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Most Penn professors have Ph.D.'s; Kal Penn has a Teen Choice Award nomination.

Officials announced over the weekend that Penn, an actor best-known for his role in the 2004 comedy Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, will teach two courses at the University next spring.

Penn, 29, has developed a loyal fan base, especially among college-age students - but students and faculty are questioning whether he is qualified to teach at an Ivy League university.

University officials say yes, some students say no and others are eager to find out.

His qualifications are "a reasonable concern," said Grace Kao, the director of the Asian American Studies program and the faculty member who has worked most closely with Penn.

But, Kao said, Penn has been vetted extensively and will be prepared to teach courses worthy of the University.

He is scheduled to teach two courses in spring 2008, "Images of Asian Americans in the Media" and "Contemporary American Teen Films."

The actor earned a B.A. in sociology at the University of California, Los Angeles, and is currently pursuing graduate studies in international security at Stanford University.

Kao said she was not aware of Penn having any teaching experience or published academic work.

But, she said, "We went through a couple of drafts of actual syllabi."

The courses will likely include academic readings, film screenings and visits from figures in the entertainment industry.

And despite all these questions, higher education experts say that bringing in high-profile professors from outside academia is a fairly common practice.

Penn, for one, was in contact with some of the University's peer institutions, said Kao, who would not specify which ones.

A celebrity in the classroom can "add a little luster to the department," said Martin Snyder, a spokesman for the American Association of University Professors, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that represents professors' interests.

Though Kao would not disclose Penn's salary, Snyder said the visiting professor's fee can range from zero to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Penn's visit will be funded primarily by the Asian American Studies Program's budget.

Mark Smith, a coordinator for the National Education Association, pointed out that non-academics can bring real-world experience to the classroom.

But back at Penn, students have mixed feelings about the recent hire.

"I personally think that he is not qualified," College sophomore Alaina Williams said.

Conversely, College junior Alexander McCobin said he is planning to take one of Penn's classes.

"From what I've read about him, he's an intelligent guy. You don't necessarily need to go through seven years of academia to know a subject," McCobin said.

Although Katy Hardy, a first-year doctoral candidate in South Asian Studies, plans to take the long road to a job as a professor, she said Penn is an interesting figure who could potentially bring a lot of outside knowledge to the classroom.

"You couldn't get by on just being a movie star," she said.

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