Did NYU Fire a Professor for Giving James Franco a D?

The Guardian:

A professor who was fired by New York University has filed a lawsuit claiming he was dismissed for giving celebrity student James Franco a D grade for poor attendance.

Dr José Angel Santana, who taught as an assistant arts professor on the actor’s graduate film course, says that Franco – who supplements his acting career with stints as a novelistinstallation artistfilm directorsoap star and part-time lecturer at NYU – attended just two of his 14 lectures on a course called Directing the Actor II. Santana alleges that the university has given the star preferential treatment because of his celebrity status. “The school has bent over backwards to create a Franco-friendly environment, that’s for sure,” he told the New York Post. “The university has done everything in its power to curry favour with James Franco.”

Santana also claims that Franco received good grades from his former colleagues despite similar levels of absence from their lectures. He says that this was in return for the publicity the actor’s enrolment has brought the school and because Franco has collaborated with faculty members on independent film projects. William Vincent, a drama starring Franco that was released in 2010, was directed by NYU professor Jay Anania. The film featured a walk-on part for John Tintori, the graduate film department chairman.

Your Thoughts?

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • noastronomer

    While I can’t argue about what grade James Franco did or did not deserve I don’t see anything in the article that links the grade to the firing. That’s going to be tough to prove, especially since NYU has fired a number of professors recently.

  • felicis

    IF that’s what he was fired for, then that was wrong. No professor (tenure or not) should worry about giving a (presumably) deserved bad grade.

    On the other hand – why is he grading on attendance in a graduate course? Perhaps graduate courses in the theater arts are different enough from those in the sciences that it is reasonably to grade on attendance, but right off the bat that smells a little funny to me.

    In the courses I teach, I never include attendance as part of the grade – but I teach calculus (or other math/stats courses) at an urban university. I don’t need to grade on attendance since a lack of attendance will generally result in a poor grade in any case. (I do have a fairly liberal absentee policy too – my one concern with assigning final grades is, ‘can the student actually do calculus well enough to use it in their follow-on classes?’)

    In general, I feel that ‘grading for attendance’ is a dick move by professors who are unable to keep an audience by virtue of their skill – if the students can learn the material with no interaction with you at all, should you punish them for that? As teachers, our goal should be student learning, not feeding our ego with a captive audience.

    Sorry – I’m a little tired this morning, I’ll stop rambling now…

    • Tim Naylor

      True that attendance isn’t requisite for all courses to be a “good student” but in a directing the actor course, I can’t see how you can do it without attending. As someone who’s taught filmmaking, it’s hands on and portfolio driven. You get graded by the work you do on screen or in a workshop. A standardized written exam does little to show whether you’ve grasped the techniques for directing an actor on screen or stage.

  • Michael D.

    Really attendance? I’ve always thought the idea of an attendance mark to be stupid in universities/colleges. The student is paying for the classes, the prof etc so if they don’t want to attend the lectures its only their own money they are wasting. Unless there is an important aspect of participation to the class like the labs in science classes (for all I know there is with this) I don’t see a problem with skipping the classes.

    Missed tests, assignments etc fine but attendance?

  • Didaktylos

    Am I supposed to have heard of James Franco?

  • hylidae

    My first reaction upon reading this story is that there are likely numerous circumstances beyond just what is alleged in the lawsuit that lead to Dr. José Angel Santana’s dismissal. A quick google search seems to suggest that NYU has not yet issued an official statement on the matter, so I am curious as to what their rebuttal might be.

    I do admit that I may be falling prey to my own wishful thinking, as the alternative (that NYU could be so thoroughly academically bankrupt) is a little too horrific for me first thing in the morning.

  • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

    Attendance certainly matters in a philosophy class. It’s not just a bunch of facts to master but a way of reasoning to engage in with other people.

    I imagine a class on acting or directing would be one that similarly is supposed to involve participation that cannot be achieved by simply learning what’s in a textbook.

    If you can go study a math text or a biology text and don’t need to transcribe lectures which are verbatim the textbook, then maybe that’s possible. I don’t know though, I didn’t major in those subjects.

  • felicis

    Having master’s degrees in both mathematics and biology, the material at a graduate level is difficult enough that you really ought (for the majority of people) not miss a class. The lectures generally do add (unless the instructor is truly horrible, which happens) to the text.

    But attendance being a good idea and being a part of the grade are two different things. Not a single one of my graduate classes ever used attendance as part of the grade. I cannot really remember how many of my undergraduate courses did, but certainly it was less important in the upper-division (Junior-Senior) courses to the point where I don’t ever recall it being an issue.

    And I take issue with your characterization of any graduate course as “It’s …. just a bunch of facts to master.” Or even most undergraduate courses – that is not generally the case with the possible exception of some of the gen-ed service classes.

    Was attendance part of the grade for your graduate courses, however important attendance was? In the case of Mr. Franco, how would you, as an instructor, work around his schedule? Or would you simply say, *tough* if you don’t show up x-number-of-times, you will fail the course – even if you are able to master the material and produce great arguments?

  • http://absweetmarie@twitter.com Marie Mahoney

    The teeny, tiny detail that this guy was a “visiting” professor seems not to be reported anywhere. It seems possible, even likely he was not on a tenure track. NYU has admitted to not having renewed his contract. So what? It happens all the time. (Just ask anyone you know with a PhD who has been looking for years for a full-time, permanent teaching gig.)

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      (Just ask anyone you know with a PhD who has been looking for years for a full-time, permanent teaching gig.)

      Are you looking at me?

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Seriously, though, it is even worse if this turns out to be a story of contingent faculty being let go for political reasons. It would only stress the precariousness and unfairness of the position we are in that an administration could capriciously fire us because of the complaints of a diva student about his grade.


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