Angelina Jolie Pitt: actress, activist, professor

Academics aren't sure making a celebrity a professor is the smartest move

The London School of Economics named Angelina Jolie Pitt a visiting professor for its new master's program centered on women, peace, and security. 

Beginning this fall, Jolie Pitt will work on her own research, give guest lectures, and participate in public events as part of her year-long role as a professor of practice.

While Jolie Pitt has experience as an activist, as well as working alongside the United Nations and multiple governments, the appointment sparked debate over the effectiveness of celebrity professors.

Academics have vocalized their lack of support for the appointment. But not everyone is critical of the move. NPR's Tobias Denskus rounded up some of these statements.

Don't sweat it

"Everyone take a deep breath," writes Daniel Drezner, professor of international politics at Tufts University's Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, in the Washington Post. "Jolie hasn't been given a tenured position."

Jolie Pitt's role was created "based on the premise that individuals with actual policy-making experience might have something to offer to students even if they haven't published in peer-reviewed journals on the topic."

Celebrity can bring attention—and distortion—to issues

"My problems with [Jolie Pitt's] appointment come more from what work her celebrity activist position does in the [Centre for Women, Peace, and Security (WPS)] agenda, how it distorts priorities and politics already in the WPS resolutions," blogs Carrie Reiling, a University of California, Irvine Ph.D. student. 

Women professors make about 87 cents to a man's dollar

When a celebrity supports an issue or resolution, public support can swing and take precedence over other equally important issues or resolutions. "Celebrities reinforce stratification and hierarchy that was present before," Reiling writes.

It may perpetuate elitism

"I took a class from a very rich female former ambassador and, I can tell you with 100% certainty, it was all kinda colors of white-savior/let's hear about my amazing contributions to the world/enlightenment logic on steroids," writes Megan Mackenzie, a University of Sydney senior lecturer in the government and international relations department.

The structure "provides the following take-home message: Rich people should try to help poor people (or at least think about them) once in a while (mostly because it feels good)—all the while ignoring structural hierarchies/forms of oppression/global systems of exploitation," she writes.

Celebrity experience differs from that of students

"While masters programs often, effectively, rely on professors of practice, the 'practical' element of Angelina Jolie's engagement in critical issues remains an exceptional experience that students cannot, and should not, expect to mimic," Nimmi Gowrinathan, a visiting professor at City College, New York's Colin Powell Center for Civic and Global Leadership, told human rights lawyer, political scientist, and blogger Kate Cronin-Furman.

"In her advocacy and activism, she is handed a microphone and captive audience of policymakers … Her practice of celebrity activism may be more thoughtful than most, but the next generation of scholars and analysts should formulate new critiques from an understanding of the hard realities of the development sector, not the plushly carpeted pathways to power," Gowrinathan says (Denskus, "Goats and Soda," NPR, 5/31; Reiling, Carriereiling.com, 5/25). 


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