Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Letter to Chris Nelson by Louis F. Linden

Louis F. Linden is a 1969 graduate of Shimer College. The following letter was sent to Chairman of the Board Christopher Nelson, who also serves as president of St. John's College; it is reprinted here by permission.

Dear Mr. Nelson,

I write you today in your capacity as Chair of the Board of Trustees of Shimer College. I am a 1969 graduate of Shimer and I am very concerned at the events of the last few months. The “Mission Statement” submitted by Thomas Lindsay and adopted by the Trustees is one of the most poorly written I have ever encountered. Not only is it wordy and unfocused, making dubious logical leaps from even more dubious assumptions. It evidences an apparent intention to highjack Shimer and its tradition of critical inquiry for an ideological end. Either of these characteristics should have been fatal to its adoption. I am embarrassed by the former and appalled at the latter especially in light of the factual context that has been exposed in the several investigative articles following the money as “Deep Throat” recommended these many years ago.

As you have no reason to know me please allow me the presumption of sketching my connection to the College and its impact upon me. An anomaly in my time, I graduated from Shimer after eight consecutive semesters on the Mount Carroll campus. I was able to matriculate only because of the scholarships I received from Shimer, NDEA loans which took me 15 years to repay and four summers and winter breaks working in factories. Suffice it to say I was not a child of privilege. I was the first and only person in my family to graduate from college and the only person in my extended family to ever attend, much less graduate, from a graduate or professional school (Univ. of Texas School of Law, ’76).

The day after I graduated from Shimer I was drafted into the U.S. Army. To make a long story short, 15 months, 29 days and eight hours from the time I was inducted (not that I counted) I was the first person ever discharged from the Army as a conscientious objector on moral and ethical rather than strictly religious grounds after 3 courts martial and a federal habeas corpus. Several years later I was able to go to law school and became an award winning criminal defense and civil rights plaintiff’s litigator. Subsequently I became the Executive Director of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and was a faculty member of the National College for Criminal Defense. I then ran away to sea for five years and became a Merchant Marine deck officer. Upon coming back to the U.S. in 1992 I returned to the practice of law then came to Baltimore in 1995 to run the last ditch effort to save and restore the USS Constellation in Baltimore harbor. Since then I have embarked on another career as a sound engineer and video writer/producer. Throughout that entire experience nary a day went by when I was not consciously aware of how in some way or other Shimer made all of that possible for a plumber’s son from South Dakota.

As the President of St. Johns I’m sure I needn’t lecture you about Shimer’s raison d’etre since the adoption of the Hutchins curriculum being teaching students how to think rather than what to think, etc., etc. The previous mission statement covered that quite nicely so why the change? Everything I read from and about the College makes it difficult for me to avoid the impression that Shimer is simply a financially weak institution that is being rolled in a hostile takeover by people who intend on using it as a shell from which to produce something that serves their own agendas. The new Mission Statement is simply an announcement.

For me this is not particularly about the form of Shimer’s governance. As a Mt. Carroll grad I was used to the College administration running things for better or worse. The Presidents and a not insignificant part of the faculty were undoubtedly Republicans (as well as republicans). Their political ideology never played a part in teaching or curriculum except as yet another set of ideas that were deserving of being tortured, parsed and dissected as best we could: savagely, mercilessly and is the wont of people between the ages of 15 and 22 sometimes fatuously. Not even the faculty or the Trustees would ever have asserted that theirs was the only way to run a college. When the needs of the College changed the form of governance changed to meet the needs of the College. It was alien to me but without that change we would not have a Shimer to be discussing today. This is not about the form so much as the process by which it is being changed. That it is being imposed from the outside seems pretty obvious given the universal resistance from the faculty and students as well as former faculty, not to mention Don Moon, et. al. Mr. Nelson, what in the hell is going on there? This is beginning to look like a secondary education version of the movie “Aliens.”

If the previous mission statement was not adequate allow me to suggest the following fifty words:

Founded in 1853, Shimer College, The Great Books College of Chicago, is an independent, nonsectarian institution whose mission is liberal education. That education is best conveyed by open ended inquiry, free from unexamined assumption which Shimer accomplishes by study of the Great Books of Western Civilization using the Socratic method

Anything beyond those two sentences really belongs in budgets and lesson plans and long and short term planning documents. It is difficult to ignore the surplusage that Mr. Lindsay and 17 Trustees endorse. It pretty much seems to put the world on notice that some ideas are simply fundamental and that the new Shimer is going to promulgate them. The sequence of events in adopting it certainly reinforces that conclusion.

That Mr. Lindsay has the temerity to assert in the new mission statement that intellectual freedom cannot exist without American patriotism is astounding. Rocky Koehane from whom I took Comparative Government would be equally astounded and I can guarantee he was no mushy left wing “communitarian.” (Probably any number of scholars in such benighted places as Canada, France or the United Kingdom might be surprised as well.) At Shimer we have always studied the founding documents of the United States and subjected them to the same scrutiny as any other ideas. I am pleased to say they have always stood up to that scrutiny fairly well without any help from the outside thank you very much. The sacrosanct idea always has been and always should be anathema at Shimer.

As best I can tell from talking to other Mt. Carroll alumni the vast majority of them are concerned at least and for many, quite more passionate about what appears to be happening. I have contributed modestly to the College annually ever since I paid off my student loans as have many of my classmates. Other than my spouse Shimer is the sole legatee of my will. If indeed the important principles of Shimer are cynically violated I doubt you can expect that support in the future. I would be pleased to come to Annapolis to discuss this further with you in person. Thanking you for your attention, I remain,

Very truly yours,

Louis F. Linden, ‘69

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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Statement by Maria Sosa

Wisdom, by affliction schooled.

Maria Sosa, class of ’72.

Shimer student Allie Peluso’s recounting of her meeting with Shimer president Thomas Lindsay today affected me profoundly. I found it interesting that Lindsay characterized shared learning as “an unexamined assumption.” Perhaps he was projecting his own failure to examine the value of shared learning as experienced by Shimer students, but I’ve been examining my own assumptions lately and I’m coming to a different conclusion.

Lindsay claims that the Assembly does not contribute to the students’ learning, but rather that it detracts from it. So, apparently in Lindsay’s view the Assembly harms the students. Well, I went to Shimer College during the Mount Carroll era. We didn’t have the Assembly; in fact we didn’t have much say at all in anything regarding the governance of our Shimer College. Nobody even asked us if we liked the food--which we didn’t for the most part. While I do believe that I benefited immensely from my Shimer education, I now find myself in the odd position of wishing that I too had been harmed by the Assembly. Why wasn’t I afflicted by responsibility for defining and protecting the “basic moral law or essential ethos of the College?” Was it too much to ask that I be subjected to the burden of deliberating “all matters which affect the character and quality, the direction and governance, of the Shimer College community as a whole?”

It’s true, on the one hand, that I had a more carefree existence than your average current-day Shimer student. Decisions were made for me and I was free to gripe amongst my friends; and no one was obliged to listen to me. On the other hand, when I bid farewell to Mount Carroll, diploma in hand, I can honestly say that I wasn’t nearly as independent, resilient, articulate, or prepared to make my mark on the world as your average current-day Shimer student. I feel cheated.

Long live the Assembly! May it continue to harm Shimer students for many years to come!

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Monday, March 29, 2010

Statement by Jason Blaesing

The soul of a place is a precious thing. While the notion of soul sits uneasy with the trends of modern discourse, and certainly public language, it is fit to name the particular joining of conduct, ethos, and ambiance whose presence nourishes and makes possible meaningful human endeavor. More than a catch-word for the ineffable or descriptively resistant, soul may be a tangible experience.

Soul is greater than an aggregate of elements, greater than a palate of colors and the art of their combination. It is both touched by personality and transcendent of it. It is to be found both clothed in the particular and standing above it. Contingent and irreducible.

Shimer College is, and has been, one of the most humane of institutions. It is, I believe, the soul of the College that has made it so.

The soul of Shimer College exists in more than its curriculum; these works are vital and dear, yet in no way could an individual educating him or herself in solitary pursuit of them be said to partake of the soul of Shimer College. Likewise, if this individual were to offer public speech, in the Kantian sense, upon them and thus enter into “Great Conversation,” the soul of Shimer College need not be touched. The conversation itself, were it to follow what we might call the dialogical imperative of Shimer College, need not have commerce with the soul in question. Nor, even, taking place by accident or design on the campus of the College would this conversation necessarily alight upon that soul.

These describe material, relationship, and methodology, followed by location. None alone comprises the soul of a College; and together they do not of themselves provide a formula for its manifestation. It is precisely this unreasonable tenacity, defying the clear calculus that allows for the production of chemistry or mathematics – or the syllogism – which indicates the presence of soul. For that it is the stronger, its effects the more powerful. Being resistant to production, its appearance carries with it a hint of grace: for neither is it an accidental flowering nor a mutation of randomness. It is kairotic – apposite to the moment and unpredictable.

Yet, despite the movement it conveys, in both the peripatetic and inspirational senses, to those within its ambiance it remains a delicate entity. The butterfly – ever emblematic of the soul – shows great fortitude in pursuing the potentials of its life; it cannot, however, escape its own fragility.

There are many grievances to be voiced in relation to the travails with which we are concerned: the seeming callous disrespect paid those who have acted as the stewards and guardians of the school since its departure from Mt. Carroll (to great individual sacrifice and effort); the malfeasance of opaque motives and agendas; the disregard for the interpersonal requirements of genuine dialogue; the endangerment of the security of faculty, staff, and students – indeed not just that of the community, but of the institution itself. I and others could go on.

Most devastating, however, is that the efflorescence of a unique and principled soul has been brought to danger.

Our recent planetary and cultural history is one of repeated extinction. By the day, the week, the month, and year, distinct and irretrievable elements of life are lost: species, languages, identities. Let us not allow the soul of Shimer College to be added to that register. Let us not allow its humanity to be voided.

Since it is now at last measure, let us – with our minds upon the good of Shimer College – cast our ostraka and seek what aid we can.

Jason Blaesing
Alumnus, 2000

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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Statement by Chris McGlynn

Chris McGlynn graduated from Shimer College in 1997.

If you've made it this far, well, then you probably know the stakes and you probably know what's going on as much as anybody. And there has probably been some swearing and crying and gnashing of teeth. So, I would like to refresh our collective memories with a little history about YOU, yes, you my fellow schmelt.

In 1853, Frances Wood and Cinderella Gregory founded what would eventually be called Shimer College. It was a rainy May 11 and they didn't even have their own building. So, without any money and without much idea how to go about it, they built their own building. And then they built the whole Mount Carroll Campus, with students helping if they could or if they wanted to. (by the way, that was the beginning of shared governance in my book)
At times, the College had a Board of Trustees which sometimes helped but often didn't. They too, voted to close the school. And again, Frances and Cinderella scraped up a bit of money and bought the school from the board, which really amounted to buying the school's debt. And the school, which even then had a unique pedagogy, continued to enlighten the minds of young people and improve their characters.
Toward the end of her life Frances Wood Shimer wanted to preserve the remarkable institution that she, her fellow facuty and her students had literally built with their own hands. After 50 or so years of tireless dedication to the College, she went to work, in an orange grove in Florida. Her and it seems some of her faculty and students came down to help harvest oranges for the purpose of funding the school.
Well, it worked well enough, but still more help was needed. And so, she looked to the University of Chicago for help, and they did. She died shortly after and is buried in a cemetery overlooking the institution which she built brick by brick, soul by soul, if you will.
We are all familiar with the education at Shimer. It is and always has been egalitarian and noble. It has always engaged students and professors in meaningful ways so that they can better the world. Shimer is not and never has been simply a degree. It is a way of life which Frances Wood Shimer led herself and taught us: Give of yourself, to your last, for the betterment of others. Teach what you know and learn what you don't. And never let the impossibility of the world stop you from making the world a better place, one person, one conversation at a time.
In the more than 100 years since Frances left us her legacy, much has changed at the college. Shimer has flourished. Shimer has fought. Shimer has been torn apart. Shimer has even sent its students back to the fields, and they went willingly.
The legacy that Frances Shimer and Cinderella Gregory and those other women and men who built our school is not a building, or a campus. It is not a single life, however admirable. As a community and a body politic, we have faced closure, we have faced funding crises, we have faced hunger, we have faced great internal strife and we have always survived because we, like Frances Shimer, simply refuse to fail. We refuse to let this community down. We refuse to allow ignorance and intolerance to survive in our midst. We affirm, with Socrates, that the unexamined life is not worth living but with Frances Shimer and Cinderella Gregory we affirm that a life dedicated to a community of equals is more noble than a life dedicated to oneself.
You, my fellow Shimerian, you are Frances Wood Shimer. You know it has never been easy and you know it may take supreme sacrifice, but you also know that it is worth it. You, personally, are the legacy of Frances Shimer. You carry it with you where ever you go. Whenever you give of yourself to abolish ignorance, whenever you refuse to leave something unexamined, whenever you engage in a dialogue you are Frances Shimer.
So, go on, say it with me, out loud, they already think we're crazy right? I am Frances Wood Shimer.


Thursday, March 25, 2010

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.

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Letter to Thomas Lindsay by Elton Kelly

President Lindsay,

I discovered Shimer College in the pages of a book called "Cool Colleges: For the Hyper-Intelligent, Self-Directed, Late Blooming, and Just Plain Different." Upon arriving at Shimer I was happy to find that it met each criteria of the book's subtitle. Before arriving at Shimer I did not realize how significantly "just plain different" the school was. I was prepared for the small, dialog based classes and independent-minded students, but I did not expect to become passionate about the governance and direction of the Shimer community. Despite the fact that I had attended a Christian high school with a graduating class size of only 70, and a small Bible school of slightly more than 100 students in the entire school, I had never felt school pride. It was entirely incomprehensible to me. The top-down governmental structures left me feeling like a consumer. The school was there to teach. I was there to learn. I was friends with the president of the Bible school, but it never occurred to me that I could have or should have actively shaped the institution into what I believed would have led myself and others towards the good life. I went to class, took from it what I thought was good, and ignored the rest.

This consumer attitude was a deep aspect of my worldview, spreading into other areas of my life. I felt like a consumer of the United States of America, rather than an active citizen. I was raised in America, and I appreciated the freedoms that this fact supplied me, but I never identified myself as proudly American. It was not until I arrived at Shimer that I realized part of the good life involves being actively political. The Assembly and the self-directed egalitarian culture of Shimer taught me that the good life involves actively debating in the public sphere what the good life is. By sharing my developed conception of the good life, and being willing to adjust it as I mature and argue, I have begun to understand myself, since my experience at Shimer, as an active participant in this community we call America.

In 2006 I married my wife. Due to her health issues, we decided it was in her best interest to move from the harsh weather and living conditions of Chicago to Portland, Oregon. This was an extremely difficult decision for me to make. Of course I had made many relationships with the students and faculty of Shimer, but I had also become passionate about the mission of Shimer. It was hard for me to leave just as they were moving to the IIT campus. The decision to move to IIT had been made the spring before my wife and I chose to move to Portland. Debating and wrestling with whether moving out of Waukegan was best for Shimer’s mission had been one of the most meaningful and exhilarating events in my life. It was tragic to leave halfway through the process.

To make things worse, I transferred to Lewis & Clark College in Portland. Lewis & Clark is a beautiful, academically respected school, but once again I had become a part of a community that gave me no reason to care about its future. I had little reason to believe my voice would be heard or that I could make a difference. Frequently the administration was making decisions that directly contradicted the will of the student body. The student body demanded very little from the administration because it knew it would receive little. In spite of the fact that Lewis & Clark is considered one of the most politically active colleges in the country, internally the students were rarely heard. The administration treated the school like a business. The faculty stayed out of the dispute because they had books to be published and jobs to keep. This deprived the students of something amazing that I experienced at Shimer. Shimer and the Assembly give the students an education that cannot be found inside the classroom. Because of the structural differences between Lewis & Clark and Shimer, the former was able to give me many things the latter could not. Nonetheless, I suffered at Lewis & Clark. Nearly all of my education was in the classroom. I am fond of the philosophy department at LC because I have become friends and peers with my professors, but I learned very little from the school as a community. Once again I had become a consumer. I was there to learn, and they were there to teach.

At Lewis & Clark I was fortunate enough to study under Nicholas Smith and Joel Martinez. Because of them I have become devoted to Aristotle's (Virtue) Ethics. I would like to argue that the passion for the political that I learned and habituated through my education at Shimer was far more Aristotelian than my purely academic education at Lewis & Clark. It is because of my time at Shimer that I no longer feel disenfranchised as a member of America’s democracy on a national and local level. This is something I would not have learned at Lewis & Clark.

I am writing in defense of dialog and the Assembly. You and the "Lindsay 18" have been charged with disrespecting these two key aspects of the Shimer culture. Currently I am in Boise, Idaho. I cannot know if these allegations are true. Either way, many people feel disrespected by the way you have acted and communicated. Please consider why this is. Maybe their criticisms are unjustified, but their feelings are not.

Currently I am working in the corporate world as a Software Test Engineer. I understand that Shimer needs to become financially viable. Although I believe Shimer's mission is of far greater importance than its budget, I recognize that it is a business. I hope that as president you can make Shimer financially successful. Please do not sacrifice Shimer's ability to educate the whole person, including the political, for the sake of the financial.

Also, please recognize that every single one of the faculty, and many others, have sacrificed their lives for Shimer College. You may not respect their methods, but do not doubt their fidelity.


Elton Kelly

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Friday, March 19, 2010

Letter to Thomas Lindsay by Kathleen Chappell

Kathleen D. Chappell graduated from Shimer College in 1976. Kathleen helped orchestrate Shimer's move to Chicago and is currently the Chief Development Officer at Ada S. McKinley Community Services, Inc. in Chicago.

Dear President Lindsay:
I've recently learned of the controversy your unilateral actions have stirred at Shimer College from the Chronicle of Higher Education and other publications. I am surprised and stunned to read online at various Shimer sites of your fantastical overreaching in your obligations at the College. As one of the alums who in person welcomed you to our community, I am especially disappointed in your failure to understand and lead us. As one who helped orchestrate the College’s move to the Illinois Institute of Technology campus, I am angered that the controversy incited by you jeopardizes what we envisioned as a new beginning for our College—the chance to grow and thrive in a marketable location, with amenities for our students, and opportunities for inter-institutional academic agreements with Illinois Institute of Technology, including Chicago-Kent College of Law.
Regarding the Shimer College mission statement, as the faculty rightly observed, it is the community--the Faculty and Assembly together--that has the standing to debate and define the College's mission. Alone, you do not have standing to change our mission, notwithstanding the small majority of interlocking board members that you have managed to secret onto the College's governing body.
Alone, you cannot change our spirit. Our College, the one we know, is not classifiable. As the faculty rightly expressed, our mission is in a word: education. It's not right; it’s not left; it’s not center. It is diverse. (I like this word.) Additionally, the Shimer approach incubates and grows in students to become a life-long joy in learning. I believe that learning-love is one of the most defining traits we take away. It's to the credit of the College that so many of so many persuasions call this thing their own.
Whatever your agenda President Lindsay, you have turned your back on our history and you have insulted our Faculty with threats--this Faculty, who have given years of altruistic service, offering the incomparable Shimer experience for class after class of appreciative and grateful students. You have discounted the work of hundreds of alums who have devoted time and talent to resolving various circumstances that endangered the College in recent decades. Your actions have dismayed many of the current students at a time when Shimer's survival is linked to the confidence and support of each and every stakeholder. Every one!
As the situation plays out in the coming weeks and months, I imagine you will see that faculty, students, and alums, individually and collectively, will continue to resist your agenda. Alone, you are not the spirit of Shimer College; we are.
Very truly yours,

Kathleen Chappell
B.A., Shimer College, 1976; M.B.A., Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, 1981; J.D., Chicago-Kent College of Law, 2007

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Friday, March 12, 2010

Letter to Thomas Lindsay by Marcia Zdun Nelson

Author and journalist Marcia Zdun Nelson graduated from Shimer College in 1975. Her books include The God of Second Chances: Stories of Lives Transformed by Faith and The Gospel According to Oprah.

Dear President Lindsay,

I’ve been a financial supporter of Shimer College for most of my working life since I graduated in 1975. I taught there for two years (1978-80), helping to move the college to Waukegan. Shimer has my firstborn child, Meg Nelson; I was excited by the opportunities made possible by the move to Chicago. I also recently submitted my name for a position on the board of trustees but withdrew when a complication arose in our finances. I think I am familiar with the school.

I have on my bookshelf an underlined, highlighted copy of The People Shall Judge, the anthology of readings about the formation of American policy prepared at the University of Chicago for the Great Books curriculum; PSJ was used in Soc 2 when I was there. The introduction has some lovely and reasoned statements about the purpose of liberal education, e.g., “Liberal education must help the people to judge well.” It also notes that in the development of what it calls intelligent citizenship, “the students must themselves practice judgment” through discussion classes and dialog as a means to critical examination. The book’s editors don’t, however, argue that the American Constitution enshrines the political freedom on which intellectual liberty depends. But possibly this compendium of writings essential to understanding the American system of liberties is no longer in use at Shimer.

I bring up the above because I can’t figure out why Shimer’s new mission statement gives pride of place to readings about the development of American liberty. They’re an important part of the curriculum, but they don’t seem more important than anything else in an education aimed at developing broad, general knowledge and critical faculties. Are they more important than Plato’s Republic? Or Aristotle’s Poetics? Or Shakespeare’s Hamlet? The wording of the new mission statement smacks of ideological jingoism, which is the very antithesis of the “liberal” – free; also broad, generous -- in liberal arts education.

I gave $500 at the end of 2009, but I will not be liberal – as in generous – with Shimer College as long as this mission statement stands. You and a bare majority of the recently expanded board of trustees, a number of whom appear to have little familiarity with the workings and history of the institution but do appear to have some sort of agenda, have redefined the mission of Shimer into something I don’t recognize, so I can’t support the school. I am also sending a copy of this letter to Albert Fernandez for dissemination to the College through its assembly.


Marcia Zdun Nelson

B.A., Shimer College, 1975; M.A, University of Chicago; M.S.J., Northwestern University


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Monday, March 8, 2010

Open Letter by David Koukal

This letter was originally posted to the Listen listserv and the Shimer Unauthorized Historical Society Facebook forum. You can read the whole thing at Shimer Alumni Alliance Blog. The author, David Koukal, graduated from Shimer College in 1990 and is now an Associate Professor of Philosophy at University of Detroit Mercy, where he also directs the Honors Program.
Our favorite paragraph:

It is growing increasingly clear to me that the president and his allies are not fighting by the rules—at least not by the principles of shared governance embraced by the rest of academia, and certainly not by the rules that have governed the College for the past forty-some years. Can there be any doubt, after the threat to our faculty, that the president and his allies are fighting like animals? Can there be any doubt that they are antagonistic toward the College’s traditions and ethos? And can there by any doubt, after our faculty have been menaced with loss of livelihood, that unless we too start fighting like animals, the College will be savaged and mauled beyond recognition?


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Friday, March 5, 2010

Letter to the Assembly by Steve Zolno

Steve Zolno graduated from Shimer College in 1971. He is the president of the American Values Focus Group. The following letter was addressed to the Assembly of February 28th.

In 2003 I participated in the 150th reunion of Shimer which was held at the Waukegan campus. Up until then I was uncertain whether Shimer still existed due the school’s history of near closures. However, I, and many other past Shimer students (some graduates, some not) determined immediately that we would attend. I believe that the reason for our undying loyalty to Shimer is not our attachment to a football team or an old fraternity, but a connection at a much deeper level. We feel that Shimer represents an essential part of us, and perhaps the best part at that. Soon after the 2003 reunion we started regularly scheduled discussions in our area based largely on the great books curriculum that Shimer employs.

For many of us Shimer remains not just our “old school,” but the place where perhaps the most important part of who we are was defined. That’s why such a great number of us in Northern California have been following the recent discord.

Hopefully your current struggle is not greatly disrupting your academic lives. However, the most essential purpose of education – in my view – is preparing one to participate in democracy. Your struggle, if nothing else, is a laboratory in motion. To me it is clear that the value of an education can be measured not solely by an ability to sustain oneself: it must also affect one’s ability to contribute and participate in society. For me and, I believe, a number of us, Shimer not only familiarized us with the essential tenets of our civilization, but made us feel confident in our ability to participate as active citizens. The most relevant element of our education was not the study of documents, but the dialogue that leads to an ability to fully take part in democracy. The essence of democracy is engagement, not theory.

I believe that Tom’s portrayal of how higher education is essential to the perpetuation of democracy is well founded, but that participation is what teaches us the most. As Donald Rumsfeld has told us: “Democracy is messy.” Keeping focused while participating in constructive dialogue and working through a mess led to the founding of our nation. Dialogue toward a common goal – regardless of ideology – is the guts of what keeps a democracy functioning. This is not only a necessary foundation of democracy but the essence of its ability to continue to exist. A McCarthy-like litmus test clearly is at odds with real democracy.

I believe that most of the Shimer community shares a common vision that is similar to a vision of what is possible for our civilization. This includes respect for the dignity of every human being in practice as well as in word. I would hope that all are committed to the ongoing dialogue that is the essence of what Shimer needs – and has always needed – to perpetuate itself. Another military leader said - during the Vietnam era - that “we had to destroy the city to save it.” This represents the ultimate arrogance of those who would impose their ideology at any cost. I understand that there has been talk of cracking eggs at Shimer, but once Humpty Dumpy is rendered asunder there will be no way to put him back together in a viable form.

Many ex-students in Northern California would like to know how we best can support the ideals of Shimer at this point. We’re looking forward to hearing from you and the rest of the community.

Steve Zolno, Class of ‘71

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Thursday, March 4, 2010

Letter to the Assembly by Peter Schroth (1966)

Read it at the Shimer Alumni Alliance Blog.
Money quote:

In recent decades, Shimer College has never been a "failing institution" in any sense other than financial. It has been splendidly successful in its curriculum, learning environment and internal governance.

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Thoughts on "The Trouble in Chicago," by Michael Weinman

Michael D. Weinman graduated from Shimer College in 1998 and obtained his Ph.D. in Philosophy from the New School for Social Research in 2005. He is currently a Tutor at St. John's College in Annapolis, Maryland. The following reflections were originally posted on Facebook, where many Shimerians gather.

I read with great interest the recent piece by Mr. Trotter (“Trouble in Chicago”; The Gadfly, March 2010) about my alma mater, Shimer College. I am greatly moved by this, as I am more generally, by the amount of attention and concern current events at Shimer has garnered from a number of sources. I hope that you’ll be able to share these reflections with your readers as you see fit.

Mr. Trotter’s piece—which seems to me very fair-minded and thoughtful—contains one aside that I would like to ask him and those who have read his article to think more about it. He writes: “Certainly we have not seen the calamity of finances Shimer has, and I think we can partly thank people you and I have never met for that.” There are qualifiers in the conclusion this sentence (“I think,” “partly”), and I don’t really disagree with its drift in any case, but I still want to call what seems to me an unstated premise here into question. I wholly agree that “people you and I have never met” (i.e., the “professional managers” to whom St. John’s has entrusted “large amounts of not-especially-scrutinized power and trust”, like the Visitors and Governors, and also the consultants hired by same) are to be acknowledged as a partial source of the stability and success St. John’s has enjoyed for the past decades through which Shimer has consistently struggled. However, I deny what seems to me a presumed further conclusion that it is precisely because those folks have been entrusted with that kind of “not-especially-scrutinized” power that St. John’s has thus succeeded, while Shimer, in going the self-governance route, has failed itself. It is wholly possible, I want to say, either or both that St. John’s could have had a fully-fledged self-governance model in place and still had the strong Board and professional management that it has today and/or that Shimer could have entrusted “large amounts of not-especially-scrutinized power and trust” to its Board and potential professional managers and still face its current crisis.

This matters insofar as we are thinking about the future. In order to explain why I believe this to be so, allow me to examine the heart of the argument a bit more closely. Mr. Trotter seems to me to have presented the following facts for our consideration:

(1) St. John’s students and faculty enjoy a high degree of insulation from the various financial and institutional challenges the College faces.
(2) Shimer students and faculty have never enjoyed, and stridently refuse an offer to enjoy, a high degree of insulation from the various financial and institutional challenges the College faces.
(3) St. John’s students and faculty have (without much controversy) ceded most control of administrative matters to its Board and professional managers.
(4) Shimer students and faculty have (with great controversy) refused to cede most control of administrative matters to its Board and professional managers.

I am not sure what conclusions precisely—aside from thankfulness at St. John’s degree of comfort, which I wholly share with him—Mr. Trotter means for us to draw from these facts as presented, but the following twin conclusions seem like plausible inferences:

(1) Shimer students and faculty ought to accept that Shimer’s version of self-governance is gone forever, if the College is to survive, and ought to cede most control of administrative matters to its Board and professional managers.
(2) St. John’s students and faculty ought to see Shimer’s experience as a “cautionary tale” on the vices of attempts by those teaching and studying the liberal arts to be self-governing on matters of College life beyond the academic program.

I wholly accept the facts Mr. Trotter presents, but I reject both of these related, possible inferences. Specifically, as a long-time member of Shimer’s community (as student, as alum, as [very small-time] donor, as friend to faculty and Board members), and a member of St. John’s community, I would like to make a plea for resisting such conclusions. A plea directed toward those who still are shaping Shimer’s future, as they consider what shape the administration of non-academic affairs at Shimer ought to take, and a plea directed toward members of St. John’s community, as they reflect on what role, if any, student and faculty governance ought to play in the administration of the College.

My “policy recommendations” for the future with respect to both Shimer and St. John’s—though surely it’s the former which is more pressing and more in need of immediate determination—derive from my different reading of the experience of these two institutions in the past 30 years. Let’s recall that, like Shimer (and like any not-greatly-endowed institution at that time), St. John’s also faced great difficulties in the mid- and late-1970s and into the 1980s. These difficulties, I would like to posit here, were not owing to the role of students and faculty in governance at the two institutions, but rather to the overall contraction of the economy, the emergence of an alternative model of undergraduate education, and other systemic pressures. Shimer and St. John’s might have both folded, or been transformed into radically different institutions, under these pressures, regardless of what institutional structures were in place for the Colleges and regardless of the individual people staffing those structures. St. John’s emerged from these difficulties with a very strong and committed Board—one full of members with close, traditional ties to the College, crucially—and, on its Annapolis campus, has enjoyed the fruits of stability in the President’s office for almost two decades. Shimer, meanwhile, ought not to have emerged at all, by the lights of tradition and procedure. It did so, to serve some thousands of students like myself, in three locations, over 35 years, only because the students and faculty refused to let the place be destroyed by the mismanagement of its Board and professional managers.

All this is familiar enough. I rehash it as “background evidence” for the conclusions I wish to draw, admittedly without sufficient documentation for rational scrutiny:

(1) St. John’s College is as stable and secure at it is—and this is still not the kind of security for which we would wish—in no small measure because of the active participation and financial contributions of its successful alumni, and the manner in which this participation and these contributions have been stewarded by a good Board, and good professional management.
(2) Shimer College exists today only because of the refusal by students and faculty to cede most control of administrative matters to its Board and professional managers. Thus, there is insufficient reason for the students and faculty to cede this role to a Board and professional managers until such time as such parties demonstrate both (a) a profound commitment to the ways and means of the College community, those who labored to preserve its existence, and (b) the kind of competence visible, for example, in the Board and managers at St. John’s.

If you can warrant me that these conclusions are at least no less likely to be true than the inferences I see as the likely ones to be drawn from Mr. Trotter’s account, then here are those “policy recommendations” which I draw from these conclusions, and which I submit for your examination and consideration:

(1) The students and faculty of St. John’s College would do well to reflect of Shimer’s experience so as to ask how, if at all, their own experience of administrative realities could play a larger role in their theoretical activities.
(2) The students and faculty of Shimer College would do well to reflect on the success story at St. John’s, not as the model that ought to be adopted there, but as an inspiration to find the model by which Shimer can thrive as Shimer.

Finally, let me explain what I mean by that. Shimer and St. John’s are both very dear to me. I find them endearing, of course, for what they share (which I would parse thus: a commitment to shared inquiry in small groups of people who know one another well and care deeply for both the texts under discussion and those discussing them). But I love them just as much for how they differ—which is in their cultures, far more than in their curricula: Shimer has long insisted on a different, and more difficult, understanding of the unity of theoretical and practical wisdom (of sophia and phronesis) than the one practiced at St. John’s. St. John’s, in encouraging students to develop phronesis through contributions to campus life and volunteering and internships, provides a fine model, and a sustainable model, of how liberal education can be pursued to wonderful effect in the United States today. Shimer, however, if it is also to serve as a good and sustainable model, must not attempt to become “another” St. John’s. Shimer, I believe, will serve others, as it has served me, only if it succeeds in pursuing its own and different balance between the need for students and faculty to “kept safe” from the challenges of pursuing costly liberal education in a political and social environment that does not particularly support it and the desire to encourage the development of phronesis by asking all its “theoretical practioners” to also be meaningfully knowledgeable and involved in the administration of the College as both an institution and an intentional community.

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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Shimer Thoughts by Jerry Clark

James Jerry Clark graduated from Shimer College in 1975 and taught on the faculty from 1978 to 1981. He is now an assistant professor of education at St. Joseph's University.

I am a witness to many of the struggles that have rocked Shimer College over the past forty years. I arrived at Shimer as a 16-year-old early entrant in February, 1972 in the wake of what is called in Shimer lore the “Grotesque Internecine Struggle.” Simmering tensions over questions of governance and the decision making role of the faculty exploded with a ferocity that precipitated an exodus of students and faculty from which the College never fully recovered. In 1973, the Board voted to close the school, and only the heroic efforts of faculty, students, alums, a few members of the Board, and some dedicated members of the broader community saved it from extinction. A handful of us remember those times; some of us also remember the second attempt of the Board to close the College at the end of that decade as well as its subsequent move to Waukegan; and still others remember its recent relocation to Chicago. These were all trying times for those who cared for Shimer. None of these challenges, however, extended to the very foundations of Shimer College and its reason for being as have the present controversies.

I am proud to have played a small role in the efforts to “save” the College in 1973 and again in 1978. From 1973 until I graduated in 1975 I served as a student government leader, a member of the Faculty Personnel and Educational Policies Committees, and as a member of the Student/Faculty Steering Committee entrusted with organizing the activities that convinced the receiver, into whose hands the Board had placed the school, to keep the College open. I was a member of the search committee that “found” a new President of the College in 1975. In 1978 I returned to Shimer, and for the next four years I served as a member of the faculty and the Board, and for three of those years I held the position of College Provost (now the Academic Dean) in both Mount Carroll and Waukegan.

I wish I could say that I have remained a vital member of the Shimer community in the years since I left in 1982; I have not. While I have visited occasionally, have kept myself abreast of developments, and have sent two of my former students to the College, I have failed to devote a fair share of my financial and other resources to Shimer, as have so many of my peers. For that I am sorry. However, my love of the College and the gifts it gave me compel me in this instance to offer my judgment – the faculty that Lord Shaftsbury called the “privilege of oneself” and that Hannah Arendt did not live long enough to fully explore in her The Life of the Mind.

Shimer has always been defined by a complex tension between traditional and progressive impulses. Its core curriculum consists of works that have enduring value and have stood the test of time – works that are rooted in time and place, but also transcend them. On the other hand, its commitment to a democratic admissions process, the discussion method, and an institutional history that has moved inexorably in the direction of shared governance are informed by the progressive spirit of John Dewey and his view that schools should be “laboratories of democracy.” Even as the faculty and student body assumed increasingly decisive roles in decision making after 1973, culminating in the creation of the “House” in 1978 and the “Assembly” after the move to Waukegan, major decisions regarding changes to the curriculum and the mission of the College were withheld from both simple “majorities” as well as from administrative or Board fiat. In some ways, this was Shimer’s distinctive response to the question striking Berkeley students asked Chancellor Clark Kerr at the height of the Free Speech Movement in the late 1960s: “Just who and what is the university?” Ironically, these very these tensions and Shimer’s novel way of navigating them have made the College attractive to and welcoming of students, faculty, and Board members with a wide range of philosophical, political, and religious convictions. It is disheartening to see growing evidence that ideological polarization and the viciousness of the “history and culture wars” that have so poisoned our public space now threaten to infect the life of a College that has in the past been inoculated against such infection.

When I was a student, the Dean of the College refused to renew the contract of my mentor and best friend on the faculty; equally distressing to me was his presidential vote for Nixon in 1972, the year in which I was chair of the local Citizens for McGovern campaign. But, in spite of our passionate disagreements, I well remember the grace showed by the Dean, when as President of the Student Government I had the temerity to berate him in front of the faculty and other administrators for his failure to uphold the principles of Kantian morality in making administrative decisions. I still have the letter he wrote me the next day thanking me for my “provocative” and “well-reasoned” speech. Similarly, as a student leader, my principal rival in nearly every election was the scion of a powerful Downstate Republican family and a committed, conservative Catholic. What I remember most about my relationship with both of them, as well as my relationship with their allies, was not only the civility with which we fought our battles, but the friendships we forged. When together we read Aristotle’s Ethics, we saw ourselves partially reflected in the discussion of how friendship is both the model for genuine politics and the necessary condition for its possibility.

Our love of Shimer and the commitment each of us had to its survival made those friendships across philosophical, political, religious differences possible. For us, and for generations of Shimerians, Shimer made rational dialogue possible. Shimer made respect for multiple perspectives possible. Shimer made understanding of the best of human thought and culture possible. Shimer made the life of the mind possible. Why? Because we were engaged together in an ongoing and ever-deepening conversation that centered on the complexity of ideas and values guided by the best of what had been thought, written, and created. We sought to understand and wrestle honestly with the claims of continuity and change, thought and action, order and rebellion, nature and nurture, the individual and the collective, appearance and reality, rights and responsibilities, passion and reason, freedom and necessity, liberty and equality, form and function, truth and opinion, the public and the private.

As a graduate student at the University of Chicago, I entered a very different space. Pro-gay Straussians did not speak to anti-gay Straussians; Marxists did not speak to liberals; early Wittgensteinians did not speak to later Wittgensteinians; continental philosophers did not speak to analytic philosophers; historicists did not speak to proponents of the New Criticism; Keynesians did not speak to the followers of Milton Friedman; and behavioral theorists did not speak to normative ones. But, I was from Shimer and that fact compelled me to take courses from all of them and to learn from each of them. They became my friends and mentors, and I draw upon their insights and perspectives each and every day of my thinking, acting, and judging life.

During these dark times, let us ensure that this chapter in the history of Shimer College will neither be its last, nor the moment when it became a school unrecognizable to nearly half of its Board, the bulk of its alums, its present faculty, and its present student body. To those ends, I offer the following thoughts for our mutual consideration:

1.) Shimer includes – but is not limited to – those who populate it at a particular moment. It is comprised of us, those who came before us, as well as those who will come after us.

2.) Shimer’s existence hangs as always by a slender thread; that existence is threatened if we do not heed Kant’s call to an enlarged judgment that takes into account the perspectives of all who have a stake in the College, whether they be on the “left” or on the “right.” The Board should insist as a matter of principle that members with diverse perspectives have a seat at the table. Its members should exercise disinterested judgment and realize that they and the current president of the College are only temporary stewards of an institution whose history and traditions pre-date them, and will outlive them.

3.) People of good will who are not driven by an ideological agenda that inclines them against compromise can discover together a proper balance between shared governance and the need for effective administration and institutional advancement. Through honest and respectful dialogue, informed by the legitimate claims of both change and continuity, such a compromise can be reached.

4.) No organization can successfully revise its mission statement without an open and extended process of consensus building that includes the participation of all stakeholders. Such a process can build trust and community; without it, trust and community are broken. One does not need to be a Quaker to realize that an 18-16 vote of the Board of Trustees, unanimous opposition from the faculty, and overwhelming disapproval by the student body and alumni do not reflect anything approaching a consensus. Mission statements are designed to be the wellsprings of commitment and the guides to decision making; they are not ideological sledgehammers. One may be able to assemble temporarily the needed votes, but legitimate authority requires something else altogether.

5.) At the height of the battle to save the College in 1973, the editorial board of the Chicago Tribune wrote that “Shimer is a small college, but there are those who love her.” Let us not turn this place we love into a sacrificial lamb on the altar of ideology – making of our Beloved Community a site where Eric Hoffer’s “true believers” either on the left or on the right make of her a mere play thing and where she is treated, as Kant would have it, “as a means only.” If Shimer has indeed become a mere play thing for those who have lost sight of their proper role as her stewards, let us marshal our resources to restore a process that leads, in the words of the Shimer College mission statement so many of us knew, “away from passivity, beyond either unquestioning acceptance of authority or its automatic mistrust, and towards informed, responsible action.”

James Jerry Clark

Assistant Professor of Education

Saint Joseph’s University

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Letter by Sydney Spiesel

Sydney Spiesel, MD, Ph.D., graduated from Shimer College in 1961. He is a pediatrician specializing in adolescent medicine, and serves on the clinical faculty of the Yale School of Medicine. His commentary appears frequently on NPR and Slate. His wife, Christina Spiesel, graduated from Shimer in 1962 and is an artist, writer and distinguished scholar of law. The following letter from Dr Spiesel was disseminated to the community shortly after the February 28th Assembly of Shimer College, at which the illegitimate new "mission statement" was discussed.

I have so far been sitting out the exchange about the fate of Shimer but thinking about it and thinking about some of the email we have gotten directly; the messages saying, essentially, “enough, already – time to let the damned thing die in peace.” Frankly, if that were its likely fate I could probably be persuaded, but at the moment it looks as if a fate worse than death might be in the offing.

The great tragedy of Shimer is that it was the purest and most perfect test of the power of an enlightened curriculum and a faculty seriously committed to teaching to truly educate essentially _unselected_ students – and that such a stunning accomplishment was never documented. I’ve had plenty of opportunity to teach amazingly gifted, highly selected students and to observe and assess their accomplishments. But for these students we can never know whether the curriculum or the teaching made any difference: they were predestined for great accomplishment. Shimer, desperate for students and democratic in its admissions policies, provided a different and more pure case. Some of Shimer’s entrants were clearly on a par with students at the most prestigious and most selective colleges – and, by and large, those entrants have done extraordinarily well, just as if they had gone instead to, say, Yale.

But the amazing thing about Shimer is that /all/ its students have done extraordinarily well, even the ones who could never have gotten into more selective institutions. Virtually every graduate I’ve ever come across is, in the deepest sense of the word, an educated person. They are able to understand, make use of, and appreciate the accomplishments of human thought and human culture; they are able to learn new things; and they are able to think deeply and critically about the broad range of issues which affect human life.

There are now emerging strong hints …


… that Shimer may be facing a takeover leading to a new institution with a name we cherish but with a substance that is the opposite of all the open and critical thinking so central to the mission of the school we knew. Putting aside the question of the future of Shimer (which I think also needs to be addressed), is there interest in preserving the monumental accomplishment of its past – maybe via a moderated blog site or listserv that could lead to a book about this experiment in education?

One more thing -- please feel free (indeed, encouraged) to forward this to any alumni (or others) who might be interested in the situation.

Actually, I think increasing awareness of the situation beyond the few people who have been exchanging email would be a good thing.

best to all,


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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Letter to the Assembly by Young Kim

Young Kim graduated from Shimer College in 1973, and obtained his JD from Northwestern in 1976. A distinguished attorney and scholar of law, Kim currently serves on the faculties of both Colorado and Northwestern. He is a past president of the Asian American Bar Association, and also chaired the Shimer College Board of Trustees for many years. The following letter was disseminated to the community just before the February 28th Assembly of Shimer College, at which the Board's illegitimate "mission statement" was approved, and a vote of no confidence in the president was tabled.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I write you as an alum and former three-term Chair of the Board of Trustees of Shimer College. I have been following recent events and communications at the College with increasing concern and consternation. For those of you attending this Sunday’s Assembly meeting which, unfortunately, I will be unable to do, I urge you to vote “No Confidence” in President Lindsay for his truly astounding lack of good leadership and management of the College and its affairs.

Furthermore, I urge you to vote in favor of not recognizing the legitimacy or authority of the new and quite inappropriate “mission statement” recently adopted by the Board in an 18 to 16 vote. As an aside, it is, of course, ironic that many who trumpet “freedom” as a cause, would construct the most illiberal of societies. This mission statement controversy, though, is of secondary importance and somewhat of a red herring, diverting attention from what I believe to be the real issues at hand. In such latter regard, and for reasons that I will explain, I believe that President Lindsay and certain recently appointed Trustees should resign their positions for the good of the College.

The recent controversies at the College appear to be intentionally instigated by President Lindsay in an ego-driven quest for power. In saying this, I point to his creation of the recent “mission statement” misadventure as an example of his pursuit of a purely personal agenda. Quite oddly, the power that President Lindsay seems to crave is some sense of personal ownership of an abstract concept of “power.” There seems no purpose, or things that the President seeks to do with this power, other than to claim ownership of it. This therefore vain quest is utterly at odds with his charge to take actions, or not to take actions, in furtherance of the best interests of the College. And, by the College, I mean the institution and the larger Shimer community including its various constituencies. The lack of respect that President Lindsay accords the institution and the College’s various constituencies is truly stunning. He should resign his position.

As to the sadly fractured Board and the rabid posturing that occasionally appears to mark the recent discourse between factions, I would not so quickly attribute the difficulties to Barre Seid, fka The Anonymous Donor. I say this because I have had dealings with Barre on behalf of the College a number of years ago, and the picture of him as an evil behind-the-scenes mastermind orchestrating the actions of his minions on the Board does not fit. I have been tempted to contact him directly about all this, but I have so far restrained myself from doing so. On the other hand, I believe that someone on behalf of the College should talk with him, and I do not mean the President or some of the recently appointed Trustees. As to certain of those Trustees, I believe that their failure to embrace what Shimer is about, viz. the “mission statement” controversy and the Nominating Committee scandal (in which the Nominating Committee refuses to present any Shimer alums as candidates for election to the Board), requires them to resign their positions as Trustees.

I further believe there is an urgency in having President Lindsay and certain recent Trustees resign or be removed from their positions at the College. Rather than taking advantage of the move to Chicago by growing the College beyond its fragile local toehold, as the College’s leadership and management should have done, the College appears consumed by controversy and engaged in rapidly debilitating in-fighting. I lay this chaotic fiasco squarely at the feet of the President and certain recently appointed Trustees.

Not only do these all-consuming controversies represent a huge waste in internal resources at a time when the College can least afford them, but also, I fear that we are faced with a crisis in the life of the College (and I am not an alarmist by nature) that must be dealt with directly and promptly, before all our resources (and ability to replenish them) are exhausted. In that latter regard, externally, all the negative publicity surrounding the recent controversies must have the effect of alienating various constituencies, not the least of which are future students, faculty, administrators, Board members, donors and friends of the College. We must promptly engage in damage control.

Best regards,

Young Kim

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Monday, March 1, 2010

Letter to the Assembly by Robert Keohane

Robert Keohane entered Shimer College as an early entrant, and graduated with honors in 1961. He is one of the country's leading international relations theorists. The following letter from Keohane was disseminated to the community just before the February 28th Assembly of Shimer College, at which the Board's illegitimate "mission statement" was discussed.

I called President Lindsay yesterday after consulting various blogs and statements about the controversy at Shimer; he called me back and then sent some materials. The attached is my preliminary summary of where I think the issues lie. I do not think we should assume that all the charges made by faculty and members of the Assembly are correct. It is difficult at a distance to disentangle all the issues, but as a political scientist, it seems doubtful to me that a college can be run effectively by an Assembly as on the Waukegan model. There may be other motives and issues involved, and I do not know President Lindsay personally, so I am withholding judgment; I suggest that we not automatically assume that truth and justice are all on one side.

Both mission statements are in the attached. I might add that I am not enthusiastic about either of them, and let me indicate why.

The established mission statement does not, it seems to me, convey Shimer's intellectual emphasis, nor does it refer even indirectly to the college's focus on the classics. One might think that Shimer was an activist institution teaching contemporary social science. This is the subject I teach at Princeton; but it is not Shimer's emphasis.

On the other hand, I think that the President's critique of the statement is misplaced. It is not an oxymoron to pursue "active citizenship in the world." I have done this for much of my life. It would be an oxymoron to pursue "active citizenship of the world," since the world is not a political system. But I can be an active citizen of the United States who tries to think, and as much as possible to act, in with broader global interests in mind. John Rawls's work suggests one way to think about these issues. Furthermore, I do not believe that Socrates is the focus of Shimer education, nor that he should be worshipped or idealized. As a political theorist, in my view, Plato is quite problematic, especially for people who believe in representative

The President's proposed statement has the merits of referring to the fact that Shimer emphasizes works of enduring value and that it constitutes a "liberal" education -- the classic way of describing Shimer's approach, with its connotations of free inquiry. However, it is long and cumbersome -- less a mission statement than a partial description of the curriculum. And although I strongly approve of the inclusion in the Shimer curriculum on the Founding Documents of the United States, they receive, in my view, disproportionate emphasis in
this statement.

I would prefer a mission statement such as the following:

The Shimer College community engages with ideas embedded in works of enduring value, enabling its members to develop skills of critical and creative thinking. A Shimer liberal education is designed to enable its graduates to become active citizens in a free society as well as to be engaged productively on issues of global concern.

It seems to me that if everyone involved followed the spirit of Shimer College, there would be intensive discussions of how to produce a concise mission statement that reflected the valid concerns of both sides. Neither close Board votes nor highly charged Assembly declarations are likely to resolve these issues in a productive way.

One way forward might be for the President and the Board to suspend their enactment of the President's mission statement, simultaneous with the Assembly suspending the operation of the established mission statement. The President and the Assembly could each designate two
people (which could include the President) to sit down together and engage in a critical and creative discussion designed to produce a new mission statement of not more than 100 words. If either the President or the Assembly were to make the first move in accepting this suggestion, it might be difficult, in view of the Shimer spirit, for the other side to refuse to engage in the discussion.


Robert O. ("Rocky" at Shimer) Keohane
(now Professor of Public and International Affairs Woodrow Wilson School
of Public and International Affairs Princeton University)

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