Statement by William Arnold
William O. Arnold is a 2006 graduate of Shimer College. He currently works as a domestic violence counselor.
My name is Bill Arnold and I attended Shimer College from September 2002 through May 2006. I graduated in May 2006, the summer before the college moved to Chicago from its Waukegan campus.
I write to express my concern with what has taken place at Shimer since I graduated.
There are many ways in which one could frame recent developments at Shimer, but I choose to focus on the fact that, for some time now, my friends on the faculty have feared for their jobs.
As some of you may know, there is no such thing as tenure at Shimer. The faculty are not unionized, and until very recently employment was as much a matter of trust as contractual obligation.
Further, Shimer is extraordinarily demanding of its faculty: they rarely teach within their areas of specialization and interest, they have above-average class loads, and all hold at least one administrative position. Because of this, most have little to no contact with the greater academic world: they do not publish regularly, they do not attend conferences, and they do not otherwise interact with their peers.
In short, Shimer is the type of place that faculty either leave rather quickly or stick with for years. Those that stick with it for years do so because they believe in it and are devoted to its preservation, and they often do so at the expense of their professional development.
Now the faculty find themselves in a bad economy and have to reckon with a bourgeoning new regime which appears hostile to their interests. There has probably never been a worse time in the history of this nation to be an academic looking for a job, and there has probably never been a time in the history of Shimer College when the faculty were at greater risk.
President Lindsay and a contingent of the Board of Trustees have taken what is tantamount to a "drink the Kool-Aid" approach:
1) The Faculty make formal complaints to the Board regarding abrupt, unprecedented hiring and firing decisions by the President; the Board responds with an injunction to respect the President's authority.
2) The faculty unanimously affirm the College's previous Mission Statement, over and against the President's proposed Mission Statement; the President responds by advising that any faculty who do not support his Mission ought to consider whether they truly want to remain in the College's employ.
3) The President makes no indication that he intends to address the issue of renewing faculty contracts until the end of the academic year, when a community response to the dismissal of faculty would be near impossible to mount.
4) At least two Board members intimate that 3-4 faculty members could easily be replaced with preferable candidates, and that the President is amenable this.
I focus on these things not because some of the faculty are my dear friends, but because the faculty are the backbone of Shimer.
I have done a lot of thinking about what allows Shimer to stay the same, despite its changes in student population and location. The conclusion I have come to is that Shimer remains Shimer because of its dialogue-based pedagogy, a pedagogy which takes seriously the obligations students have to respect each other and their education, a pedagogy whose values endure because the faculty, many of whom have been with the College for decades, continue to enact and preserve them.
When fear pervades a place to the extent that it has come to pervade Shimer, it becomes well-nigh impossible for these people to do their jobs, i.e. to maintain a safe, cooperative environment where critical, open-ended learning takes place.
If the faculty are the backbone of the College, and if students rely on the faculty for the educational experience which is their due from the moment they matriculate at Shimer, it begs the question of what will be left of the College for the students if the faculty are dismissed, or if their role is effectively compromised.
I do not have the answer to this question. All I know is that, from the core of my being, I regard as wrong what is happening to the faculty, and, by extension, to the students and to the College as a whole.
I encourage everyone reading this to reconsider any financial contributions they make to Shimer, and to encourage others to reconsider them as well. It is a very simple matter really: Without the faculty, what education are you paying for? Without the faculty, what is the College you hope to preserve and give back to?
Further, I encourage my readers to inquire directly into what is going on at the College. Address letters of concern to the Board members and to the President; sign the petitions which circulate; contact the myriad groups of students and alumni that are actively resisting and subverting these developments.
In conclusion, allow me to restate my central premise: if you compromise the ability of Shimer's faculty to fulfill their role in the College, you rob the students of the educational experience which has traditionally been their right and privilege, an experience which sets Shimer apart from every other liberal arts college in America. Under no circumstances is any of this justifiable or acceptable; on the contrary, it is as evil as anything I have ever encountered, and it is the obligation of any person that has ever loved Shimer to try and put a stop to it.