The Most Famous Professors (Actually) Teaching Today

Posted January 24, 2013

Most of us are familiar with the hotshot professors out there, the Maya Angelous and the Noam Chomskys. Trouble is, these glamorous academics are either too busy, too old, or both to bother setting foot into a classroom anymore for more than a brief special guest lecture. Still, a few lucky college students out there will get the chance this semester (and hopefully many more semesters after that) to actually be taught by these world-renowned people from the areas of politics, the arts, Wall Street, and more.

  1. Michael Porter:

    In a (somewhat fawning) article about how he is still going strong at 65, Forbes recently called Michael Porter "the most famous and influential business professor who has ever lived" and "the all-time greatest strategy guru." At Harvard, he holds the title of Bishop William Lawrence University Professor at HBS and he’s an award-winning contributor to the famous Harvard Business Review. This spring he’s slated to impart his vast knowledge to pupils in his class "The Microeconomics of Competitiveness: Firms, Clusters, and Economic Development."

  2. James Franco:

    This actor-slash-author-slash-artist-slash-college professor may be teaching today, but don’t count on him being there tomorrow. The Freaks and Geeks star first entered the teaching ranks in 2011 at NYU heading up a graduate film course. Apparently he got the bug, because in fall 2012 USC students got the exciting news that Franco was bringing his talents to SoCal. Together with his business partner, Franco will help eight young directors create short films "exploring the unknown, the unexplained and the unimaginable" in a course called "The Labyrinth."

  3. Cornel West:

    If there’s such a thing as a rock star professor, West is it. The guy has written 20 books, was in two Matrix movies and an episode of 30 Rock, does spots on Craig Ferguson, and has received over 20 honorary degrees. In the fall of 2011, West announced he was leaving Princeton for Union Theological Seminary to be a Professor of Philosophy and Christian Practice. This spring he’ll be molding young minds in two courses: "The Historical Philosophy of W.E.B. Du Bois" and "The Philosophical Theology of Abraham Joshua Heschel."

  4. Condoleezza Rice:

    As the Secretary of State, this Stanford prof was once fourth in line to be the leader of the free world had that pretzel proven fatal to President Bush. Other than making news for her presidential endorsement (Romney), Condi stays busy with her teaching schedule as the Denning Professor in Global Business and Economy in the Graduate School of Business. She’s listed a teaching six courses this spring, which sounds like a lot except they’re mainly directed reading courses for grad students. The best chance for students to hear from her this spring is by taking the one-week GSBGEN 588: "Crisis Management on the World Stage."

  5. Leonard Maltin:

    Every Thursday at 7 p.m. in the Eileen Norris Cinema Theatre building, over 350 seats will be full of kids crowding in to see films before they hit theaters and hear this famous film critic interview some of Hollywood’s biggest players. In previous semesters, students have gotten sneak previews of Lord of the Rings, Up in the Air, Tangled, and Bridesmaids and gotten just yards away from Nic Cage, Orlando Bloom, and Judd Apatow. Needless to say, "CTCS 466 Theatrical Film Symposium" is one of USC’s most popular courses.

  6. Jeremy Siegel:

    When CNN, NPR, or any other media outlet needs a scholarly source for a comment on the markets, time after time they turn to this professor of finance at Penn’s Wharton business school. When budding businesspeople need to be reminded whether it’s the bull or the bear that’s the good one, they turn to his Finance 101 class. This spring you’ll find Siegel at the front of the "Monetary Economics and the Global Economy" class on Mondays and Wednesdays from 10:30 to noon.

  7. Questlove:

    NYU may have lost James Franco, but this spring they’ll be treated to the presence of a certain drummer for The Roots. Questlove (sorry, Quest, the only punctuation we recognize in a name is an apostrophe) will be directing "’Classic Albums" at the Clive Davis Institute for Recorded Music in the School of the Arts. The students will be studying records like Prince’s "Dirty Mind" and Michael Jackson’s "Off the Wall" (what, no "Things Fall Apart"?) to investigate what gives an album a long shelf life, from lyrics to marketing.

  8. Temple Grandin:

    As far as we know, the "most well-known adult with autism in the world" will be back at her old stomping grounds this spring to teach "Livestock Behavior" at Colorado State University. She is in such demand as a speaker, though, it can be difficult to say where she’ll be on a given day, whether it’s chatting it up with the folks at NPR or inspiring audiences at TED conferences. But she’s been a fixture on the Fort Collins campus for over 20 years, and you can bet there will be some sad Rams when she turns in her spurs.

  9. Michael Sandel:

    Although relatively unknown professors are starting to gain celebrity for teaching online, this Harvard prof is one of the few who was already famous before porting his work to the Web. Sandel has been called a "rock-star moralist" and the "master of life’s big questions." He’s taught 15,000 students in-person at Harvard, and countless more have viewed his lectures online. This spring it doesn’t look like the class is in Sandel’s lineup; instead he’ll be teaming up with another professor to teach two sections of "Ethics, Biotechnology, and the Future of Human Nature."

  10. Jill Biden:

    Since the First Lady seems more concerned with obesity, the Vice President’s wife (the Second Lady?) has apparently picked up the banner of reading from Laura Bush, just on a smaller scale. Jill Biden joined the English department faculty of Northern Virginia Community College in the spring of 2009, having taught at Northern Virginia Community College for 15 years and in high school for 13 years before that. This term has her taking on "Critical Reading and Study Skills" and "College Composition I" (for which she will be well-compensated).

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