NYU Professor José Angel Santana says that he was doing what any responsible academic would do when faced with a student who missed 12 out of 14 assignments: he gave him a “D”. The problem, he alleges, was that the student was Hollywood hunk James Franco (left) from “127 Hours.” He says that he was ridiculed by the star and fired by the school over the decision. Franco gained fame portraying James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause.
Santana was teaching “Directing the Actor II” classes and says that NYU “bent over backwards to create a Franco-friendly environment.” He says that other teachers gave him good grades despite his absences. Not only that, the school ended up having Franco teach a course.
By the way, when does getting an F on 12 out of 14 assignments translate into a “D”? Many professors would find that pretty generous.
It gets even more academically sordid from there. Santana alleges that Franco was given good grades in exchange for hiring one of his other professors, Jay Anania, to write and direct the film “William Vincent” — starring Franco. He also alleges a conflict of interest by the graduate film department chairman, John Tintori, for allegedly appearing in a cameo in a film financed by Franco and written and directed by Anania.
Santana states that “they’ve turned the NYU graduate film degree into swag for James Franco’s purposes, a possession, something you can buy.” Santana said.
Franco previously attracted attention when he was shown sleeping through classes on TMZ.
Here is the complaint: Santana Complaint
The first cause of action is “Discrimination Based on Race and Color Under Executive Law §296.”
The second cause of action is “Discrimination Based on Race and Color Under Administrative Code.”
The third cause of action is “Retaliation in Violation of Executive Law §296.”
The fourth, and final, cause of action is “Retaliation in Violation of Administrative Code.”
He is seeking both punitive and compensatory damages as well as declaratory.
The actor contests the allegations of his former professor and I expect that school is likely to vigorously deny that his employment problems were related to any special treatment for the actor.
The conflict issues are interesting. It is not uncommon for professors to incorporate students in projects. Indeed, it is encouraged in graduate schools. Here the professors are engaged in profit-making and professional activities with a student. That does raise some concerns. On the other hand, these professors are actors and directors — valued for their work in the craft of theater. Timing is everything in such controversies. Accepting a valuable professional position from a student in an active class — as opposed to a past class — would raise legitimate issues under most academic codes.
NYU has such a code with a conflicts section.
A conflict is defined as:
A Conflict of Interest, as discussed in greater detail in Sections IV and V, means any circumstance in which the personal, professional, financial or other interests of an individual (including the Immediate Family Members of the individual) may potentially or actually diverge from, or may be reasonably perceived as potentially or actually diverging from, his or her professional obligations to NYU and the interests of NYU. A Conflict of Interest may exist whenever an independent observer might reasonably question whether the individual’s professional actions or decisions, including the ethical and objective conduct of scholarship, research or clinical care, are determined by considerations of personal gain, financial or otherwise.
There are also rules governing gifts that could be alleged as relevant in such circumstances:
Gifts. Accepting gifts (including entertainment), a loan (other than an arm’s length loan made in the ordinary course of business from a banking or other financial institution) or a favor of more than nominal value from any person or entity with a business relationship, or seeking to have a business relationship with, NYU is a Conflict of Interest if the offer or acceptance of the gift could reasonably be viewed as intended to influence NYU to act favorably toward the person or entity. Acceptance of such gifts creates a Conflict of Interest.
Since many of the conflict rules relate to conflicts with the university, the “Conflict of Commitment” section may be more relevant here. The rules do state that “the specific responsibilities and professional activities that constitute an appropriate primary commitment to NYU will differ across schools and departments.” However, the rules state that a “Conflict of Commitment occurs when a faculty member’s Outside Activities compromise or may compromise his or her ability to meet the faculty member’s obligations to NYU.”
This will be an interesting lawsuit to watch.
Source: NY Post
FLOG THE BLOG: Have you voted yet for the top legal opinion blog? WE NEED YOUR VOTE! You can vote at HERE by clicking on the “opinion” category. Voting ends December 31, 2011.