25 Most Famous College Professors Teaching Today

What do you look for in a prospective college or university? If you research accreditation, size and location of the school, then you’re doing great. But, you might also want to learn more about the professors who teach at the school of your choice. Are they published? Is their work cited in other scholarly publications? Are they famous — perhaps, even infamous?

The following list of twenty-five most famous college teachers who currently teach today contains presidents, prime ministers, poets, economists and activists. Some professors are well-established and internationally known and teach at Ivy League colleges. Others are quickly making names for themselves in fields that may interest you, and still other teach at smaller colleges. The list is in alphabetical order by surname, and each link leads to a Web page that displays his or her status.

  1. Madeleine AlbrightAlbright, Madeleine
    • Georgetown University Walsh School of Foreign Service, Washington, D.C.
    • Mortara Distinguished Professor of Diplomacy
    • Madeleine Albright was the first woman ever to hold the post of U.S. Secretary of State from 1997-2001. Before this stint, in 1982, she joined the faculty of Georgetown University as a research professor of international affairs and director of women students enrolled in the foreign service program at the university’s School of Foreign Service. On May 13, 2007, two days before her 70th birthday, Albright received an honorary doctor of laws degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  2. Maya AngelouAngelou, Maya
    • Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, North Carolina
    • Reynolds Professorship of American Studies
    • Angelou is an American autobiographer and poet who has been called “America’s most visible black female autobiographer.” Angelou has been highly honored for her body of work, including being awarded over 30 honorary degrees and the nomination of a Pulitzer Prize for her 1971 volume of poetry, Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘Fore I Diiie. Since 1991, Angelou has taught at Wake Forest University as recipient of the first lifetime Reynolds Professorship of American Studies, and since the 1990s she has made around eighty appearances a year on the lecture circuit. The Maya Angelou Center for Health Equity at Wake Forest University School of Medicine is addressing one of the most compelling demographic trends in modern American history — the increasing diversity of the U.S. population.
  3. J. Scott ArmstrongArmstrong, J. Scott
    • Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania
    • Professor of Marketing
    • This professor is internationally known for his pioneering work on forecasting methods. He is author of Long-Range Forecasting, the most frequently cited book on forecasting methods, and Principles of Forecasting, voted the “Favorite Book — First 25 Years” by researchers and practitioners associated with the International Institute of Forecasters. Recently, Armstrong challenged the former vice president to a 10-year bet, in which $10,000 from the two would be set aside in escrow as Gore pits his forecast of how much global temperature will increase during that time against a so-called “naive model,” in which temperature would be expected to stay the same.
  4. Bill AyersAyers, Bill
    • College of Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago
    • Distinguished Professor of Education and Senior University Scholar
    • William Charles Ayers became even more famous than usual when a controversy arose over his contacts with candidate Barack Obama during the 2009 presidential campaign. Ayers is known for his current work in education reform, curriculum, and instruction. However, he was involved with the development of the Weather Underground in the 1960s, and this involvement has come back to haunt him. Ayers earned an M.Ed from Bank Street College, an M.Ed from Teachers College, Columbia University and an Ed. D from Teachers College, Columbia University.
  5. Jose Maria AznarAznar, Jose Maria
    • Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Policy at Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.
    • Distinguished Scholar in the Practice of Global Leadership
    • Aznar served as the Prime Minister of Spain from 1996 to 2004. Born in Madrid in 1953, Aznar studied law at the Complutense University of Madrid, and by 1990 he was confirmed as leader of the People’s Party. On 19 April 1995, Aznar’s armored car prevented him from being assassinated by an ETA bomb. In his Georgetown position, he teaches two seminars per semester on contemporary European politics and trans-Atlantic relationships in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service. Additionally, he teaches a course on political leadership, convened by Professor Carol Lancaster, with former Polish President Kwasniewski.
  6. Jimmy CarterCarter, Jimmy
    • Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia
    • University Distinguished Professor
    • After serving as the thirty-ninth president of the United States, James Earl Carter, Jr. became University Distinguished Professor at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, and founded The Carter Center. Actively guided by President Carter, the nonpartisan and nonprofit Center addresses national and international issues of public policy. The Carter Center fellows, associates, and staff join with President Carter in efforts to resolve conflict, promote democracy, protect human rights, and prevent disease and other afflictions. On December 10, 2002, the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to Mr. Carter “for his decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts…”
  7. Noam ChomskyChomsky, Noam
    • Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
    • Institute Professor and Professor Emeritus of Linguistics
    • Chomsky is well known in the academic and scientific community as one of the fathers of modern linguistics. Since the 1960s, he has become known more widely as a political dissident, an anarchist and a libertarian socialist intellectual. Chomsky earned a BA in 1949 and an MA in 1951 from the University of Pennsylvania. Among his achievements and memberships, Chomsky is a member of the Faculty Advisory Board of MIT Harvard Research Journal.
  8. Jay CravenCraven, Jay
    • Marlboro College, Vermont
    • Professor of film studies
    • Jay Craven is a Vermont film director and screenwriter, known for telling local stories on a modest budget, often with award-winning results. He has adapted several of the novels of author Howard Frank Mosher to film, and uses local actors — including a regular troupe of Vermont actors within Tantoo Cardinal and Rusty DeWees; however, he also has worked with Rip Torn and Kris Kristofferson. Craven also runs Kingdom County Productions, his own production company and founded Catamounts Arts, a Vermont community arts organization in 1975
  9. Henry GatesGates, Henry Louis, Jr.
    • Harvard University
    • W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Studies
    • Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., one of the nation’s pre-eminent African-American scholars, is an American literary critic, educator, scholar, writer, editor and public intellectual. As a prominent black intellectual, Gates has focused throughout his career on building academic institutions to study black culture. Additionally, he has worked to bring about social, educational, and intellectual equality for black Americans. While Gates already has made a name for himself, he became very well known when he was arrested at his home by Cambridge police investigating a possible break-in in 2009. Charges were dropped, but the arrest garnered such national attention that it led to an invitation by President Barack Obama to the White House for a beer to discuss race relations.
  10. Al GoreGore, Al
    • Middle Tennessee State University
    • Teaches course, “Community Building: A Comprehensive Family CenteredApproach.”
    • Al Gore, former Vice-President and environmental activist, joined the faculty of Middle Tennessee State University in January 2001, and he holds similar teaching appointments at Columbia University, New York, and Fisk University, Nashville. At MTSU, he is a visiting professor under the auspices of the John Seigenthaler Chair of Excellence in First Amendment Studies. The Gore Research Center on the Middle Tennessee State University campus houses the official papers of Gore’s late father as well as those of a number of other individuals.
  11. Temple GrandinGrandin, Temple
    • Colorado State University
    • Professor of Animal Science
    • Perhaps more well known for her autism, Dr. Grandin also has made her mark as a a philosophical leader of the animal welfare movement. Her business website has entire sections on how to improve standards in slaughter plants and livestock farms. In 2004 she won a “Proggy” award, in the “visionary” category, from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Grandin has also been featured on major television programs, such as ABC’s Primetime Live, the Today Show, and Larry King Live. Dr. Grandin is a designer of livestock handling facilities that have been used throughout the world. All this from a woman who could not talk until she was age three.
  12. Dennis GreenGreen, Dennis
    • San Diego State University
    • Teaches course, “Community Building: A Comprehensive Family Centered Approach.”
    • Former coach of the Minnesota Vikings and the Arizona Cardinals, Green now teaches the Sports Business Management MBA program’s Strategic Management course. Green graduated cum laude with a BA in finance from The University of Iowa. According to Green, he was planning to be a high school teacher if his football career didn’t pan out. During the semester, students will work on a major project where they will develop a group presentation suggesting a viable solution to the stadium improvement issue currently facing the city of San Diego and the San Diego Chargers. The proposed solution will be based on classroom interaction with local experts involved with the issue and their own research conducted outside the classroom.
  13. Daniel JohnsonJohnson, Daniel K. N.
    • Colorado College, Colorado Springs, Colorado
    • Associate Professor in Economics and Business
    • This associate professor has made his claim to fame with what was, at first, an exploratory project in 2000. He wanted to see whether economic variables could predict the medal winnings for each country in the 2000 summer Olympics. For each summer and winter Olympics since that year, Mr. Johnson’s medal count predictions have been remarkably accurate — to 97 percent. He was written up in the Wall St. Journal in 2008, and he has offered his predictions for the 2010 Winter Olympics. Johnson earn his MSc at London School of Economics, and his Ph.D. at Yale University in 1998.
  14. Spike LeeLee, Spike
    • Kanbar Institute of Film & Television at Tisch School of the Arts in New York City
    • Artistic director of the Graduate Film Program and the Amy and Joseph Perella Chair
    • Widely regarded as a premier African-American filmmaker, Lee is a forerunner in the ‘do it your self’ school of independent film. His debut film, the independently produced comedy She’s Gotta Have It, earned him the Prix de Jeunesse Award at the Cannes Film festival in 1986. He attended Morehouse College in Atlanta, and received his Master of Fine Arts degree in film production at the New York University’s Tisch School of Arts in Manhattan. Lee has won an Emmy Award and was nominated for two Academy Awards.
  15. Lawrence LessigLessig, Lawrence
    • Harvard Law School
    • Director of the Edmond J. Safra Foundation Center for Ethics, Professor of Law
    • Before his current position at Harvard, Lessig founded Stanford’s Center for Internet and Society and taught at the University of Chicago Law School. Lessig earned a BA in economics and a BS in management from the University of Pennsylvania, an MA in philosophy from Cambridge, and a JD from Yale. He has received honorary degrees from The University of Amsterdam, Athabasca University, and The Georgian-American University. has won numerous awards, including the Free Software Foundation’s Freedom Award, and was named one of Scientific American’s Top 50 Visionaries. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society.
  16. Michael LieblerLiebler, Michael Lynn
    • College of Liberal Arts & Science, Wayne State University, Detroit
    • English Professor, Senior Lecturer
    • M. L. Liebler recently was honored for his support for local writers and poets with the prestigious 1020 Barnes & Noble Writers for Writers Awards. The award is bestowed by Poets and Writers magazine to authors who give generously to other writers. Liebler has been at Wayne State University since 1980, and travels around the world — as far as Russia — to perform music and poetry for the State Department. In 2005, he was named The first Poet Laureate of St. Clair Shores, Mich., his hometown. Liebler received his master’s degree from Oakland University.
  17. Leonard MaltinMaltin, Leonard
    • School of Cinematic Arts at University of Southern California
    • Adjunct Faculty
    • Maltin is an American film critic and film historian. He has authored several mainstream books on the cinema, focusing on nostalgic, celebratory narratives. Maltin is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for the world’s shortest movie review; his two-star review of the 1948 musical Isn’t It Romantic? consists of the word “No.” Leonard Maltin teaches the popular Film Symposium course that features screenings of current releases followed by interviews with writers, actors, producers, directors and other industry professionals, many of whom are USC alumni.
  18. Greg MankiwMankiw, N. Greg
    • Harvard University
    • Macroeconomics professor
    • From 2003 to 2005, Mankiw was the chairman of President Bush’s Council of Economic Advisors. His publications are ranked among the most influential of the over 22,000 economists registered with RePEc. He has written two popular college-level textbooks: one in intermediate macroeconomics, and the more famous Principles of Economics. More than one million copies of the books have been sold in seventeen languages. His blog has managed to gain a readership that extends far beyond students of introductory economics.
  19. Michael MannMann, Michael E.
    • Department of Meteorology and Earth and Environmental Systems Institute, Pennsylvania State University
    • Professor, Director of Earth System Science Center
    • Mann was appointed professor at Pennsylvania State University in 2009, and since 2005 has been director of the university’s interdepartmental Earth System Science Center. He previously taught at the University of Virginia, in the Department of Environmental Sciences from 1999–2005. He is best known for his paleoclimate ‘hockey stick’ reconstructions of climatic fluctuations over the past several millennia, based on evidence from tree rings, ice cores, corals and other physical proxies. Such reconstructions have been the subject of some controversy, and in November 2009, Mann’s correspondence with fellow climate researchers was among those that were released in the Climatic Research Unit hacking incident. Critics picked the emails apart; but in February 2010, Penn State announced that his “results were sound and has been subsequently supported by an array of evidence.”
  20. Elinor OstromOstrom, Elinor
    • Indiana University
    • Professor of Political Science; Co-Director, Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis; Professor of Public and Environmental Affairs, Part-Time; Co-Director, Center for the Study of Institutions, Population, and Environmental Change
    • This Indiana University professor was awarded the 2009 Nobel Laureate in economic sciences for a lifetime of groundbreaking research, teaching and scholarship. She represents the first woman to win the prize in economics, which has been awarded since 1969. Her major contribution is her challenge against the conventional wisdom that common property is poorly managed and either should be regulated by central authorities or privatized. In 1999 Ostrom also became the first woman to receive the prestigious Johan Skytte Prize in Political Science and in 2005 received the James Madison Award by the American Political Science Association.
  21. Jason PettaPetta, Jason
    • Princeton University
    • Assistant Professor in Physics
    • This assistant professor in physics at Princeton University made a name for himself in 2009, when he demonstrated a method that alters the properties of a lone electron without disturbing the trillions of electrons in its immediate surroundings. Why do this? To develop the new future of superfast computers with near limitless capacities for data. Petta earned his Ph.D. in physics in Cornell University in 2003, and has since won numerous honors for his work. In 2009, President Obama named him as one of 100 beginning researchers who were recipients of the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers, the highest honor bestowed by the United States government on young professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers.
  22. Salman RushdieRushdie, Salman
    • Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
    • Honorary Visiting Professor in the Humanities and Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature
    • Salman Rushdie is a famous author who was forced into hiding under the protection of the British government and police after the publication in 1988 of his fourth novel, The Satanic Verses. This book lead to accusations of blasphemy against Islam and demonstrations by Islamist groups in India and Pakistan. Today, he is out of hiding and was made Distinguished Fellow in Literature at the University of East Anglia in 1995. He also was awarded the Austrian State Prize for European Literature in 1993 and the Aristeion Literary Prize in 1996, and has received eight honorary doctorates.
  23. Nancy SchiesariSchiesari, Nancy
    • University of Texas at Austin
    • Lecturer
    • Schiesari carries accolades for over thirty documentaries and feature films broadcast for England’s Channel 4, BBC, ABC, National Geographic and PBS. She was nominated for a 2002 Television Emmy for outstanding cinematography on The Human Face (producer John Cleese). Among her work as a cinematographer is Barbara Sonneborn’s Academy Award nominated documentary, Regret to Inform. Her latest accolades include the a Cine Golden Eagle Award (1994), Dean’s Fellowship (1997), the Texas Council for Humanities Grant (1998), a Texas Film Production Grant (1998), and a nomination for the Rockefeller Foundation Film/Video/Multimedia Fellowship (2000).
  24. Thomas SteitzSteitz, Thomas Arthur
    • Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Yale University
    • Sterling Professor of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry
    • Steitz was awarded the 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry along with Venkatraman Ramakrishnan and Ada Yonath for studies of the structure and function of the ribosome. Steitz also won the Gairdner International Award in 2007 for his studies on the structure and function of the ribosome which showed that the peptidyl transferase was an RNA catalyzed reaction, and for revealing the mechanism of inhibition of this function by antibiotics. Steitz studied chemistry as an undergraduate at Lawrence University and received a Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular biology from Harvard University in 1966. He then did his postdoctoral research as a Jane Coffin Childs Postdoctoral Fellow at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology at Cambridge University during 1967-1970.
  25. Elliott WestWest, Elliott
    • University of Arkansas
    • Distinguished Professor of History
    • West is a specialist in the social and environmental history of the American West. He has twice been chosen as his university’s teacher of the year and is author of several books. Two of his books, Growing Up With the Country: Childhood on the Far-Western Frontier and The Way to the West: Essays on the Central Plains received the Western Heritage Award. The Contested Plains: Indians, Goldseekers, and the Rush to Colorado received five awards including the Francis Parkman Prize and PEN Center Award. In 2001 West received the Baum Faculty Teaching Award, and in 2009 he was one of three finalists for the Robert Foster Cherry Award recognizing the outstanding teacher in the nation.

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