Loyola University Chicago

Interdisciplinary Honors Program

Professor Spotlight - Professor Whidden

Professor Spotlight - Professor Whidden

(Whidden pictured above with his daughters Felicity and Liberty)

Professor Whidden - Interdisciplinary Honors Program

Interview: September, 2017

1. Where did you attend college? And what did you major in?

I did my undergraduate work at Wake Forest University where I received a B.A. with honors in philosophy.  I then earned two Master’s degrees in philosophy and political science and Ph.D. in political science, all from Northern Illinois University.  Basically, I stayed in school longer than any sane human being ever should.  To my parents’ chagrin, I majored in philosophy as an undergraduate.  I suppose if punk rock were a major, it would be philosophy.  Studying philosophy seemed like the most exciting and rebellious thing the 18 year old version of me could think of to do, so that’s what I did.  It turned out to be a wonderful decision.  Most of my philosophy classes had five or six students in them, so I was able to receive a lot of personalized attention and help with my writing. By studying the Great Books with my professors, I learned a lot about what it means to dedicate one’s life to the pursuit of wisdom and to be a decent human being striving to live a good life.  Fun facts: one of my undergraduate professors used to smoke a pipe during office hours and another smoked cigarettes in class.  Ah, the 90s: it was a different time.

2. Did you always want to be a professor? If not, what was your original, intended career?

I had a sense as an undergraduate that I might want to become a professor someday, though I didn’t know if I would have the patience and talent to survive graduate school.  When I mentioned the possibility of becoming a professor to a few of my undergraduate professors and they didn’t fall over laughing, I figured that was probably a good sign.  I had the good fortune to study with so many terrific and inspiring professors at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, and secretly I hoped to become one myself.

3. What was your favorite hobby growing up? What is your favorite hobby now? If it has changed?

I’ve always been a collector.  As I kid, I collected Star Wars toys, Transformers, and baseball cards.  At one point I think I had around 50,000 baseball cards.  My first job was working at a baseball card store when I was about 12 years old.  I knew more about the merchandise than the owner, whose name was Vinny, which is why he hired me even though I was just a kid.  Today, I collect records and CDs.  I’ve got about 200 records and over a thousand CDs.  I like indie rock, classic rock, and a little bit of jazz.  If I wasn’t teaching today, I bet I’d own a record store to help introduce people to cool music that they didn’t know existed.  I often hear people my age today bemoaning the current state of music, but that’s a shame.  There’s lots of great music being made today; you just have to be willing to search for it.   

4. What is one thing you are really passionate about? Whether it be a hobby, a political issue, an idea, etc.

Teaching.  Music.  Parenting.  Politics.  And of course my beloved Chicago Cubs and Chicago Bulls.  I rarely miss a game.  I got cranky in July during All-Star week because it meant the Cubs weren’t playing for five days.  It was like staring into the abyss.  Word on the street is that the Bulls will be terrible this year, but I’ll still be watching.  Grimacing, but watching.

5. Do you have a secret talent?

I play the trumpet.  I used to be pretty good.  In high school, I assumed I was going to play in an orchestra when I grew up.  That’s the track I was on.  But then junior year of high school I took an A.P. English class with a really great teacher and I realized that books were even cooler than music.  One of my daughters plays trumpet now, so for the first time in decades I’ve been pulling out my trumpet so we can play together.  I like to see her astonished face when I show her I can still hit high C and play a two-octave chromatic scale in under five seconds.

6. What is something students can do to help you out as a professor?

Grade their own exams and papers.  Wait – that’s not allowed?  Darn!  In that case, students can help me by continuing to be energetic and passionate in our class discussions.  I need and feed off that energy, especially at 9:20 in the morning!

7. What is your favorite thing about Loyola?

The Honors Program of course!  I came to Loyola because I wanted to work with and learn from bright students and faculty in the interdisciplinary Honors Program.  Each day I look at my Honors classes and I see future doctors, nurses, lawyers, and teachers, among others.  How wonderful that all of these talented students will soon be headed out into the world to set the world on fire and to care for others in their own unique ways and with their own special gifts, but before they set out on their journeys we get to study some of the deepest and most fundamental questions facing us as human beings and examine some of the most insightful responses to those questions by carefully reading and discussing the Great Books together.

8. What is your favorite book to teach in the Honors Program?

My response will surprise those who know how much I love the Greeks, but I’d have to say my favorite text in HONR 101 is Genesis.  It features so many amazing and interconnected characters and stories, and so much happens across several generations in such a small amount of text.  To me, it’s a perfect text.  The end, where Joseph is laid to rest as a mummy in Egypt, gives me chills every time I read it. 

9. What is one thing you believe everyone should do before they graduate college?

Study abroad.  Loyola offers so many wonderful opportunities to study abroad that it would be a shame not to do so.  Of all the students I’ve spoken to who have studied abroad, not one has ever regretted it.  In fact, many students tell me that studying abroad is one of the experiences and memories they treasure most from their time at Loyola. 

10. Do you have pets? If so, what kind(s) and what are their names?

No pets at this time.  We’ve had various fish over the years, including a goldfish who lived for almost six years and cheated death on multiple occasions, but right now all of the animals in my house are humans.