Friday, October 16, 2009

What is the optimal Rock Star status for a professor?

Greg Mankiw's blog led me to a piece in the Harvard Crimson on three of Harvard's most popular professors: Mankiw himself, Robert Lue and Niall Ferguson. The opening paragraph:

When History Professor Niall C. D. Ferguson begins his lecture at 10:07 a.m., he abandons the podium, choosing instead to pace in a slow, deliberate loop around the lectern. He speaks with the kind of proper British accent that makes Anglophiles swoon. As he makes an argument about the French Revolution, his throat wraps around certain words with a silky aggression that he punctuates by cocking an eyebrow or gesturing with his left hand, index finger and thumb closed into an “o” around a stub of chalk. His words are actually improvised. His paper schedule book, full of cross-country speaking engagements, is not.

The article also makes clear that Mankiw and Lue are around and available for students all the time, and they are well known. But from the perspective of undergraduate education, what is better--to have a famous professor who gives good lectures who is rarely around, or to have a not so famous professor who gives good lectures who is always around?


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Arnold Chu said...

I rather think that it depends on the major and subject matter of the course. If the professor can actually improve her/his teaching by means of the travel for speech/consulting/research, then it may be preferable. Example might include business, modern arts, etc. Other the other hand, if the topic is ancient rhetorics or history, then I think the travel time might not be well spent.