CelebriProfs come in different sizes and shapes, so let’s take a moment to distinguish here:
There are longtime academics who have, as a result, become stars. This group includes experts like Douglas Brinkley, who teaches History at Rice; John Gaddis, a Cold War specialist at Yale; Ezekiel Emanuel, director of the Clinical Bioethics Department at the NIH, who heads a department at Penn; Melissa Harris-Perry, an African American Studies scholar and media personality, who teaches at Tulane and Wake Forest; and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, who taught economics at Princeton for 14 years and is moving next year to CUNY. As dedicated as they are, these types rarely shy away from the spotlight. Brinkley lists "CBS News Historian" among his credits, and Harris-Perry hosts a weekend program on MSNBC. The group includes the occasional anti-talking head like Terence Tao, a UCLA mathematician who has turned down numerous requests to appear on the Colbert Report; one producer there calls him a "rock star" in Analytic Numbers Theory. Tao will finally appear on the program in November.
There are policymakers who, for various reasons, gravitate, or return to, academia. Here would be former government operatives like Madeleine Albright at Georgetown, Condoleeza Rice at Stanford, David Gergen of the Kennedy Center at Harvard, and Robert Reich at UC Berkeley. Not to mention Donna Shalala, who teaches political science while serving as president of the University of Miami, and Janet Napolitano, who was the surprise selection to take over the massive University of California system (for which she receives more than half a million dollars, plus housing and car expenses).
There are numerous bestselling authors who have more than dabbled in academia. This group includes Jamaica Kincaid at Harvard, Mary Gordon at Barnard, Joyce Carol Oates at Princeton, Tobias Wolff at Berkeley, Junot Diaz at MIT, and Michael Pollan at Berkeley. David Brooks co-instructs a Yale course called Grand Strategy and heads up a seminar, which, he says, "is ironically called 'Humility.'"
The writers clearly like the interaction and, well, the security. "As a freelance writer for most of my career, benefits like health care, dental and even eyeglasses are much appreciated," says Pollan.
Finally, there are those who may delve into university life when their own careers are on the wane or shifting gears. David Petraeus hopped aboard after a sex scandal. Another military giant, General Stanley McChrystal, has been teaching a "Leadership" class at Yale since President Obama asked for his resignation. Jill Abramson, recently fired as executive editor of the New York Times, is now embarking on a year at Harvard, and has moved in and out of academia for years. Call it the four Rs: Reading, wRiting, aRithmetic … and Rehab?