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12 Celebrity Professors

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As college students head back to class for the fall semester, many of them will take classes with professors who are well known within their fields. A select few, though, will get to listen to lectures from bona fide celebrities. Here’s a look at a few big names who have ventured into academia in the past.

1. Oprah

In 1999 Oprah co-taught a class at Northwestern’s Kellogg Graduate School of Management. Her co-teacher wasn’t some stuffy tenured professor, either; it was her longtime beau, marketing consultant Stedman Graham. Oprah and Stedman taught a second-year M.B.A. course on “Dynamics of Leaderships.” The talk-show host quipped on her first day of class, “Somewhere Mrs. Duncan, my fourth grade teacher, is very happy today.”

2. John Cleese

The Monty Python funnyman left Cambridge when he was 20, but he really took a liking to another prestigious university: Cornell. Cleese became an A.D. White Professor-at-Large in 1998 for a term of six years. He proved so popular and enjoyed the work so much, though, that Cornell extended him for another two years. When that stint ended in 2006, Cornell found another way to keep Cleese on campus for another three years as the Provost’s Visiting Professor. Cleese did a little bit of everything on campus, from teaching a class on comedy to delivering a Sunday sermon to eating in the dining halls with students.

3. Tony Blair

The former British Prime Minister spent the 2008-2009 academic year as the Howland Distinguished Fellow at Yale, where he worked with both the divinity and management schools to develop the Yale Faith and Globalization Seminar, which looked at the interplay of various faiths as the global economy grew.

4. Kevin Spacey

The Oscar winner took his talents across the pond for the 2008-2009 academic calendar when he took a yearlong appointment as a theater professor at Oxford. Spacey told the British press that he hoped to help aspiring actors get a better feel for the off-stage part of show business, saying, “I'll try very hard to give them some practical advice about agents and auditions and how to just deal with the day-to-day business of trying to start a career.”

5. Jesse Ventura

Jesse “The Body” Ventura may have dropped out of college, but that didn’t stop him from getting an appointment as a visiting fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government in the spring of 2004. Harvard spokespeople said that the former Minnesota governor’s appointment was actually the idea of the school’s undergraduates, and the man who once wore feather boas in the wrestling ring gave seminars on various aspects of politics.

6. Allen Ginsberg

Who better to teach poetry than the renowned Beat poet? In 1986 Brooklyn College of the City University of New York decided that the man who wrote “Howl” was just what its poetry MFA program needed, so Ginsberg taught masters students for a full academic year.

7. Salman Rushdie

Author Salman Rushdie survived a fatwa following the publication of his novel The Satanic Verses, so he surely has no problem fending off students while serving as Distinguished Writer in Residence at Emory University. Rushdie signed up for a five-year hitch as the Atlanta school’s writer in residence starting with the spring 2007 semester; the position requires him to lead a graduate seminar, teach at least four weeks a year, and participate in undergrad classes. Better still for the school, Emory’s Robert Woodruff Library also nabbed the Booker Prize winner’s archives in the deal.

8. Spike Lee

In the spring of 1992, the director rode his hits like Do the Right Thing and Jungle Fever to a position at Harvard. Lee taught a film course on the history of black cinema since 1964; his syllabus said the course dealt “with matters of craft and technique as these combine to produce representative, truthful or stereotypical images of African-Americans." Lee jokingly asked his students to call him “Professor Spike” and not to talk to the press about the course, explaining, “Having the press there is not conducive to learning. I didn't come up here for that."

9. Alec Baldwin

You can’t take an MBA class from Jack Donaghy, but this was probably the next best thing. In the summer of 2002 Baldwin taught a theater class at Southampton University.

10. Placido Domingo

In early 1994 the famed tenor took a spot as an adjunct professor of music at UCLA. While students may not have been able to belt out songs quite as well as Domingo, they did get the pleasure of having him conduct several orchestral and choral concerts.

11. Kal Penn

Kalpen Modi, better known as actor Kal Penn of Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle fame, was a guest instructor at the University of Pennsylvania during the spring of 2008. While at Penn, Penn taught two undergrad courses, “Images of Asian Americans in the Media” and “Contemporary American Teen Films.”

12. Dennis Green

The rest of the faculty may have been who students thought they were, but in 2008 former NFL coach Dennis Green joined San Diego State’s College of Business Administration as an instructor in the Sports Business Management MBA program. Green taught BA703, Strategic Management, an appointment that no doubt prompted a few derisive chuckles from fans of Green’s old Vikings and Cardinals teams. No word on whether he taught students the ins and outs of throwing tantrums in press conferences, but rest assured that he didn’t let his students off the hook for anything.

Image Credits: Oprah Winfrey: Reuters/CORBIS; Jesse Ventura: Andy King/Sygma/Corbis; Alec Baldwin: NBC.

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10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
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Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. And the man holds nearly 20 honorary doctorates (in addition to his real one). In honor of his 59th birthday, here are 10 of our favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes.


"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.


"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." 
—From Space Chronicles


"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes ... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms."
—From Death by Black Hole


"Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.)
—From Space Chronicles



"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'"
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit


"In [Titanic], the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs ... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?"
—From Death by Black Hole


"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death."
—From Space Chronicles


"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do."
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit


Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
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Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at:

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."


A still from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Studios
"[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader."
—From Death by Black Hole
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40 Fun Facts About Sesame Street
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Now in its 47th season, Sesame Street is one of television's most iconic programs—and it's not just for kids. We're big fans of the Street, and to prove it, here are some of our favorite Sesame facts from previous stories and our Amazing Fact Generator.

Sesame Workshop

1. Oscar the Grouch used to be orange. Jim Henson decided to make him green before season two.

2. How did Oscar explain the color change? He said he went on vacation to the very damp Swamp Mushy Muddy and turned green overnight.

3. During a 2004 episode, Cookie Monster said that before he started eating cookies, his name was Sid.

4. In 1980, C-3PO and R2-D2 visited Sesame Street. They played games, sang songs, and R2-D2 fell in love with a fire hydrant.

5. Mr. Snuffleupagus has a first name—Aloysius

6. Ralph Nader stopped by in 1988 and sang "a consumer advocate is a person in your neighborhood."

7. Caroll Spinney said he based Oscar's voice on a cab driver from the Bronx who brought him to the audition.

8. In 1970, Ernie reached #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 with the timeless hit "Rubber Duckie."

9. One of Count von Count's lady friends is Countess von Backwards, who's also obsessed with counting but likes to do it backwards.

10. Sesame Street made its Afghanistan debut in 2011 with Baghch-e-Simsim (Sesame Garden). Big Bird, Grover and Elmo are involved.

11. According to Muppet Wiki, Oscar the Grouch and Count von Count were minimized on Baghch-e-Simsim "due to cultural taboos against trash and vampirism."

12. Before Giancarlo Esposito was Breaking Bad's super intense Gus Fring, he played Big Bird's camp counselor Mickey in 1982.

13. Thankfully, those episodes are available on YouTube.

14. How big is Big Bird? 8'2". (Pictured with First Lady Pat Nixon.)

15. In 2002, the South African version (Takalani Sesame) added an HIV-positive Muppet named Kami.

16. Six Republicans on the House Commerce Committee wrote a letter to PBS president Pat Mitchell warning that Kami was not appropriate for American children, and reminded Mitchell that their committee controlled PBS' funding.

17. Sesame Street's resident game show host Guy Smiley was using a pseudonym. His real name was Bernie Liederkrantz.

18. Bert and Ernie have been getting questioned about their sexuality for years. Ernie himself, as performed by Steve Whitmere, has weighed in: “All that stuff about me and Bert? It’s not true. We’re both very happy, but we’re not gay,”

19. A few years later, Bert (as performed by Eric Jacobson) answered the same question by saying, “No, no. In fact, sometimes we are not even friends; he can be a pain in the neck.”

20. In the first season, both Superman and Batman appeared in short cartoons produced by Filmation. In one clip, Batman told Bert and Ernie to stop arguing and take turns choosing what’s on TV.

21. In another segment, Superman battled a giant chimp.

22. Telly was originally "Television Monster," a TV-obsessed Muppet whose eyes whirled around as he watched.

23. According to Sesame Workshop, Elmo is the only non-human to testify before Congress.

24. He lobbied for more funding for music education, so that "when Elmo goes to school, there will be the instruments to play."

25. In the early 1990s, soon after Jim Henson’s passing, a rumor circulated that Ernie would be killed off in order to teach children about death, as they'd done with Mr. Hooper.

26. According to Snopes, the rumor may have spread thanks to New Hampshire college student, Michael Tabor, who convinced his graduating class to wear “Save Ernie” beanies and sign a petition to persuade Sesame Workshop to let Ernie live.

27. By the time Tabor was corrected, the newspapers had already picked up the story.

28. Sesame Street’s Executive Producer Carol-Lynn Parente joined Sesame Workshop as a production assistant and has worked her way to the top.

29. Originally, Count von Count was more sinister. He could hypnotize and stun people.

30. According to Sesame Workshop, all Sesame Street's main Muppets have four fingers except Cookie Monster, who has five.

31. The episode with Mr. Hooper's funeral aired on Thanksgiving Day in 1983. That date was chosen because families were more likely to be together at that time, in case kids had questions or needed emotional support.

32. Mr. Hooper’s first name was Harold.

33. Big Bird sang "Bein' Green" at Jim Henson's memorial service.

34. As Chris Higgins put it, the performance was "devastating."

35. Oscar's Israeli counterpart is Moishe Oofnik, whose last name means “grouch” in Hebrew.

36. Nigeria's version of Cookie Monster eats yams. His catchphrase: "ME WANT YAM!"

37. Sesame's Roosevelt Franklin ran a school, where he spoke in scat and taught about Africa. Some parents hated him, so in 1975 he got the boot, only to inspire Gob Bluth’s racist puppet Franklin on Arrested Development 28 years later.

38. Our good friend and contributor Eddie Deezen was the voice of Donnie Dodo in the 1985 classic Follow That Bird.

39. Cookie Monster evolved from The Wheel-Stealer—a snack-pilfering puppet Jim Henson created to promote Wheels, Crowns and Flutes in the 1960s.

40. This puppet later was seen eating a computer in an IBM training film and on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Thanks to Stacy Conradt, Joe Hennes, Drew Toal, and Chris Higgins for their previous Sesame coverage!

An earlier version of this article appeared in 2012.


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