth known.

Thanks to Spanish Prof who pointed me in the direction of this article.

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7 thoughts on “New Developments in the Tragic Case of Antonio Calvo

  1. Anonymous on said:

    In my experience, the only thing which could lead to this kind of dismissal is some kind of perceived sexual impropriety. In some universities, it does not take much; a female student who believes one has told inappropriate jokes or made too much eye contact is enough if it happens more than once. It seems to be always assumed that the student is telling the truth in such cases.

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    • Apparently, Calvo told somebody to “stop touching his balls” which is a colloquial expression in Spanish that means “stop being lazy.” There are many similar idioms in Spanish and they get used by all Spanish-speakers on a regular basis. I find it hard to believe that something so inconsequential would result in such drastic measures.

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  2. Also remember it was nonrenewal of contract, not revocation of tenure. They don’t have to have a (defensible) reason.

    I’ve seen plenty of this kind of thing, done for reasons both bad and good. It is not unusual and people should realize that if they become contract employees they will be vulnerable forever.

    What is so unfortunate about this case is how bad they obviously made him feel. I know lots of people who have considered suicide because of academic despair but from there to actually doing it there’s quite a distance.

    It’s also very destructive to accuse people of things they didn’t do, insist that you know the real meaning of what they did, and so on.

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    • “people should realize that if they become contract employees they will be vulnerable forever”

      -That’s exactly what the problem is. There are no mechanisms in place to protect even those who have worked at a place for a decade. Princeton needs to start having some accountability here. If I were part of Calvo’s family, I’d be suing already.

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  3. The point is not to have mechanisms in place, and I am sure Princeton has the policy statements it needs to cover this.

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  4. Anonymous on said:

    This was not a non-renewal, as I understand it. He was terminated in the middle of the semester and someone else had to finish teaching his courses for the term.

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