As for the fanpage, he deems the entire affair rather “silly.” Ferguson’s style of popularity is more hands off than Mankiw’s, and he cultivates adoration through his visibility in the media. He muses that he should, however, update his website.
Ferguson is known for his revisionist accounts of history that have earned as much controversy as attention. He is a supporter of counterfactual history—asking “what if” questions on what could have happened. Unlike Mankiw, he’s not camera shy, has done interviews on Charlie Rose, and has four television documentaries based on his works.
That, combined with “unbelievable” lectures leaves soon-to-be research assistant Manuel J. Antunes ’11 a little starstruck. “For me to see him up close is like watching a celebrity,” Antunes says.
“I think his fanbase comes from the scholarship he’s done,” he says, but concedes, “He’s new blood. He’s young and on TV. I can understand why people have crushes on him.”
Evelyn D. Chow ’12 agrees with Antunes that the cult surrounding Ferguson is based more on admiration and less on fanaticism. “I don’t think people worship the ground he walks on,” she says. “If I were to make a comparison, with the way people kind of idolize Greg Mankiw, i’m not sure if you’d find that same level of idolatry [with Ferguson].”
Ferguson says he gets recognized about once a week, but places his fame in context. “I have a very clear understanding that I’m not famous,” he says, “I’m just a professor who occasionally appears on TV.”
Beyond his television appearances, his image also might have something to do with it. Speculating on precisely what lights an aspiring academic’s fire, sophomore Danello says, “There’s a romantic thing. I think a lot of people see Niall as an embodiment of a certain academic lifestyle called the ‘Oxford dean’ ...a friend of mine has told me on multiple occasions that he has a man crush [on Ferguson],” he says, but keeps mum on the crusher’s identity.
He adds, “I can’t say if it’s the accent or the sharply tailored suit, but perhaps people spend more time looking at him than looking at his suit.”
Still, Ferguson is quick to dismiss his own celebrity and emphasizes that ideas are the real currency in his world.
“The author is not the message. The books are the message,” he says. “I’m actually a very boring person. How do you think I write all these books? I spend all my time writing them.”
The BPF: Best Prof Forever
Robert Lue could put even the most nervous of freshman at ease. He has an easy smile and a faint Jamaican accent, a souvenir of where he grew up, although his parents are from the UK. He wears jeans and a polo. This director of the Life Sciences curriculum teaches the premed staple Life Sciences 1a, where he thrills freshmen with his animations like “Inner Life of a Cell,” a gorgeously orchestrated view of the miniature workings of a cell. Lue, even more than Mankiw or Ferguson, takes a hands-on approach to getting to know his students, perhaps best typified by the stories his students from his summer school program tell.
Sisi Pan ’11 says that Lue was both a professor and friend during the Shanghai summer school program at Fudan University. There, Lue was free for virtually any meal and students felt comfortable dropping by to ask a question or inviting the professor out to sing karaoke with the rest of the group.
During one trip on the outskirts if Xi’an, the group discovered Lue’s playful side.
“There were these sketchy bumper cars in this place that we stayed,” Pan recalls. “We just had a blast. Rob had this malicious grin on his face the whole time and just smashed into us without any hesitation.”