The many stories of Mark Amstutz

Try to imagine Wheaton’s campus 45 years ago, the Wheaton of our grandparents’ generation. Many things about our campus were drastically different: Hudson Armerding (of Armerding Hall) was president of the college, the Chrouser Recreation Center hadn’t opened yet, C.S. Lewis’ famous wardrobe had just arrived and the Thunder were still called the Crusaders. This was the Wheaton campus that Professor of Political Science Mark Amstutz walked onto when he arrived at Wheaton to begin his teaching career.

Amstutz came to Wheaton with the intention of being here for less time than the average student. His goal was to teach for a year and then return to the world of politics in Washington, D.C. Now, 45 years later, he’s one of Wheaton’s longest-serving faculty members. This semester Amstutz’s retirement marks the end of an era. If you’re in the political science/international relations department, you’ve probably heard stories from classmates who’ve had him. But some people might be asking: Who is Mark Amstutz?

The Chile Boy

Amstutz was born in Temuco, Chile, where his parents served as missionaries. He said that while his family spoke English at home, he acted like a local Chilean, or a “Chile boy,” in the streets. Growing up, Amstutz went to local Spanish and German speaking schools. As a result, home was the only place where Amstutz had exposure to English.

When Amstutz got to high school, his parents decided that he needed to learn how to read and write in English in order to go to college in America. So, as a sophomore, Amstutz attended an English-speaking boarding school in Ecuador. For his last two years of high school, Amstutz and his family moved back to America, where his parents spent their furlough. He lived with his grandmother, helping her out around the house and driving her places.

Amstutz said that he didn’t truly feel like an American until he entered the military. He had wrestled with his bicultural identity, living in America yet feeling like a Chilean at heart. When he traveled back to Chile to do research for his book, “The Healing of Nations,” Amstutz set up a meeting with some senior officials in the Chilean military. About two or three minutes into his introduction, a three star general stood up and challenged Amstutz about why he was there. Amstutz’s response was simple: “I’m a rotten Chilean in my heart.” At that, the lieutenant general thanked Amstutz for coming and asked him to continue.

Military Man

Amstutz attended college in the 1960s, during the height of the Vietnam War. During Vietnam, the draft was in full swing. As a college student, Amstutz was exempt, but he knew once he graduated that he was vulnerable to being drafted. After graduating with a B.A. in history from Houghton College, Amstutz enrolled in the master’s program for Latin American studies at American University. There was a miscommunication between American and Amstutz’s draft board in Alliance, Kansas which resulted in Amstutz’s draft number being called. Thankfully, it was sorted out, and Amstutz continued in his graduate studies.

However, Amstutz still knew that, after graduating from American, he would again be vulnerable to the draft. Amstutz wanted to enter the armed forces as an officer, so he tried to enroll in an officer program for the Air Force and the Navy. “I was on the waiting list for the navy and the air force, but at the time, the waiting list for the navy was nine months long … and all I knew was that until I got into an officer program, I was vulnerable to the draft.” He turned to the National Guard as an alternative, but again met a months-long waiting list.

At the time, Amstutz worked as a legislative assistant for Rolland Redlin, a congressman from North Dakota. As a last-ditch attempt, he went to Redlin, asking him to call the National Guard armory. Redlin got the general on the phone, who said that Amstutz should show up the next morning. “I show up at the National Guard at 6:30 a.m., and they’re waiting for me. I walk up and pick up my hand, and I’m admitted into the National Guard, just like that.”

After leaving the National Guard, one of Amstutz’s friends recommended that he consider joining the Navy as a reserve naval attaché, an officer who serves with an embassy or is attached as an observer in a foreign navy. After applying to the reserves, Amstutz received his commission as an officer. “A year later, out of the clear blue … I received a letter: ‘The President of the United States appoints you ensign, U.S. Navy, upon acceptance of this commission.” After being accepted in 1968, Amstutz served until 1993.

A big part of Amstutz’s work in the Navy was to use his brain: He wrote reports, gave briefings, spent time in the Pentagon and tracked the navies of other countries. He eventually decided to apply to a select program within the attaché rank that, as a reserve commander, would be extremely hard to get into. Amstutz was admitted into the program with high recommendations and began to travel to Chile, Honduras and other countries. With his knowledge of Latin American culture and customs, Amstutz was an ideal candidate to serve as an attaché to Latin American countries. Once he became an attaché, he easily made connections and got meetings with military officers in Latin American countries that other, higher-up U.S. officers were unable to.

The Professor

In 1973, one year after earning his Doctorate in International Relations, Amstutz joined Wheaton’s campus after Armerding offered him an adjunct teaching position. Though he had originally planned to teach for only a year before returning to D.C., Amstutz decided to stay on at Wheaton. Looking back, Amstutz said that over the years he began to feel called to teach. In the next few years, he would serve on several committees, saying that even though he was only an adjunct professor, “Armerding liked me for some reason, maybe because I was in the Navy.”

When Amstutz came to Wheaton, the political science department was originally under the history department. Amstutz made it his mission to create an independent political science department. At one point, he was teaching introductory political science class with up to 45 students. After writing petitions detailing why Wheaton needed a political science department, Amstutz convinced Armerding to create one in 1976.

While serving as a professor at Wheaton, Amstutz also stayed in the naval reserves, spending weekdays at Wheaton and weekends at naval bases. While this arrangement didn’t allow him to spend as much time with his family, he never missed any classes — save for one occasion when he missed a week of classes to go to Argentina.

After building a department from the ground up, Amstutz continued in his academic work, going on to author seven books. Throughout all of his works, the theme of ethics features prominently. Amstutz explained that though some reviewers of his first book on international politics “said chapter on ethics didn’t belong in the book. … I told that if that chapter wasn’t there, they didn’t have a book.”

The Mentor

During his time at Wheaton, Amstutz has found his calling in equipping students to leave Wheaton, preparing them to truly live out Wheaton’s motto: “For Christ and his kingdom.” As a result, pouring into his students is one of Amstutz’s top priorities. He wants to see them grow both and in and out of the classroom. He has aimed to “build and give students self confidence to use their gifts and abilities for a purpose other than their own immediate self-interest.”

Through telling stories from both his personal and professional experiences, Amstutz has taught generations of Wheaties, showing them how to live out Christian values in multiple facets of life. He works to make himself available to each and every student that crosses into his classroom. Before launching into a story, Amstutz will often say, “I don’t know why I’m telling you this but …” The story that follows is almost always heartwarming, insightful, humorous or a combination of the three.

Junior Emily Barbosa noted that Amstutz, “is committed to equipping students to engage as Christians in a global and in a political context… He will be greatly missed.” Other students echoed Barbosa’s sentiment, citing Amstutz’s desire to prepare his students for life after Wheaton.

In his 44 years of service to Wheaton College, it is undeniable that Amstutz has made his mark on our campus. He has strived to approach each role in his life wholeheartedly. As he leaves Wheaton, Amstutz has some last remarks for Wheaton’s community: “Excellence is achieved not by adding things but by doing fewer things better … Develop your gifts and abilities, work really hard and use for a cause greater than your own self-interest.”

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