Friday, April 23, 2010

A request to consider donating to Shimer College, by Michael Weinman

The following letter was written by Shimer alumnus Michael David Weinman, class of 1998.

As some of you well know, and as others you may not know at all, my undergraduate alma mater, Shimer College, has been locked in a foundational and generational challenge for its identity over the past year. One chapter of this challenge—an important one—came to a close this past Monday, with the resignation of Shimer’s controversial (and now former) President Thomas Lindsay. This very good news, as is clear from the fact that the entire Shimer community (as represented by the unanimous vote of the faculty, and that of the Assembly, and a very large petition drive among alums and friends of the College, all calling for Lindsay to step down) has welcomed the news.

(If you’d like to learn more about what the heck Shimer College is and is all about, click here: http://saveshimer.com/history/a-brief-history-of-shimer-college. If you’d like to learn more about the College’s more recent history, you can read a brief but substantial account here: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2010/04/21/shimer. For the statement from the faculty expressing no confidence in President Lindsay: http://shimerstudentalliance.blogspot.com/2010/04/faculty-votes-no-confidence-in.html. For the motion passed by Shimer’s Assembly—the self-governing body comprised of students, faculty and staff—click here: http://shimerstudentalliance.blogspot.com/2010/04/assembly-votes-no-confidence.html.)

Now that this chapter, has closed, though, the most important chapter remains to be written: will Shimer, now back in its own hands, finally be able to achieve financial stability and enrollment growth and thrive in its new home in Chicago? While it will take some time to find out with certainty, one very important early hurdle is to make clear to the College’s accrediting body—the North Central Association—and to the large institutional donors whose generosity is needed to make liberal arts education affordable under current economic realities that Shimer has a solid foundation of financial support from its community of graduates and friends.

For this reason, I am writing to ask you today to make a donation of whatever size to Shimer College. Today is the very best day to do so, not just because donations made now can be clearly demonstrated to coincide with Thomas Lindsay’s departure, and not just because there is a dollar-for-dollar match sponsored by two Shimer Board members (up to $50,000), but also because there is a new easy-to-use web portal to make the donation. So, if you’d like to contribute, please go to: http://www.causes.com/causes/475198, and follow the easy to use link.

If you’re thinking that maybe this is a good idea, but you’d like to learn more first, or have questions you’d like to have answered, or know of someone who might potentially be a substantial donor, please drop me a line at: mdweinman@gmail.com.

Thank you so much for your time and attention.

Sincerely,
Michael Weinman

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Saturday, April 17, 2010

Letter to the Assembly by Jerry Clark

It is not within the intended scope of this blog to print more than one letter per alum over a short time. However, as these are extraordinary times, and this is an extraordinary letter, an exception is made.

The following letter was addressed to the Assembly of April 18th, 2010, by alumnus James Jerry Clark (1975), an assistant professor at Saint Joseph's University. Jerry Clark has served as a member of the faculty, as chief academic officer, and as a member of the Board of Trustees.

I write as one member of the group of five alumni who – in a last-ditch effort to reframe the debate and change its tone – recently sent an open letter to trustees urging a return to collegiality, mutual respect, and adherence to accepted process at Shimer College. We wrote in the hope that members of a deeply divided board could still find common ground and move forward without extensive changes to the current composition of the administration or the board. What I offer below reflects only my view; my colleagues may disagree.

Mr. Bast’s reply to our letter makes it clear to me that the collegiality we sought to re-kindle is now impossible. While it is tempting to focus on the sections of Mr. Bast’s reply to our letter in which he misstates facts, indulges in ad hominem attacks, succumbs to the law of the excluded middle, and constructs straw men that bear no resemblance to the authors or the opinions they hold, such a strategy would be pointless. Rather, I have reluctantly concluded that Mr. Bast is correct when he asserts that: “Shimer stands at a crossroads. All of us will need to choose one road or the other in the coming weeks and months.” He is wrong, however, in concluding that the decision we face is to either stand with President Lindsay or against him. The choice is not about standing with or against any individual. Rather, we face a choice between two increasingly irreconcilable visions proposed for the college’s future – visions that are supported by two substantially different narratives about the history of the college and its present state of affairs.

The vision supported by President Lindsay, Mr. Bast, and others entails a radical departure from Shimer’s history, culture, and traditions. The narrative that supports it paints a picture of the college’s alums as unreliable partners. It describes the current student body as a menagerie of rabble-rousers happier when they are making a nuisance of themselves than when they are getting on with their studies. It describes the present faculty as mediocre at best and incompetent at worst. It views the present curriculum as infected by the twin poisons of political correctness and cultural relativism. It declares that only through an ideologically-driven mission statement passed over the objections of the entire faculty, a majority of the students, a substantial number of alumni, and nearly half of the board can the college find a niche in the educational world and attract potential funders.

The alternative vision for the future of the college reflects a much more conservative view that emphasizes the need for both continuity and change, and takes a charitable view of the claims of both. It is supported by a narrative that looks to Shimer’s alumni as a source of continued support. It sees in the current student body a reflection of what is best about the school. It invests the faculty with the moral leadership of the college. It concludes that the present curriculum is a worthy example of the Hutchins-Adler approach. It acknowledges Shimer’s long history of attracting and making welcome students, faculty, and board members with a wide range of philosophical, political, and religious convictions.

This alternative vision of the school’s future and the narrative that supports it neither ignore nor disparage the need for change – contrary to Mr. Bast’s assertion that “the five alumni apparently want it to take the road back to Waukegan, to years of zero enrollment growth, decrepit facilities, underpaid staff, and the constant threat of bankruptcy.” Rather, its proponents hold that the tradition of shared governance and the requirements of effective administration and institutional advancement are not mutually exclusive. Its proponents believe that enrollment can be increased without a “scorched earth” policy that drives away the current crop of students and parents. Its proponents believe that the quality of instruction can be strengthened without denigrating the sacrifice or assailing the competence of faculty members who have given so much to Shimer for so many years. Its proponents believe that the processes that have protected the college from the unwarranted encroachment of transient academic fads can be relied upon to continue to do so even as we rightly subject the curriculum and the mission statement to necessary review and revision.

It is written in Proverbs 29:12 that “where there is no vision the people perish.” Those of us who care for this plucky little college are now faced with a choice between two visions for its future. I have made my choice. I stand against the vision promulgated by Thomas Lindsay, Joe Bast, and their allies; I ask that you do so as well.

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Monday, April 12, 2010

Open Letter to the Trustees of Shimer College

The following letter was written jointly by alums Jerry Clark, Jonathan Goldman, Sandy (Schmidt) Hockenbury, Marcia Z. Nelson, and Maria Sosa.

After reading several vitriolic and ad hominem responses to discussions of events at Shimer, the likes of which would never have been permitted in Shimer classrooms in our time as students, we became alarmed, not only by the topics being addressed, but by the tone of these discussions. Thus, we are submitting this plea with the hope that those who have been engaged in these discussions will re-frame the argument from a different perspective and, maybe find a solution from that new perspective.

Shimer has faced many seismic challenges over the past several decades, yet has always managed to overcome them and survive. We have been reading about this latest series of battles at Shimer much as children watching their parents fight each other, wanting the fighting to stop and powerless to do anything. Unfortunately, the current situation, unlike those of previous years, cuts to the core of what Shimer represents as an institution of higher learning.

We have read reports of arguments over the firing of an admissions director. We have watched (and participated in) months of battles over proposals to change the mission statement. We have heard countless inaccurate claims about the Assembly, which in recent years has served less as the governing body it succeeded and more as a means of uniting the students, faculty, trustees, alumni, and administration as a collegial body to ensure the inclusion of all voices in the decision process. And we have recently heard rumors that the president and some trustees apparently have decided that the curriculum is now under their control and that some faculty will have to be terminated.

We have seen accusations of left-wing biases, right-wing take-overs, claims about Shimer's conversion to a libertarian school focused on limited-government and free-market principles, claims about bribery of trustees through anonymous donations, claims about shadow colleges within Shimer, and other bitterness hurled to and fro as though by characters in an Edward Albee play.

We have seen reports that some trustees think that all of the problems will go away if only the dissenting faculty or students leave to be replaced by those who support the desired changes. Others have suggested that trustees who disagree with the majority should resign, which certainly defeats the requirements for diversity on boards of non-profit organizations. We have heard that faculty should capitulate to the changes or resign, and that the students should either acquiesce to the changes or transfer elsewhere. All of these solutions and others that have been suggested only serve to further diminish the institution that the trustees promised to serve.

We advocate a different way. We seek the restoration of what has been lost in these last few months.

We are discussing a college, a place of collaborative learning. One term bandied about at most institutions of higher learning is "collegiality." That seems to be missing from the vocabulary of at least some people at Shimer today. We want to see an immediate return of collegiality to Shimer College.

We are discussing a college, an environment in which students should not feel threatened but instead are free to express themselves and experiment with how they interact with others. This requires that they respect others and that they be respected. The character of recent communications between students and trustees further demonstrates the loss of that respect when those interactions are laced with threats. We want to see the immediate return of mutual respect to Shimer College.

We are discussing a college, typically a place where change occurs slowly. This is because processes have been established over the years to ensure that the concerns and needs of all current and future constituents are represented. The recent changes at Shimer represent a failure to follow those normal and established academic processes, many of which are required for accreditation. We want to see the immediate return of adherence to accepted process at Shimer College.

Several constituencies have the power to force Shimer to close during the next year. Many of the faculty, specially selected over the years for the wisdom they bring to the classroom, could resign and thereby abrogate the agreement made with the students who enrolled based on a core of faculty experienced in Shimer's unique learning model. Without those faculty, Shimer will fail.

If Shimer does not retain and recruit sufficient students for next fall, it will fall below the critical mass necessary to sustain the Socratic method. The last century saw a drop by two thirds from over 300 students to below a hundred, a percentage decline not survivable with today's student body. Thus Shimer will fail.

Should the alumni withhold their donations, as has been threatened by dozens, if not hundreds, of us, and the board fails to fulfill its fund raising obligations, Shimer will fail.

If the feuding groups do not find a way to show the Higher Learning Commission that they are following their criteria for, among other things, "Mission and Integrity," "Preparing for the Future," and "Engagement and Service," or if there are major changes to the curriculum or faculty without adherence to recommended practices, Shimer will finally lose its accreditation because the Higher Learning Commission will have tired of giving Shimer chance after chance after chance to resolve its problems. And Shimer will fail.

Unlike proprietary schools, which answer only to their owners and typically do not receive regional accreditation, the boards of non-profit academic institutions are responsible to many constituencies, including their students, faculty, alumni, and local community, as defined by their accrediting agency. We feel that the trustees have failed the institution and constituencies they were chosen to protect. This travesty cannot continue.

We challenge the board of trustees, as the only constituency that actually has the power to do so, to immediately restore collegiality, mutual respect, and process to Shimer College.

We implore you to use the powers entrusted to you by alumni now embarrassed by their degrees, faculty who have given their lives to the institution, and over 100 current students (and their parents) who have entrusted Shimer with their future, to restore those lost values. It is up to you to regain the trust placed in you by those whom you volunteered to serve.

Upon the return of those values, we will work with the alumni association to raise the needed funds and recruit students to help Shimer thrive in the 21st century. Over 300 alumni and students who are members of a single Shimer group on Facebook are ready and waiting for the return of the Shimer we knew and loved so we can join in helping it succeed.

Jerry Clark
Jonathan Goldman
Sandy (Schmidt) Hockenbury
Marcia Z. Nelson
Maria Sosa
-Shimer alumni 1960's & 1970's

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Thursday, April 8, 2010

Letter to a Trustee by Ted Krug

Ted Krug is a 2008 graduate of Shimer College.

The reason I’m writing to you has to do with the current situation of the college; and as I’m sure you’re aware, there is a considerable amount of turmoil and discontent under the leadership of the new president, Tom Lindsay. I have been in close contact with many of the current students and various alumni, especially recent alums (though not exclusively) and so I am well aware of the sentiment of the vast majority of the student body.

Before I go further into that, though, I want to thank you, as a recent student, for your ongoing support of and commitment to Shimer, for both your service as a Trustee and your financial support. Without friends of the college such as yourself, I and my fellow alums would not have enjoyed the invaluable experience and education of Shimer College. It is difficult for me to imagine what my life would be without Shimer, as I consider my time there to be one of the most valuable of my life.

I do not know through what channels you have kept yourself informed of the recent state of affairs at the college; but as I mentioned, I have been in touch with current students and recent alumni, and I can report that the vast majority of us are gravely concerned about the direction Mr. Lindsay and, apparently, a newly appointed contingent on the Board, has been taking the college. I think it is important to point out that these people, whatever their experience in organizations academic or otherwise, have almost no experience of Shimer College.

I’m sure you would agree with me that Shimer is a very unique and valuable place. I hope we also share the opinion that a newcomer to Shimer would be well advised to get to know it before trying to change it. Yet the new president and his allies have neither gotten to know nor learned to value Shimer as Shimer. It has become clear that what they see in the college is not its own value or merit but rather an opportunity to advance their own agenda through whatever they can make use of in the college—perhaps especially its accreditation. What is more, Tom Lindsay, while remaining congenial in word, has taken actions without concerning himself with the interests of the Shimer community, and in fact while blatantly disregarding clear community consensus. It is argued that the Assembly is a drag on the college, that it has held us back. Yet this is simply untrue. The Assembly (along with the discussion classes) is the very heart of the college, and to lose it would be to destroy the Shimer that we know and love. I sincerely hope that we are not in complete disagreement on this point.

Whatever your view of the decisions Tom has implemented thus far, the fact is that the way he has been managing the college puts us at great risk of losing accreditation, come the pending review this Fall. Higher Learning Commission Accreditation Criterion 1c demands that support of the College's Mission should "pervade" the community of the college. The new mission statement does not meet that criterion, if only for the reason that it was almost unanimously opposed by the Assembly and the entire community, excepting a slender Board majority, mostly new appointees. Another reason to fear the upcoming review is the tenuous position of the faculty. I am not sure if you are aware, but Mr. Lindsay issued an implied threat to the faculty that their positions would be in danger if they did not assure him of their loyalty to his new mission statement! At Shimer, every faculty member has administrative duties, and several hold official administrative positions. Without them and their experience, I do not see how we can successfully weather the HLC’s pending review. The president needs to be wooing the faculty; instead he has estranged them. It seems likely that he may even fire some of them, and who knows what the rest would do in such a scenario? The eventuality of a faculty strike would be a death knell for the college. They, if no one else, are loyal to the spirit of Shimer, and they would only do such a thing if they saw no other way out. But if it becomes clear to them that the college cannot resist occupation, so to speak, by hostile forces, they would certainly no longer be concerned with retaining accreditation for the shell that remains.

Perhaps you have not been aware of how grave the situation at Shimer has become. I am writing to you because I believe you want what is best for the college. Even if we disagree on some points, I am hopeful that we can agree that Mr. Lindsay and his board majority are not improving but harming the college, and that it is unlikely that Shimer will be able to retain accreditation if these people continue to advance their agenda.

The current students have impressed me with their judiciousness and mature action vis-à-vis the president’s utter disregard for them and the harm he has done thus far. They have demonstrated that they are far from being the immature bunch of hippies some would make them out to be. I urge you, on behalf of Shimer and of the students, to use whatever influence you have ensure that, ten years from now (and hopefully for much longer!) Shimer College will still be a place we can be proud of. Please do anything you can to oppose the leadership of Mr. Lindsay and whatever members of the board are facilitating the current harmful actions, so contrary to the true democratic spirit that Shimer has, for so long, aspired to.

In closing, once again I offer my sincere thanks for your commitment to Shimer and hope that you will do all you can to preserve this precious gem of a school.

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Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Letter to the Board by Brandee Cooper Kandle

Brandee Kandle is a 1999 graduate of Shimer College.

Hello,

My name is Brandee (Cooper) Kandle and I am writing to express my concern for the future of Shimer College. As an alumnus of Shimer, I have cherished the skills in dialogue and respectful listening that I learned there. I honor the methodology and spirit of Shimer, which teaches that all sides are welcome at the round table, regardless of ideology. Sadly, the actions of President Thomas Lindsay and his closest allies on the Board of Trustees have shown that they do not share my respect for the spirit of Shimer College. They do not share the skills that I learned there of fair and equal give and take in discussion, of coming to a group with an honesty and openness that invites working together as a community and they do not hold dear the uniqueness of Shimer as a whole.

With the board’s help President Lindsay has vandalized the school’s mission statement, threatened our incredibly talented and self-sacrificing faculty, and upon close look at Lindsay’s writings and speeches, it appears that this group is intent upon dismantling the core curriculum and shaping the college to their limited political inclinations. And what of this College of the United States? Can Shimer College possibly survive intact with another college opening up within it? Will Shimer and COTUS become inextricably linked, or will Shimer be simply replaced? I understand that Shimer doesn’t make anyone a bunch of money; I understand that times are hard when you have grand visions for a tiny college. But maybe this shows even more that Thomas Lindsay is not the man for this job. Shimer needs to exist; the world needs Shimer to exist. This school is precious when you look at the collegiate landscape out there and realize that there is nothing else like our little school. It’s all right that it is small; it’s all right that we aren’t going to be raking in the dough. The President of Shimer College needs to be in love with dialogue, with students and their input to the community, the president needs to feel like he or she is truly supporting a wonderful occurrence—an intentional community.

The lack of respect for dialogue, the horrible fear mongering of the faculty, the disdain and complete ignorance of the Assembly is all very damning. President Thomas Lindsay needs to move on to a school that would appreciate his tactics and overtly political rallying. He needs a school that is already mainstreamed, a school that has already been used to handing over their power to a sole person. Shimer is not that school. Please catch up with what many hundreds of alumni and Shimer supporters are viewing as an increasing crisis situation. Links are provided below to guide you to a wealth of writings by Shimer members that are truly trying to save a precious thing.

Thank you for the time and effort you put into our small school. Please know that there are so many of us motivated by love of Shimer and that we will never give up trying to protect it.

Sincerely,

Brandee Kandle

Richland, WA

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Monday, April 5, 2010

Beth Matthews on the Nature of the Assembly

Elisabeth Sherman Matthews is a 1995 graduate of Shimer College.

In the long experiment that is Shimer College, in the years post-Mt. Carroll, the community instituted governance by means of an Assembly. Many have inquired how useful the Assembly is and believe that it is an accident that won't be remembered, especially in 20 years. I disagree. I am only 15 years out (excuse me while I choke on that..) but I consider my time spent in Assembly; as secretary, active citizen, and as committee member to be the foundation for my years spent as an executive assistant for large, local corporate institutions as well as a multi-million dollar California real estate firm, where I personally juggled 12 home sales a month or more, to my current role as a small business owner (corporate massage therapist).

My leadership skills were learned at Shimer, as well as conversation/communication skills, organization, and public speaking skills. All of my business skill sets came from Assembly and its facets and I STILL draw on my experiences from Shimer. In part, I learned to read and assess a resume as well as interview a candidate. I learned typing and database organization. I learned to speak with confidence before a large group and how to quickly get my point across so as not to lose my audience. I learned how to take notes and track a discussion. I learned how to plan events, market the event, and budget it as well. I learned how to assess which laws or rules need to be obeyed to the letter and why, as well as which rules can be bent. As an apprentice to the faculty I learned the skills of life inquiry. Not just in the classroom, but how to apply those skills of inquiry into the business setting. I watched my mentors closely and learned from every interaction how they acted/responded. I was able to see how a person needs to behave differently in the classroom than in the conference room, although still using the same skills. The Assembly provided the system for learning that it takes an active citizen to make the town run.

And the town runs. The Assembly taught me how the Republic actually worked and how to spot when it wasn't working. It demonstrated to me that we haven't changed so very much since the days of Socrates. These interactions further proved to me that our little College employing the Socratic Method was on the right path of learning not just information, but how to seek out and use the knowledge of those that came before us. I could stand on the shoulders of giants and use the collective knowledge to push my community forward. And not just the Shimer community - but any community that I encountered. And I have been a part of many.

The Assembly showed me that my facilitators had opinions and interests that had nothing to do with a text. They had passions about how the school was run and why admissions/financial aid/development should do this or that. They could use historical models to explain why this or that. And when it came to disciplinary items, we talked it out as a group and decided, as a caring community, how the issue would be dealt with. And sometimes my side lost. And I learned how to deal with that part of life thru assembly too.

So in my opinion, the Assembly wasn't an accident, but born out of necessity and it isn't something to be thrown away, but loved and appreciated as a chance for students (and faculty) to grow and learn how to work as a community. A chance to act as a respected "citizen", with a voice and a purpose, not as an employee or student to be talked down to.

Respectfully submitted,

Beth Sherman Matthews ('95)

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