Adalberto Lopez: The Historian Who Contemplated Suicide

Historians in the News

Matt Chayes & Rob Mintzes, in

The history professor sat on the edge of his bed, cowering. He’d decided that it was time to end his life. The depression had become too much to bear.

“I was one of the most engaged members of the faculty, before it crippled me,” Adalberto Lopez, 61, recalled. “Because of my cultural background and my arrogance as an intellectual, I thought I could get through it on my own.”

He couldn’t.

Because his depression literally became a matter of life or death.

“The turning point in the night was when I sat by my bed with a gun pointed at my temple,” Lopez said. “By then I had made the decision to kill myself. But I couldn’t do it.”

His marriage was in shambles, his friendships destroyed.

To show how profoundly the darkness hurt him, he melancholically pointed out to three visitors recently a filing cabinet still his Hinman College office that had contained his life’s masterwork. You see, in a fit of despair back during those dark days, he’d set ablaze the research notes he’d been gathering for decades. The inferno destroyed years of scholarship.

“I was locked into this nightmare of despair and hopelessness,” he said.

Shortly after he tried to take his life, he checked himself into the psychiatric ward of Binghamton General Hospital and began to re-examine his status at the University. His doctors put him on a cocktail of psychotropic drugs, which he takes to this day.

Such has been the saga of Associate Professor Lopez, who once won the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching.

It was his severe depression that prompted him to resign his tenured position at the BU history department, an anguish Lopez described in a letter to the president and the faculty that describes the beginnings of his illness.

Eventually, Lopez signed an agreement that ended his tenured career with Binghamton. The agreement that Lopez signed with the University stated that he can teach without publishing responsibilities for seven fall semesters beginning in 1998 and ending when he turns 62 next year.

He appealed to the history department, who he said informally rejected his appeal.

After the history department didn’t act on his attempt to continue as an adjunct and the dean and provost didn’t either, he drafted a lengthy and intensely personal memorandum to the president and the entire BU faculty.

“Over ten years ago ... I began a painful and disorienting descent into the darkness of clinical depression,” he wrote.

If his latest appeal, to SUNY central administrators in Albany, isn’t accepted — which isn’t terribly likely, Lopez concedes — he will be celebrating his birthday outside of the classroom....

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