Benedict Whalen, English Professor

A Lifelong Relationship with Hillsdale

Written by Anne Hotz

Dr. Benedict Whalen, affectionately known by students as “Baby Whalen,” didn’t get that nickname by accident. He is the son of Hillsdale’s current provost and English professor Dr. David Whalen. But, though the younger Dr. Whalen grew up in Hillsdale, his journey to teaching at the College can only be called circuitous.

The Whalen family’s connection to Hillsdale began in 1994 when the senior Dr. Whalen joined the English faculty. Reflecting back on his years growing up in the town of Hillsdale, Dr. Benedict Whalen says, “I was completely oblivious to the College’s mission and campus life. It was just Dad’s job.”

He recalls visits to Dr. Arnn’s house and being friends with his children: “As a foolish youth who thinks he knows everything, I would spout off to Dr. Arnn. It never impressed me that this was the president of a college doing great things. His importance and stature went completely over my head.”

Dr. Whalen credits his parents for his love of literature and the fact that he grew up in a house full of books. He was deeply influenced by his father’s literary wisdom. However, he was adamantly against attending Hillsdale himself.

“I knew I wanted to major in English, but I didn’t want to be part of Dad’s department. I was worried that the professors would judge me as Dr. Whalen’s son.”

He ended up attending University of Dallas, and it was there that Dr. Whalen discovered his love of teaching. In a class on early modern English literature that included More, Milton, Shakespeare, and Bacon, he realized, “I want to be a student of this for the rest of my life.” It was at this point that he changed his mind about avoiding Hillsdale College.

“I looked at the life I saw my father leading and realized that it was a worthwhile pursuit.” Still, he obtained his Ph.D. at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas before teaching at Texas A&M University, Corpus Christi.

Today Dr. Whalen is somewhat bemused by the fact that he was delighted to receive an invitation from Hillsdale after initially planning never to teach here.  

“It’s a roundabout thing,” he says, “not wanting to study under [Dad] but being in this dream position as a faculty member.”

Dr. Whalen appreciates the camaraderie among students and faculty members at Hillsdale. He didn’t experience this at other schools where he describes himself as having been an odd man out.

“At Hillsdale we don’t all think the same thing or teach the same thing, but being part of a larger vision adds a degree of meaningfulness and hope to the process of education,” he says. “Hillsdale’s a vibrant religious melting pot that contributes to the school’s liberal respect for debate and shared desire for wisdom.”

Dr. Whalen and his wife are now raising their three children in Hillsdale, just as he experienced as a child, and he couldn’t be happier.

“It took traveling a lot and living in different cities to learn that I love small towns,” he says. “It’s a great thing to walk two miles home at the end of the day.” And he hopes that if one day his children (the oldest of which is four years old) are interested in attending Hilldsale College, they will.

Anne HotzAnne Hotz, ’18, is an English major and classical education minor from Lincoln, Nebraska. She is passionate about C.S. Lewis, musicals, British novels, sweaters, and hedgehogs.