Christopher Wheatley, 61, longtime professor of English and student favorite, will be retiring after nearly thirty years at Catholic University. Having served as both the Vice Provost and Dean of Undergraduate Studies at Catholic University, Wheatley is best known for his work in the classroom. From English literature to detective fiction, Wheatley’s classes have spanned far and wide and have interested many of his students.
Wheatley plans to spend the rest of the year in Europe, and spend his summers in the Pacific Northwest, while working on a book about Eugene O’Neill’s plays.
Since 2015, Wheatley has also served as an advisor to The Tower.
His impact at the University has been great, inspiring students to appreciate literature.
Junior math major Natalie Rice said she nearly switched her major to English after taking Wheatley’s detective fiction class.
“It was my absolute favorite class that I have had at Catholic,” said Rice. “He took material that I would never have otherwise read, broke it down, and made it interesting for every single student…He gave us a variety of authors, styles, and books. He challenged us, entertained us, and enlightened our minds.”
The English Department honored Wheatley with a celebration last month. The celebration featured talks from William Demastes, an Alumni Professor of English at Louisiana State University, and from Michael Vanden Heuvel, a Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Both professors are friends and fellow graduate school classmates of Wheatley. Their speeches highlighted personal anecdotes and further recognized Wheatley’s academic scholarship.
Wheatley enjoyed the talks, saying that “it was an honor to have such eminent scholars at the event.” Wheatley was then presented with a book filled with thank you notes and memories, all collected from students both past and present. Dean Aaron Dominguez thereafter congratulated Wheatley on being appointed the William J. Byron (named for Fr. Byron, CUA President 1982-1992) endowed professorial chair. A reception followed these presentations.
After nearly three decades at Catholic University, Wheatley said he decided to retire because he grew homesick for the Pacific Northwest. Hiking, hunting, fishing, and perhaps even buying a motorcycle will all be activities that Wheatley also anticipates to participate in during his retirement.
Despite excitement over these retirement plans, Wheatley reminisced on his time at Catholic University. After almost thirty years as a professor, Wheatley’s favorite class to teach was “the intensive drama, drama in English from the middle ages to the present.” He also noted that the biggest change at Catholic University was the development of the surrounding neighborhood and the deterioration of the metro system.
Apart from his favorite class and Catholic University’s biggest change, Wheatley will ultimately miss his colleagues and students, especially the undergraduates. “The best thing at Catholic has always been the undergraduates: some of them are smart, some of them are hardworking, and the undergraduate motto is ‘Catholics just want to have fun’ but they were invariably extremely likeable.”
Faculty and students alike will miss him in return. “I can say, without exaggeration, that he’s a great scholar and teacher, and was once a mediocre softball player. It’s hard for me to imagine our department–or my life in DC–without him,” friend and English professor Ernest Suarez said.
Catholic University alumnus and current writer for The Washington Post Amy Joyce noted that while Wheatley’s classes were difficult, they challenged students to think critically. “He’s a big part of my college experience and memories. Lecturing, expecting a lot from us, making us laugh,” Joyce said.
Antoinette Cea, senior and President of the English Society said that Wheatley’s classes were among her favorites. “I think it’s fair to say everyone, especially his students, will miss him greatly.”