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Dean of the Van Andel Graduate School of States­manship Ronald Pestritto speaks on the 2022 midterm elec­tions.
Olivia Hajicek | Collegian

Hillsdale Ph.D. can­di­dates Sarah Akey and Casey Wheatland will receive their doc­torates this May after suc­cess­fully defending their dis­ser­ta­tions with honors earlier this semester. 

“It’s always a great sat­is­faction when a student fin­ishes a top-quality dis­ser­tation,” Pro­fessor of Pol­itics Thomas West said. “It’s the aca­demic equiv­alent of a proud father seeing his own children grow up.” 

Wheatland grad­uated from the Uni­versity of Wis­consin-Madison in political science and history before enrolling in Hillsdale’s Ph.D program in 2016. 

“I had not known about Hillsdale College until about a month before applying here,” Wheatland said. “I found Hillsdale because I was reading a book in the library on Machi­avelli and that book hap­pened to be written by Dr. Paul Rahe. I thought: Hillsdale College. I wonder if they have a graduate school. It would be cool to study with this guy.” 

In his dis­ser­tation, Wheatland focused on the rela­tionship between the Italian Dominican and friar Girolamo Savonarola and how he influ­enced Machiavelli’s political philosophy. 

“My dis­ser­tation was using Savonarola as an entryway to discuss the nature of prophecy and logic in Machiavelli’s political phi­losophy, and what exactly it takes to create a regime or to reform a regime, and to rule over it,” Wheatland said. 

Wheatland stumbled upon Savonarola during his first year of graduate school after reading the rest of Machiavelli’s works. Wheatland said he dis­covered how influ­ential Savonarola was to Machiavelli’s thought. 

One thing I learned is how important it is to have a com­munity of friends to help delib­erate about these political philoso­phies and discuss inter­esting figures like Machi­avelli,” Wheatland said. 

Wheatland hopes to con­tinue his interest in this topic by turning his dis­ser­tation into a book. Since the fall of 2021, Wheatland has been teaching in the pol­itics department at Texas State University. 

“Casey was not out­spoken in class,” Pro­fessor of History and adviser Paul Rahe said. “He was the Cheshire cat. When he did speak up, you noticed. He was awake. He was alive. He noticed things that other stu­dents missed. His writing was also good — actually enjoyable to read. And he had a wry sense of humor. He watched, he waited, he pounced.” 

Akey fin­ished her under­graduate degree at Hillsdale College in math­e­matics and pol­itics in 2016. After com­pleting a semester in Wash­ington, D.C., on the college’s WHIP program, she dis­covered her interest in the philo­sophical ques­tions sur­rounding politics. 

“I was working on research for Dr. John Grant on Theodore Roo­sevelt’s foreign policy, and he made a comment to me that I was thinking clearly and deeply enough about the topic to be able to teach it at the col­le­giate level,” Akey said. “A few other pro­fessors in the pol­itics department noted to me that I could suc­cess­fully com­plete graduate work in the field.”

In her dis­ser­tation, Akey said she aimed to disrupt car­i­ca­tures in scholarly lit­er­ature on Locke. She said most scholars see him as either a the­ologian who thought Chris­tianity and pol­itics were com­pletely sep­arate or as an athe­istic philosopher who hated Christianity. 

“I wanted to show that Locke takes Chris­tianity seri­ously and thinks that it has prac­tical political con­se­quences,” she said. “Chris­tianity tells humans how to think and act, and these thoughts and actions affect indi­viduals, fam­ilies, com­mu­nities, and governments.”

She argued morality to be the unifier between Chris­tianity and pol­itics in Locke’s philosophy. 

Akey also said she hopes to turn her dis­ser­tation into a book. 

“In the future, I would like to teach political science, human­ities, and U.S. history courses as those oppor­tu­nities arise,” Akey said. “Because of my keen interest in my family — I am married, have an almost-2-year-old daughter, and a son due in July — I cur­rently plan to teach and research as my schedule allows,” she said. 

Akey was awarded the Judith Finn Memorial Exem­plary Mas­ter’s Graduate Award in 2018. 

“Sarah was unusually gifted,” West said. “We would discuss aca­demic topics as equals, as if she already had a Ph.D. It made it easy to be her first reader.”