Wednesday, November 23, 2005

From Daniel Shiner

Dear extended Shimer community,

I’m Daniel Shiner, a Shimer student from 1971-1977, and an on and off board member (from 1987 to 1997 and again starting this Fall). I’m thinking about the proposed move, and a couple of thoughts are brewing.

Of course, the essence is that there are not only the obvious questions (the logistics of a possible move) but also a myriad of other questions that result from consideration of the first question--all the intangibles-- i.e., we can put together tangible information--costs of meal plans, space in buildings, etc; make our best guesses as to the effect on admissions, fundraising, profile, etc.; but we haven't a clue how this will/might affect what you (and most of us) consider the essence of Shimer--the dialogical community, within and without the classroom. I'm struggling with that one. From my frame of reference, when we moved to Waukegan, perhaps half the students declined to move, based on the same assumption--that in Waukegan, it would be impossible for Shimer to maintain its community; that the essence of the College could not survive anywhere except in an isolated, removed-from-the-real-world setting. I think time has proved them wrong. That same question recurs now. And like then, no one knows the answer. Those of us who chose to move back in 1979 believed (or convinced ourselves) that Shimer could exist anywhere; that the ideals were so strong, physical location could not destroy them, and if it did, perhaps the College did not deserve to exist. Of course, the logical extension of this (or absurd extension) is that Shimer could exist in any environment--prison, Antarctica, Baghdad. There are clearly some limits, not the least of which is attracting new students, which seems to me to be a major impetus for the move. And here we get to what Rumsfeld (I think) so (in)eloquently talked about--the known knows, the known unknowns, the unknown unknowns, etc. Whatever he said, it sounded bizarre but actually made sense in some situations, including the one Shimer finds itself in. And there is the realization that doing nothing, or slowing down the process, is making a decision, a decision for the status quo--which may not be a bad thing.

Usually, I look at best and worst case scenarios to help guide me in major decisions. Here, that looks something like this:

Move to IIT: Best case: Shimer maintains identity, draws significant numbers of new students, becomes everything it aspires to be in 5-10 years. Worst case: Shimer loses current students, loses identity, attracts few new students, and disappears.

Stay in Waukegan: Best case: Shimer maintains identity, somehow figures out how to attract more new students, becomes everything it aspires to be in 5-10 years. Worst case: Shimer student body steadily declines, buildings deteriorate from lack of money to fix & repair, and Shimer disappears.

This doesn't help me much.

What bemuses (and amuses) me most about this, I think, is that for many years I thought being on the Board meant that I would be among the first to know about important issues, that I would have access to far more information than if I were not on the Board, would be kept informed on all aspects of important decisions, etc. In essence, I thought being on the Board would be like gaining admission to some secret society--that the Illuminati, Freemasons, and Knights Templar would recognize me as one of their own and initiate me into the secrets of the universe. What I find, instead, is that I don't know, or learn, a damn thing more than when my involvement with Shimer was limited to sending a check each year. Until Young started talking at the October Board meeting, I barely knew IIT existed and certainly knew nothing about any proposed move. Now I find myself getting current information from reading blogs. I'm amazed at how little being on the Board means in terms of information.

If any students are interested in emailing me with their thought/ideas/insane ramblings, I'd be very interested; I don't know how one goes about disseminating a request like this to the community; I can't even figure out how to post to some of the blogs, except as replies. My email is I’d welcome anyone’s input. Thanks for being Shimer.

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