Walking onto campus on Jan. 29, students were met with an unexpected change — the mural on the south side of the Student Center, painted by alumnus James Franco in October 2014, had been painted over. A few days later, several Franco paintings in the Media Arts Center (MAC) were also taken down. While this had been a change mulled over by students and staff in light of recent sexual assault allegations against Franco, most students hadn’t expected the mural’s removal to happen so hastily and covertly, if at all.
Admittedly, taking down these murals did not impair the quality of our education. It didn’t affect our day-to-day proceedings, except when a quick glance at the Student Center revealed a blank wall instead of the familiar black and white artistic rendering of football players.
However, there is cause for concern. The danger of having the mural painted over is the precedent it sets: with enough pressure, the Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) and Paly administration will bend to the will of loud community members regardless of the thoughts of students.
Of course, listening to the community’s opinions is important when making decisions that will affect the student body. Given the acrimonious community reaction online to the allegations against Franco, we can presume that Diorio was reacting in part to pressure to shield Paly from the negative Franco publicity. However, community pressure should also be taken and considered with a grain of salt — often, the angriest voices are the loudest, and drown out the more quiet, pragmatic ones.
With a controversial topic that hits so close to home, it is imperative that administrators create dialogue with students instead of giving in to community pressures. While parents and community members may have students’ best interests in mind, they cannot speak for us.
Although Diorio had asked the Associated Student Body (ASB) for their opinion, the general consensus was to change the location of Franco’s murals, but not remove them completely. However, she did not follow their advice, and even if she did, ASB’s sentiments do not necessarily represent those of the entire student body.
Consulting students may have ultimately led to the same outcome of removing the mural, but it would have been much better received if the student body had had the opportunity to voice its opinions and had been aware of the administration’s decision regarding the painting and the MAC murals before hasteful action was taken.
This is not to say that the administration hasn’t made well-informed, carefully-considered decisions in the past. The Campanile applauds our administrators’ long-term efforts in redesigning the bell schedule, for example, by establishing a committee of students and teachers, administering a school-wide survey and extending the decision-making process over two school years.
Taking multiple school years to implement an important change was a smart decision — choices like these should not be rushed with limited communication between administration and the student body like the Franco decision was.
We urge administrators to take similar care with all major decisions in the future. Instead of resorting to knee-jerk reactions influenced by the loudest community members that may cause backlash and regret, we hope future important decisions will include student voices as well. We only need to look at the aftermath of the Parkland shooting to understand the value of constructive student voices.
We understand administrators are often forced to make tough decisions while constricted by time restraints and under immense pressure from all sides. However, the next time PAUSD is stuck in an important predicament, we urge the administration to take more time to ponder complex issues before rushing towards drastic change.