New York University representatives say Jose Angel Santana was not dismissed because of a grade he had given to James Franco, despite claims the former professor made in a lawsuit against the school.
Santana had last week sued NYU for wrongful termination, racial discrimination and harassment. He said that he was fired after he gave the actor a D for failing to attend 12 out of 14 directing classes he had taught in 2010. Franco earned a master's degree in film production from the university in May and taught a graduate class himself this past fall.
Santana said his supervisor, John Tintori, Chair of the Graduate Film Program at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, "immediately sided with Franco" and used the incident as an opportunity to "further isolate" him and treat him "disparately" based on his race and color. The former professor, who is of African and Cuban descent, said he was later relieved of his teaching duties.
"The most prominent allegation - that Jose Angel Santana was fired because of a grade he gave a student - is false," Tintori said in a statement on Thursday, December 22. "Professor Santana has not been fired; like other assistant arts professors, he had a three-year contract - which is still in force, and under which he is still being paid - and Tisch chose not to renew that contract."
"The non-renewal of his contract had nothing to do with any grade he assigned to any student, nor did it have anything to do with his ethnicity, which he also claims," Tintori added.
An NYU spokesperson also issued a statement about Santana's lawsuit, calling his claims "false and ridiculous."
Santana began working as an assistant visiting arts professor and as Head of Acting at NYU in September 2008. The New Jersey resident says in his lawsuit that he believes he was "the only full-time professor of color" in his department. He is suing for monetary, compensatory and punitive damages and other fees.
He says he was "afforded less favorable conditions of employment in relation to his predominantly Caucasian colleagues." Santana earned an annual salary of $70,000, which he said was lower than what his peers earned. He said he was later demoted, given a pay cut, barred from faculty meetings and eventually denied reappointment. (See more details about Jose Angel Santana's lawsuit against NYU, filed at Manhattan's Supreme Court on December 16.)
"After the routine contract review, we chose not to renew his contract," the NYU statement said. "It is not appropriate to go into the details of the review - they are private personnel matters - but it had nothing to do with any grade he gave to any student, nor did this decision have anything to do with the fact that he is a Latino, his other claim."
"We find it deeply unprofessional, regrettable, and disappointing that any faculty member - present or past - would publicly discuss any student's grades for the purpose of his or her lawsuit's publicity," the statement added.
Santana is an actor himself. He played a boutique owner in the 1985 film "Desperate Seeking Susan," which starred Madonna, and appeared in the 1986 movie "Jumpin' Jack Flash." Santana also had small parts on shows such as "Beverly Hills, 90210" and "Miami Vice."
During his time as an NYU student, Franco developed a film called "The Broken Tower" as part of his graduate thesis. He also filmed the movie "Shadows & Lies," which featured Tintori and was directed and written by another one of his professors, Jay Anania.
Franco also holds an M.F.A. in writing from Columbia University and is pursuing a Ph.D. in English at Yale. He also became a college instructor. He began teaching a directing course at NYU this past fall. His 12 students were asked to create a film based on a poem by Pulitzer prize-winning poet, C.K. Williams.
"This class and film was an experiment," student Shruti Ganguly wrote in an article posted on Indiewire.com on December 20. "It was challenging as we were creating something in a way that had never been done before, especially within an academic system."
Meanwhile, Franco continues to act and is in talks to play Playboy founder Hugh Hefner in a cameo role in the new film "Lovelace," a movie about adult film actress Linda Lovelace, who starred in the famous movie "Deep Throat," according to Variety. Amanda Seyfried is set to portray the female star, while Sharon Stone will play her mother, Peter Sarsgaard will star as her husband and Hank Azaria will play a director.