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Profile on Bass (Final Paper)

December 10th, 2010 by Gustav

A Loyal Soul on a Winding Path

Patrick Bass was born in East L.A. – the slums. Somehow, he ended up in the open spaces of Sioux City, Iowa. In fact, he currently lives in Dakota Dunes. He said he went the usual way that a young teacher in the United States would have to go for a career. But his story has many stairways and corridors; similar to a road that takes you over mountains and through valleys, without a clear destination in mind.

Incredibly infamous.  Quiet but impulsive. Charmingly sophisticated. Highly involved. Always responsible. And tremendously trustworthy. Those attributes are part of the package that Professor Patrick Bass provides to this institution and student body. In fact, those characteristics are the reason why “Bass” fits well into the familiar spheres of Morningside College.

When he started his early college career, he pursued a bachelor in applied mathematics. Just as most students who go to college without a childhood dream career in mind, he changed his major quite often. He declared a physics major, then moved to engineering, and ended up at graduating from Harvee Mudd College, California, bundling a bachelor of science in mathematics with a concentration in the applied category. “Harvee Mudd is a small College. I doubt anyone here knows about it. But at the time, it was just about right for me to get started.” Now, Bass is a professor for history and the chair of the art and dance department.

Bass pursued the career in math and started a graduate program for a master in applied mathematics at Clemson University, South Carolina. While at Clemson, he was also an assistant teacher for math. That only lasted for one semester though, because he decided the program wasn’t for him. “I decided mathematics is kind of the young person’s game. Didn’t see myself doing anything brilliant there.” He said the stuff he liked to do he didn’t get to do in the graduate program. So he concluded that, “in the end it was just not the road for me.

There he was, with a liberal arts degree from Harvee Mudd College. The education he received there would prove very helpful in the upcoming years, as the liberal emphasis greatly accounted for both breadth and depth. He said at Harvee Mudd, one had to have a minor in the humanities and social sciences. A vast amount of 30 credit hours were dedicated to those studies. “I took my studies at a very dense and vibrant place and a lot of the classes were held off campus.”

Always enjoying history as an aspect of leisure life, he decided to acquire a minor in history, and one in government. “I always just liked reading history for fun, so I chose this direction.” Besides, he explained he had a good number of credits from High School that transferred into the math major, so he had the chance to take more electives. But let me steer back to his graduate pursuit…

Before Bass left for South Carolina, he applied for a competitive fellow scholarship. When Clemson failed, he realized he could make use of this scholarship. He tried to get back in and ended up at Claremont Graduate School, which is in Claremont, California, at the feet of a 10-k-footer. Bass was back on track. During his stay in Claremont, he did some jobs, which he specified as “odd”, but he had to come up with living money somehow.

“It’s kind of expensive to live in California,” he said in a sarcastic fashion. He later would receive a job offer as an engineer at the Jet Propulsions Laboratory (JPL), which is attached to California Tech and is highly involved in space-oriented research. The job was lucrative and provided security. Nonetheless, Bass never finished, or let’s say got his masters because he didn’t have 50 bucks to pay for the certificate.

“You will run across this issue soon enough Gustav,” is what he said when I looked at him with wide eyes and a startled face, due to my disbelief that it took $50 that he didn’t have or did not want to spend, to get the certificate. However, he would eventually get his Ph.D. in history.

Bass remembered, “As I was finishing my doctorate I got a job offer. And I took it. I resigned from JPL.” He was offered a two-year contract to teach history at KU, having been hired to teach specific classes as a replacement for someone who went into research. He would only stay for the time of the contract, said he had some “good” classes and students at KU. “Some of the students didn’t necessarily like me to much. Thought I demanded too much,” he elaborated.

His next step on the road would be Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where he instructed international officers at the Command and General Staff College. He then went to teach at another small college in Kansas and in Ohio. Finally, he ended up at Morningside College in ’92. The road narrowed and he finally arrived at his unforeseeable destination.

At Morningside, he would be a tenure-track associated professor (going to be probationary as professor to later possibly be maintained as a permanent professor for life time). Bass gained tenure at Morningside in 1995, and has been loyal ever since, very loyal indeed.

Bass was chair of the history-political science department for years and also served for several committees: Faculty senate, promotions and tenure, academic policies committee, admissions, faculty athletic representative to the GPAC, to name but a few of his endeavors. He would eventually pass the chair to Lillian Lopez, who was happy to do it. Then Bass Jumped back in for a year or two until Patrick McKinlay took over in the early years of the 2000’s.

I asked him whether he liked all the more responsibility he had off and on, and he simply said, “Being a chair is just extra work that needs done. People are not yearning to do that at a school like this. At other places it might carry some prestige.” Greg Guelcher, one of his fellow professors in the history department agrees, “Being a chair is a very thankless job, and a lot of work, which is paid with little recognition or pittance.”

He added, “A good department chair must be organized. And that’s Pat. He’s extremely organized, and holds a pan-institutional view. He has all the qualities that make for a good chair. Perhaps, he is too good for that.“

Nevertheless, and not at all surprising it seems, a year after his final give-up of chair in the history department he became chair of the mass communications department, appointed by Dean William Deeds. To round up this bizarre circulation, he ended up taking over the chair of the theatre and dance last summer, June 1, 2010 to be exact.

“It’s one of those things where, firstly, they don’t come to somebody like me unless that department didn’t have any internal options to be chair. Not wanting to be chair are usually health-related,” was his answer to my question of whether he felt compelled to take all these roles. He also said, “Because of extenuating circumstances there weren’t any good candidates. I can at least do paper work. It’s to help out, because somebody has to do it.”

I also asked him what he sees in his future. “Retirement age to get social security in these days is 66 and a half,” he explained. He added that he would just basically keep “torturing” students at Morningside.

Jeremiah Curry, who is a sophomore, said, “He challenges his students to think more, which is not typical thinking, but to expand their horizon’s and think out of the Box. Some people say his class is too hard but it’s not. The reason for that is that they have been spoon-fed all their life and then at college they’re not.”

When our interview cam to a close, Bass was anxious to recite a line from the movie “Harvey” (with James Stewart), which he indicated to be his to-live-by-philosophy: “There are two ways to go through life. You can be either oh so smart, or oh so nice. I tried the former, I recommend the latter.”

“I think it’s a compliment to Professor Bass that he can give out about twice as much homework as any other teacher, as well as ask impossible questions throughout a class period, and still be a student favorite,” Justin Tjaden explained. He is also a sophomore at Morningside and has taken more than just one of Bass’ classes. Tjaden described Bass as “nice, but persistent”.

“You come out of a Bass class with an appreciation for what you learned, because you were the one learning it,” said Tjaden. “It wasn’t a teacher giving you answers; it was a teacher asking questions and you discovering your own answers. He teaches you to be fearless in a group of people and to never be afraid to be wrong.”

Bass’ career path, indeed, seems fearless. No fear of commitment, but also no fear of change. I asked him what his to-live-by-philosophy meant to him. Bass followed up on his philosophical input and said, “One can try to outwit people and compete, as it was the case with mathematics for me, or you can focus on people and other persons.” I interrupted him and said “like trying to have time between 5-6 in the evening to tell me a life story, after going through student and faculty meetings from 11:45 A.M. till 5 P.M.” He laughed.

His door is constantly open to students, unless he is teaching. He told me that he works a total of over 70 hours per week, gets up at five every morning. When he comes home he eats and reads documents for the next day. I guess he did mention he liked watching old movies, and tries to occasionally support campus sports or theatre performances. Tough to believe this man has all this energy in storage. He did come a long way, after all.

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