“I was driving to D.C., 48 hours from signing on the dotted line for the Saudi contract, and Michael Jordan from Hillsdale called me offering the job here,” Dr. Patricia Bart said.
Just as a pirate travels far and wide in search of treasure, Dr. Patricia Bart underwent a similar journey on her path to Hillsdale College.
“I like to call myself a Pirate Queen. Because I love the adventure, but I also collect teapots and always wear my pearl earrings” Bart said as she pulled back her hair to reveal the ever-present pearls. “I could be hiking in a jungle somewhere with my clothes rotting off my back, but I would still be wearing my pearls.”
Bart’s adventure for treasure began in elementary school.
“I knew from early on in my childhood I was called to be a professor,” Bart said. “Somewhere in third through fifth grade my teacher was talking about how our interests translated to careers, and I very vividly remember her saying ‘If you sit and think a lot then you could be a philosopher.’ I immediately thought, ‘That’s it!’”
As a child, Bart worried her parents because they often found her in a corner “just thinking without looking at anything in particular,” Bart said. “That wasn’t normal for my family.”
Although she always knew being a professor was her calling, finding the correct career path proved to be the adventure.
“I kept trying to do everything, such as most athletes of the mind do,” Bart said. “I slowly had to let things fall away which I could live without.”
For example, Bart temporarily thought she was meant to be a doctor, as it could still include teaching, so she began memorizing anatomy. For a while, she was highly interested in economics and almost attended graduate school for the subject. All the while, English remained one of her primary interests, and it was the only one that never exhausted her curiosity.
“The fact was, I could never get my mind off English,” she said. “It has something to do with the structure of my own mind and attachment of my heart to English class. It was beyond my full comprehension.”
Although Bart settled upon English as her calling, she had not yet reached her final destination.
She chose to attend the University of Virginia to earn her graduate degree in English. As she neared the end of her education, a Navy officer unexpectedly visited her in the library one day, beginning the series of unique job considerations prior to Hillsdale.
In 2004, “The Navy tried drafting me to run a nuclear power plant on board a ship,” Bart said. “They said they chose me because ‘you can watch paint dry and take notes.’ Some of my friends probably put my name up for the job, but they know just when to get you. A few years before graduate school is over and in the middle of a declining job market.”
The offer appealed to her because she could bring her books to study, but she was hesitant in responding. The job entailed rarely leaving the power plant on board and being accompanied by a military escort to prohibit her from smuggling anything out, jeopardizing the lives of many.
After a few weeks, Bart declined. “It wasn’t what God intended for my life…it was the safe adventure,” she said.
Her piratical personality preferred to risk the academic job market over the assurance of an immediate job and pension because she knew it wouldn’t fulfill her calling.
In 2005, Bart considered another unique profession.
“I almost went to England and joined a Dominican priory,” Bart said. “I was widowed at the time, but I felt it was God’s purpose for me to remain single and devote myself to His purposes.”
After her postulancy and novitiate at the priory, she would have moved on to the École Biblique in Jerusalem to teach and do humanities computing.
“The opportunity fell through and I entered the job market in the fall of 2006 before I defended my dissertation,” Bart said.
She applied for over 70 positions, all with the desire to achieve her calling, but by varied paths. Although it was risky to apply without her dissertation finished, she received favorable feedback. One job offer involved moving to Saudi Arabia.
“The post was as a professor of English literature at Queen Effat College in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Very attractive on the adventure front, and very generous in salary and benefits, but not really part of the usual tenure track world…I would have been on the sidelines” Bart said. “I joked with myself that, if things went south for Americans, Jeddah is on the coast, so I could have a rigid inflatable boat stashed somewhere for a fast getaway on the Red Sea to Eilat.”
Despite the advantages of the Saudi Arabia position, Bart chose Hillsdale’s offer en route to officially accept the Saudi Arabia offer.
Hillsdale Professor, Dr. Michael Jordan explained Bart’s position was an extension President Arnn gifted the English Department with the means to hire another person to fill an arising need due to an influx in students.
“There were 100 of applications for the job, but hers surfaced because my brother-in-law’s brother hired Dr. Bart to travel with his family for a year in Europe and privately tutor his kids in Western Civilization. She had a recommendation from someone I knew and trusted,” Jordan said.
From those hundred applications, Jordan said three or four were invited for on-campus interviews, including Bart. The prospective professors interviews involved instructing a mock class and eating lunch with students.
“I was impressed with her performance in the classroom because she encouraged intellectual connections by her integration of history and art with English,” Jordan said. “The students’ report from lunch was that the conversation was lively, too.”
Bart accepted the job and joined the faculty in the fall of 2008.
“Although I applied to some lefty schools where I hoped I may be able to do some good, I feel ideologically at one with Hillsdale,” Bart said. “I felt I had a better shot at a school which identifies with me deep down. I have a whole heart for the mission of the College.
Jordan affirms Bart’s favorable fit here, saying, “Her success is seen by how our best students want to be advised by her. Hillsdale’s best gravitate towards her.
Bart believes regardless of major, there is something to be learned from English. She hopes to teach Hillsdale’s students to read closely and carefully, summarize accurately and boldly step out on their own.
“My role here is to shake people up and challenge them to realize the full riches from our past and to bring them into the future,” Bart said. “It is important to educate the younger generation of civilization on virtues of republic. I hope to have a multiplier effect whereby teaching my students these things they will multiply my effect by sharing their knowledge with many others and before you know it, hundreds and hundreds are impacted.”
After her many adventures in search of her career fulfillment, Bart hopes to make Hillsdale into her “Bag End.”
“I enjoy Hillsdale because I get to reap the rewards of being myself and growing without having to camouflage the names of my courses and who I really am. Although I enjoy the adventures, I like having my hobbit hole to come back to,” Bart said as she gestured to her office lined with full walls of books in various languages, pictures and artifacts from her transcontinental travels, and the newest addition to her prized teapot collection.
“I no longer feel like a loose marble. I fit in here,” Bart said.