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. 

16 comments:

Pagan Topologist said...

This is really horrifying. The AAUP needs to get involved, too, since thay consider any faculty member with that much experience to be entitled to the same protection as tenured faculty. Or at least they used to.

Clarissa said...

This is not the first time I see administrators do this to people. Instead of informing them in advance that their contract will not be renewed, which will give them a chance to find another job, they fire them right after the job market closes. This creates a threat of deportation within WEEKS.

cinemanovo said...

My family has observed that private schools have a lot more leeway to get away with this kind of thing.

Clarissa said...

State universities all over the country are firing tenured professors, so I don't think this is a private vs public dichotomy.

cinemanovo said...

That's a different matter: program reduction and so on.

kittywampus said...

Clarissa is right that this trend afflicts all universities, public and private. Non-tenure-line faculty are by far the majority at American universities (close to 70%, according to the AAUP) and administrators like it that way because they (we) are disposable. Tenure is being hollowed out through the use of contingent faculty. Florida is mounting a full-on assault against tenure in its state universities, but a frontal attack is hardly necessary when you look at the numerical decline of tenure-line faculty.

I am very fortunate in that my job is safe for next year, and even if it weren't, I'm a U.S. citizen. But I really feel for Dr. Calvo and his loved ones.

cine said...

I am a union organizer and I know. The thing about this particular case is how they appear to have done it.

Clarissa said...

cine: You are being very cryptic, my friend.

I've seen the exact same thing being done to people at other universities, so I don't understand why everybody finds the story to be so mysterious.

cinemanovo said...

Well, nonrenewal of contract for people not on the tenure track happens every day, for lots of reasons. Cause is often not given publicly and this can be for good or bad reasons (e.g. protect privacy, or hide iniquity).

Events like the closing of whole departments, dismissal of all faculty due to program reduction, are different.

What strikes me about this case is that there appears to have been some sort of cabal at the administrative level. Note that the department wanted to keep this person and had done so for a long time. This is where it looks really bad. Not that it can't be done and so on, and not that the AAUP can necessarily fix it, but it looks quite bad nonetheless.

You have to look at the policy statements and faculty handbooks of the school in question to see what sort of procedural recourse there is. I've noticed a huge variety. I've also noticed that visible public universities really do have to follow the law more closely, are subject to more laws, etc.

Anonymous said...

Now the architects of this disaster need time to create a short caring note for the donors to read. Funny thing everyone thinks the Princeton experience is about having a great professor like Dr Calvo . The executioners hide behind the joy these professors create. Princeton is really about the way Dr. Calvo was treated. The whisper campaign the silence and the well crafted humiliation that broke the man. Keep blogging. The Star Chamber needs to retire.

Anonymous said...

Justice? Are you kidding there is no justice when the Nanny Deans decide your fate over a formal coffee klatch assembly. In order to preserve the new order everything is rubber stamped and this white male didnt stand a chance. First the Nannies decide your fate. Then they create the paper work to hang (privacy and private institution status protects the assembly). No communication with the victim or his department.The victim's fate and his passion blow in the wind. The victim senses he is going to be destroyed but no it cant be can it months pass? Then the decision is handed down in the Star Chamber and released at the end of the year when its too late to find a job or preserve your integrity. Escorted out like a criminal the Nannies have spoken. More silence. Then the whisper campaign 'what could he have done to deserve this' And in his case shipped back because of his Visa status, he is ruined his entire social network cut off. Not even a dog is treated in this disgusting despicable manner. Why because he displeased the Nannies of education.The finger pointers. Take a good look at them on graduation day. The revolting power processional. Everyone who knows this man knows that he represents everything Princeton once was a passionate brilliant educator too bad he is a male. The institution is harboring heartless, brutal souls. Shame on those who stand by protecting their pensions in silence. The Tiger has been neutered and replaced. Congratulations ladies you broke him.

Clarissa said...

OK, I get what you are saying but where do you find the gender aspect here? I've seen such things happen in different universities. It is now routine in academia to dispose of people this way. But it is not a gender thing at all. People of both genders get tossed out like this all the time. It happens to women more because the majority of exploited lecturers, adjuncts and instructors are women.

Anonymous said...

This is not about other schools. Open your eyes it is what it is. Betcha they figured he'd be on a plane without the resources to sue (chuckle chuckle) as they patted themselves on the back for wrapping this one up in a tidy package. No muss no fuss. This was political correctness the industry at work. How many women are running the show at the university?

Clarissa said...

If you think that there is a university on this continent where women run the show, then you haven't been part of the system for long.

The way Dr. Calvo was treated was absolutely inhumane, wrong, appalling and unforgivable. However, I see no reason to turn it into a gender issues. This can happen to any untenured worker at any time. As indeed it does.

Anonymous said...

Everything you have said is correct however it doesnt apply to this situation that is all. Remember there is always a back story in life. None of this brings him back but he is surely worth an investigation by outsiders so please don't be too quick to dismiss all that has been written you would be surprised by how power corrupts. Gender and Power go hand in hand here.

Clarissa said...

I'm all for an outside investigation. Princeton, though? I don't think there is a huge chance of that.

When I was choosing a grad school senior colleagues insisted that I did not apply to Princeton because the Spanish department there is "a snake pit." I'm no seeing the truth of that statement.