A-List Professors

This fall, Spike Lee, Bobby Flay, Zadie Smith, and Eliot Spitzer go back to school. VIEW OUR GALLERY of big names on campus.

Saez Pascal / Sipa

Saez Pascal / Sipa

Zadie Smith

In her latest critically acclaimed novel, On Beauty, Zadie Smith skewers academia for its pomposity. But the award-winning British writer can’t seem to leave the university fold. She’s an adjunct professor at Columbia. This past spring, Smith taught a writing course called Sense and Sensibility, in which, according to the syllabus, students “read a selection of very good 20th-century novels (and one book of poems) concentrating on whatever is most particular to them, in the hope that this might help us understand whatever is most particular to us.” And next fall, she’ll join NYU’s Creative Writing Program as a full professor. The university also recently signed up celebrity authors Jonathan Lethem and Jonathan Safran Foer to be writers in residence.

Newscom; AP Photo

Alberto Gonzales (Texas Tech University)/John Yoo (UC-Berkeley Law School)

These former Bushies might be controversial, but they’ve still been hired to mold the minds of the next generation. Former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales—who resigned in 2007 amid the U.S. attorneys firing scandal—has begun teaching political science at Texas Tech this semester. More than 40 professors at the university signed a petition objecting to his appointment. “It is unclear what Gonzales has done that makes him deserving of employment at Texas Tech,” the petition read. Meanwhile, John Yoo—author of many of the Bush administration’s “torture memos,” who’s been accused of war crimes—has taught at Berkeley’s law school since 1993. This term, he’s teaching a course on civil procedure.

AP Photo

Bobby Flay

The Food Network star will be demonstrating his culinary skills before a new audience this year: students. Chef Flay is returning to the French Culinary Institute in New York City—where, in 1984, he was a student in its first-ever class—as a visiting lecturer.

AP Photo

Eliot Spitzer

The disgraced former New York governor has taken on a new role as an adjunct professor of political science at City College of New York, where he’ll teach 24 budding politicos lucky enough to have made the grade. Spitzer’s class, “Law and Public Policy,” began last week, and will touch on subjects like “distributive justice and international integration.” And lest anyone worry that he will put his teaching fee to bad use, the former governor announced he will donate the money back to the school for scholarships.

AP Photo

E.L. Doctorow

For decades, students have been studying E.L. Doctorow’s fiction, including critically acclaimed works like Ragtime and City of God. And for years, the award-winning historical novelist—whose latest novel Homer & Langley was published last month—has also had the power to assign them himself. After holding teaching positions at UC-Irvine, Sarah Lawrence, Yale and Princeton, Doctorow, 78, recently accepted a senior faculty position with NYU’s English department. His upcoming courses include "Craft of Fiction," a graduate-level creative writing class.

Francois Durand / Getty Images

David Plouffe

The man Barack Obama called the “unsung hero” of his revolutionary grassroots campaign will be available to answer the pesky questions of Harvard students beginning this fall. Plouffe is a visiting fellow at the university’s Institute of Politics, which means he’ll have plenty of time to work on his book, The Audacity to Win. Plouffe was known as a master of staying on message during the campaign—let’s see if any of his new students manage to pump as-yet-untold campaign dirt out of him.

AP Photo

Michael Pollan

For the past few years, Michael Pollan—author of the bestselling In Defense of Food and The Omnivore’s Dilemma—has taught at Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism. Fittingly, one of his courses is called Following the Food Chain; it covers topics like factory farming, animal rights, antibiotic resistance, agricultural pollution and the obesity epidemic. Another is Narrative Science Journalism. Of course, a foodie’s courses wouldn’t be complete without, well, food. “Every week a different student prepares a meal or a snack for us that tells a story,” he told Writing on the Edge, a journal published by UC-Davis, in 2006. “ So my teaching has definitely cross-pollinated with my writing.”

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Henry Louis Gates Jr.

Professor Gates was a famous figure on Harvard’s campus long before his confrontation with Sgt. James Crowley rocketed him into the national spotlight. Unlike many library-bound professors, Gates palled around with stars like Oprah (and helped her find her roots for his popular PBS documentary), and charmed students with his dry sense of humor. Gates will be teaching the introductory course "African and African-American Studies 10" in the spring.

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Madeleine Albright

The former secretary of State is known for marching into class with several newspapers under her arm and then getting her students to “ role play” foreign-policy discussions. She is the Mortara Distinguished Professor of Diplomacy at Georgetown University and teaches a popular course, "American National Security Tool Box."

AP Photo

Spike Lee

Lee made his classroom debut at Harvard in the early 1990s, after he had already directed Do the Right Thing and Malcolm X. The students greeted him as a rock star—about 1,800 came out to hear his first lecture, and hundreds were turned away at the door. The award-winning director now teaches "Master Series: Directing Strategies" to a lucky few at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.