Academia’s A-Listers

From Pulitzer Prize winners to former Secretaries of State, some of the world’s most influential minds have also established themselves as college professors.

By Sarah Emily Gilbert

There’s a key question involved in the college course selections for the upcoming semester – “Who’s the professor?” While most faculty require a quick search on the oft-used website ratemyprofessor.com, other names speak for themselves. Here, Princeton Magazine highlights an elite sampling of celebrity professors teaching courses this fall.

Jeffrey Eugenides photo by Karen Yama

Professor: Jeffrey K. Eugenides

Acclaimed American author known for his novels, short stories, and essays

Best known for:

Debut novel, The Virgin Suicides (1993)

Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel, Middlesex (2002)

The Marriage Plot (2011)

University:

Princeton University

Subject:

Creative Fiction Writing

Course:

Introductory Fiction

Course Description:

There’s nothing like kicking off a college career at Princeton University with writing critiques by American novelist Jeffrey Eugenides. In his creative writing course for freshmen at PU, Eugenides introduces students to contemporary literature through weekly reading exercises and biweekly manuscript reviews. There may not be any exams in this course, but with individual student-professor conferences scheduled at intervals throughout the semester, there’s no doubt that these young scribes will be put to the test.

Rice web

Professor: Condolezza Rice

Former Secretary of State of the U.S., George W. Bush’s National Security Advisor

Best known for:

Position as first female National Security Advisor (2000-2005)

Position as first African American Secretary of State (2005-2009)

Pioneering policy of Transformational Diplomacy while Secretary of State

University:

Stanford University

Subject:

Political Economy

Course:

Managing Global Political Risk

Course Description:

Professor Rice uses her knowledge from shaping one of the most aggressive U.S. foreign policies in our history to help Stanford students understand the political risks confronting today’s businesses. Complete with mini-simulations and weekly case studies, Rice’s course helps students get an idea of what it’s like to manage an international business while tackling issues like debt, cyber exploitation, and government coups.

Singer web

Professor: Peter A. Singer

Renowned Australian moral philosopher and controversial ethicist

Best known for:

Book on animal rights and liberation theory, Animal Liberation (1975)

Co-authoring hedonistic utilitarian book, The Point of View of the Universe (2014)

Provocative stance on infanticide

University:

Princeton University

Subject:

Philosophy

Course:

Practical Ethics

Course Description:

“Does a human embryo have a greater claim to protection than a chimpanzee? Should we be able to choose to end our own life if we are terminally ill?” These are just two of the weighty questions Professor Singer poses in his Practical Ethics course description. However, with an overwhelming 425 seats available in his class (half of which are already full), it’s clear that Princeton University students are eager to debate these issues with one of the world’s leading experts on practical ethics. If students are lucky enough to get into Singer’s class, they should be ready to deliver short oral precept presentations and complete two lengthy papers that defend their moral tenets.

Diaz web

Professor: Junot Diaz

Award winning author, fiction editor at Boston Review

Best known for:

Debut story collection, Drown (1996)

Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007)

Receiving MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship (2012)

University: Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Subject:

Comparative Media/ Creative Writing

Course:

Critical World Building

Course Description:

Study the design of constructed worlds for narrative media like television, fi lm, and literary texts with the sometimes controversial, but always entertaining Professor Diaz. Through the analysis of literature ranging from classic Gothic texts like Dracula to sci-fi favorites like A Princess of Mars, Diaz helps students understand the structure and function of imagined or invented worlds. As if the course couldn’t get any better, the prerequisites are watching Star Wars and reading The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Albright Web

Professor: Madeleine K. Albright

64th Secretary of State, U.S. politician and diplomat

Best known for:

Serving as U.S. Permanent Representative to the U.N. (1993-1997)

Serving as first female Secretary of State (1997- 2001)

Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama (2012)

University:

Georgetown University

Subject:

International Studies

Course:

America’s National Security Tool Box

Course Description:

Formulating foreign policy for the majority of her life, Professor Albright is known to inspire the hyper-intelligent International Studies and Government majors at Georgetown University in her seminar. Particularly challenging is Albright’s “U.N. Role Play” where students must formulate U.S. policy responses to foreign affairs crises. Despite the demanding syllabus, Albright’s course is often regarded as one of the best undergrad experiences of students’ Georgetown career.

West Web

Professor: Cornel R. West

Prominent philosopher, religion specialist, author, activist, and intellectual

Best known for:

New York Times bestsellers, Race Matters (1994), Democracy Matters (2004), and Brother West: Living and Loving Out Loud (2009)

Hollywood films, The Matrix and The Matrix Revolutions (2003)

Guest appearances on the Bill Maher Show, Colbert Report, CNN, C-Span, and Democracy Now

University:

Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York

Subject:

Philosophy and Christian Practice

Course:

Radical Love

Course Description:

As an eclectic thinker who is interested in the link between philosophy and pop culture, Professor West is more than qualifi ed to teach a course on radical love. His students will examine the theological, moral, and political conditions for the possibility of love in our times through the works of James Baldwin, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Tony Kushner, and others. Touching on a wide range of topics that the professor has studied, this course gives UTS students the full Cornel West experience.

schiesari web

Professor: Nancy Schiesari

Distinguished filmmaker, director and producer of five films for television, and cinematographer for over 30 documentaries

Best known for:

Production and direction of Green Flutes (1984) and Hansel Mieth: Vagabond Photographer (2003) documentaries Cinematography for Academy Award nominated documentary, Regret to Inform (1998)

Television Emmy-nominated cinematography for The Human Face (2002)

University:

The University of Texas at Austin

Subject:

Radio, Television, and Film

Course:

16mm Narrative Filmmaking

Course Description:

While some students might get anxious at the thought of their films being analyzed by an Academy-Award-nominated cinematographer, the wide-ranging expertise of Professor Schiesari makes her course well worth taking. Through a combination of workshops and in-class assignments, students hone their film production concepts and skills while developing an aesthetic analysis of the production process.

PaulMuldoonauthorphoto

Professor: Paul Muldoon

Irish poet, editor, critic, and translator

Best known for:

Pulitzer-Prize-winning book of poems, Moy Sand and Gravel (2003)

12 major collections of poetry

Position as Poetry Editor at The New Yorker

University:

Princeton University

Subject:

Creative Writing

Course:

Advanced Creative Writing (Poetry)

Course Description:

Deemed “The most significant English-language poet born since the Second World War” by The Times Literary Supplement, Professor Muldoon’s ability to cultivate the writing skills of Princeton’s best and brightest. With only ten spots available to English majors, Muldoon’s exclusive course gives students the opportunity to be critiqued by a world-renowned poet while offering a perspective on the place of literature among the liberal arts.

Gates web

Professor: Henry Louis “Skip” Gates Jr.

Premier U.S. Scholar of African American literature and African diasporic studies

Best known for:

Hosting PBS’s Wonders of the African World (1999), Black in Latin America (2011), and Finding Your Roots (2012)

News and Documentary Emmy Award for PBS docuseries, The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross (2013) Latest book, Finding Your Roots: The Official Companion to the PBS Series (2014)

University:

Harvard University

Subject:

English

Course:

Introduction to African American Studies

Course Description:

It’s only appropriate that Harvard undergrads are introduced to African American literature by one of its leading scholars, Henry Louis Gates Jr. Director of the W.E.B. DuBois Institute for African and African American Research, Gates shares his extensive knowledge of key African American texts and issues in this rigorous course. In addition, he has fellow Harvard faculty deliver guest lectures in their specialized area to broaden the range of disciplinary perspectives.