John A. Burtka IV, a Hillsdale College class of 2012 alumnus, will become the next president of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, the organization announced Aug. 31.
“I couldn’t be more thrilled to take the helm at ISI,” said Burtka, who will assume his new duties at the Wilmington, Del.-based organization on September 21. “It’s the oldest institution in the conservative intellectual movement, and its history, alumni, and campus are unparalleled.”
Founded in 1953 by conservative journalist William F. Buckley, Jr., ISI seeks to acquaint college students with America’s founding principles and conservative thought through book publishing, lectures, fellowships, conferences, and other programming. Hillsdale College President Larry Arnn is a trustee.
Burtka recently served as executive director at The American Conservative, a magazine based in Washington, D.C.. Before that, he was a development associate at ISI.
ISI Chairman of the Board Thomas Lynch praised Burtka as a “proven leader in the conservative intellectual movement.”
Burtka credited Hillsdale College with preparing him for his new role.
“Hillsdale provided a holistic education in first principles and the permanent things. I learned what it meant to be a human being and how to live well in community, whether it be the family, the church, the workplace, or the polis,” Burtka said.
Born and raised in Hillsdale County, Burtka double majored in French and Christian studies and served on the executive board of the Delta Tau Delta fraternity.
“My position on the executive board of Delta Tau Delta gave me the practical leadership skills needed to manage people, build a movement, and direct an organization,” he said. “It also was a boot camp in public relations, communications, and diplomacy as I learned how to effectively represent the fraternity on campus when interacting with other student groups and the administration.”
Burtka listed Assistant Professor of Religion Don Westblade and Temple Family Chair in English Literature Stephen Smith as two of his favorite professors. Burtka described Westblade as an “intellectual mentor and spiritual advisor,” and noted that Smith was a “friend and mentor.”
“John was a fine student here, always full of energy, zest and good cheer, with a certain gift for leadership,” Smith said in an email. “In Renaissance literature classes with me, he displayed keen insights, an interdisciplinary mind, and a remarkable spirit of friendship, civility, and service. ISI has made a wonderful choice for its next leader.”
“Outside of class, he made a valuable contribution to the college by helping lead the rebirth of the DTD fraternity with renewed commitments to service and spiritual development,” Westblade said in an email. “Dinners with him and his brothers in their old Montgomery St house remain vivid memories for me a decade later.”
After graduating from Hillsdale, Burtka enrolled in Faculté Jean Calvin in Aix-en-Provence in southern France, graduating with a graduate degree in theology in 2013.
When he returned to the United States, Burtka, inspired by his time in President Arnn’s Aristotle class and the “practical necessity” of a job, decided that he wanted to make a real-world impact with his education, beginning as a development associate at ISI. “The friendships that I made at Hillsdale have been indispensable to advancing my career,” he said. “Relationships are everything, and Hilllsdale alumni bend over backwards to open doors for each other, especially in D.C.”
Now back at ISI, Burtka expressed his desire to share the same principles and values that inspired him with students nationwide. “It’s a magical place, and I hope to share that magic with others for decades to come.”
Burtka added that ISI is a “big tent conservative organization,” rather than targeting only sub-groups like libertarians or Kirkian traditionalists.
“ISI should be the intellectual driver of conservatism in America,” Burtka said.