News broke earlier this week that James Franco’s “Directing The Actor II” professor, Dr. Jose Angel Santana, is suing NYU after allegedly being fired for giving him a D. Santana claims the bad grade was given because James missed 12 out of 14 classes during the semester and that Franco was given special treatment because of his celebrity status. Santana was fired at the end of the semester, and NYU actually hired James “as a lecturer on how to adapt poetry into short films.” That little tidbit probably didn’t make Santana too happy.
I have a hard time believing that Santana was fired for giving James Franco a bad grade, especially knowing how much schools take into consideration student evaluations and other factors. It seems silly for a school to fire a professor based on a celebrity, especially given accounts from his other professors like R. John Williams, his English professor and advisor at Yale.
Williams says that he was not only shocked that a university would fire a professor because of a grade he gave a student, but also that James received a D for missing class. He conducted a directed reading discussion with James and another student with a pretty extensive reading list. But during this semester, James was filming Oz, the Great and Powerful. Williams wasn’t comfortable just having the discussions over the phone, so they agreed to video conference calls. James only missed one and offered to make it up, but Williams told him no. Then during the week his father died, James still attended the meeting.
Williams recounts a trip that he took with the other student to the Oz film set to find that James was always reading. He says, “So when you see James’s character with his arm trapped under a rock in 127 Hours, what you don’t see is that there was an assigned reading under the rock with it. When he’s playfully wrestling with a genetically-enhanced chimpanzee in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, just off to the right of the shot was a stack of books.” This doesn’t surprise me as James is one of the few celebrities to actually take education seriously.
He has an MFA from Columbia University, which he attended at the same time he was studying filmmaking at NYU and fiction writing at Brooklyn College. He’s also a PhD student at Yale, where he attended class instead of watching the 2011 Academy Awards announcement. James will be attending the University of Houston doctoral program for creative writing and literature. There’s no question that James is serious about learning, even producer Judd Apatow said on the set of Pineapple Express, “He’s a very education-minded person. We used to laugh because in between takes he’d be reading The Iliad on set. We still haven’t read The Iliad. It was a very difficult book.”
Yeah, most people wouldn’t be able to enroll in three schools at once, so that’s probably some special treatment. But why shouldn’t a celebrity be able to get an education? I just don’t see a legitimate claim behind Santana’s lawsuit. It seems more like he got fired for something else and was pissed so he wants his 15-minutes.