When your teacher is famous, it’s completely acceptable to brag.
Some people achieve such success in intellectual and academic pursuits as writing or politics that an eventual college professorship seems natural: Maya Angelou, Allen Ginsburg, Condoleezza Rice, David Brooks, and Amal Clooney, for instance, have all taught college courses.
Far fewer people actually achieve celebrity status because of their work as professors and researchers (think: Stephen Hawking). So if you’re searching for fame and fortune, pursuing a career in academia might not be the wisest choice.
If the last few decades are any indication, however, the converse just might be true: it you’re searching for a career in academia, one clear path is to get very famous first. Consider the 11 celebrities on this list—talents from the worlds of entertainment, modeling, sports, and more—who have dedicated at least a fraction of their star-studded careers to playing the part of college professor.
Ever heard of her? The ultra powerful Winfrey was a professor at her hometown Chicago’s Kellogg School of Business at Northwestern University. She taught a course called Dynamics of Leadership with her partner, Steadman Graham.
In 2008, Spacey was named the (incredibly wordy) Cameron Mackintosh Visiting Professor of Contemporary Theatre at Oxford University in England. Having already spent time in Britain as artistic director for London’s Old Vic Theatre, The Usual Suspects star spent his year at Oxford conducting workshops, seminars, and lectures.
No, he did not teach at Trump University. He did stick close to home, however, teaching an acting course at Southampton University on Long Island in the summer of 2002.
This guy can’t stay away from schools (he’s got degrees from Columbia, NYU, UCLA, and more). But he’s not just a professional student. Franco teaches, too. He served as a professor at NYU, UCLA, and USC. With so much experience on both sides of the classroom, he might consider starting a school of his own.
The director and devoted New York Knicks fan—whose credits include “Malcolm X” and “He Got Game”—started teaching in 1991 at a little institution in Massachusetts called Harvard. He returned to his native New York City a few years later and continues both filmmaking as well as teaching, currently at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.
Call her America’s Next Top Professor. In May 2017, Tyra will head to Stanford University to teach a master’s course to business school student’s on building a personal brand. The television and fashion giant certainly knows a thing or two about the topic.
Based on her resume (Oscar winner, devoted mother to six children, United Nations ambassador) we’d hire Jolie for pretty much anything. But apparently she’s still not satisfied. In September 2017, Jolie will begin teaching at the prestigious London School of Economics in a brand new master’s program called the Centre for Women, Peace, and Security.
You wouldn’t guess it from some of his movie credits—you might recognize him from raunchy comedies such as “Van Wilder” and the “Harold and Kumar” series—but Penn's experience is about as impressive as Jolie’s. He has not only spent time as a professor at Penn (making him Penn Professor Penn), but he also served as President Obama’s Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement. Oh, and he also cooks.
This past autumn, the Oscar-winning actor started a collaborative effort, teaching a film class at his alma mater, the University of Texas, called Advanced Producing: Script-to-Screen. While he doesn’t teach every single time the class meets, we have a feeling McConaughey has another reason to be on campus that often in the fall.
The charismatic leader of The Roots, who are best known as the house band on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” has lived and breathed music from birth. His parents were both musicians, and he has been making it in the business since childhood. He’s worked with artists from Elvis Costello to Jay-Z. With such a pedigree, who better than Questlove to teach a class called Classic Albums at NYU?
He’s consistently listed among the 100 best NBA players of all time, having enjoyed a long and storied career after leaving the University of Michigan early to play professionally. But none of that makes his college professorship particularly surprising. What does make it surprising is this: not only did he never graduate, but he was actually banned from Michigan’s campus for years after being found guilty of participating in an illegal pay-for-play scandal while a student there.
Now he’s a Wake Forest professor who taught a master’s course on sports, race, and society (and a successful basketball commentator to boot).