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Celebrity teachings

The substitute professors on the MTVu show Stand In- among them Madonna, Bill Gates and Kanye West - are no slouches. They share their real-life experiences with a few lucky college students.

By DAVID BAUDER, AP Television Writer
Published October 30, 2005

[Photo: MTV]
Madonna answers questions at Hunter College in New York after a screening of her new documentary, I’m Going To Tell You A Secret, for the MTVu network’s Stand In series. MTVu, an MTV spinoff, is seen on college campuses and streaming video.

[AP photo]
Microsoft Corp. chairman Bill Gates makes a guest appearance this month at an introductory computer programming class ked about new technologies and career possibilities in the industry.

NEW YORK - The door to a Hunter College lecture hall opens, and in steps Madonna. There's no tweed for this professor for a day; she wears a black dress and form-fitting boots that climb to her knees.

She's the latest participant in Stand In, one of MTV Networks' hottest features, particularly given its brevity and relative lack of visibility.

The MTVu network, a spinoff seen primarily on college campuses, invites celebrities to be surprise lecturers. Since Jesse Jackson inaugurated the series in January 2004, Stand In has featured Bill Gates, Shimon Peres, Tom Wolfe, Kanye West, Ashley Judd, Russell Simmons, Snoop Dogg, Sen. John McCain and Sting.

"It brings the class to life in a way that few would ever imagine," said Stephen Friedman, MTVu's general manager.

MTVu had envisioned a series where colleges would compete to hear a celebrity speak. But that proved too time-consuming to organize, and when its second speaker, Marilyn Manson, nailed his appearance at Temple University, MTVu knew it had a better format.

Manson walked into a class on art and politics in full makeup, writing "Mr. Manson" on the blackboard and setting down a bottle of absinthe before the startled students. He then led a discussion on the role of provocative art in society, saying, "Art to me is a question mark. I don't think it should ever be an answer."

Gates, the onetime computer geek turned world's richest man, surprised a University of Wisconsin class on introduction to programming. McCain requested a visit to his alma mater, the Naval Academy, to talk politics.

The students' reaction is key; most episodes show someone with mouth agape at who has just walked into the sleepy classroom.

Participating colleges and MTVu try to keep the secret by telling fibs to students who may wonder about the cameras in the classroom.

At Hunter last week, a film class was told it was screening Madonna's new documentary, I'm Going to Tell You a Secret, and discussing it with the film's director. With an endless stream of adults walking in and out of the room during the movie, smart students figured out what was happening.

"Since there were security guards all lined up, I figured she was coming," said junior Pinar Noorata, a film major. "That was kind of a dead giveaway. But I think everybody was still surprised. It was kind of surreal."

As the students stood and applauded Madonna, about a half-dozen pointed their cell phone cameras in her direction so their friends would believe them later.

They lobbed mostly softball questions about the film, Madonna's interest in cabala and her two-decade journey through different musical incarnations.

"I don't feel like I'm trying on personas," she said. "What I always hope to do is change and evolve. I have no regrets, because that's life, and life is about change."

For the celebrities, the appearances offer a dose of hero worship in a carefully controlled environment, before a youthful audience many of them need to court.

There's also the chance to promote a pet cause, like the time actor Cameron Diaz jolted awake an 8 a.m. Stanford University civil engineering class. She appeared with architect William McDonough to talk about building designs that protect the environment.

"I was expecting like 10 kids to show up," Diaz said. "It's exciting. A few of the kids came up afterward and said, "This is so great. This is something I'll remember.' Hopefully, it's something they'll be thinking about when they are sitting down trying to create."

MTVu leaves most of the appearances on the cutting-room floor, boiling each down to a four-minute sound bite. MTVu is available on television systems in dorms and dining halls at 730 college campuses, and is now the first MTV Network streamed continuously on the Web. Past appearances are archived and can be viewed through the cable network's (

[Last modified October 27, 2005, 13:51:02]

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