Geez I wish we had had the collective brainstorm of sharing the materials from the "epic Roosevelt Assembly Meeting" sooner! (And thanks so much to Noah for posting them!!) It is amazing how much of that conversation we are rehearsing right now; which might seem alarming to some (in a "history repeats itself," "do they never learn anything" way), but which makes me very proud, in that it shows that there is genuine continuity in the Shimer experience (at least over the span of a generation and four "student life-cycles."
But what really struck me was David's proposal to become a College of Roosevelt University, but remain in Waukegan. In part because this is--to the extent that I understand it--what I would have probably supported at that time (had I not been 14 years old), but I think more because it presented exactly that balance that many of us have been trying to think through: how can we address the significant challenges (though, clearly the challenges then were far greater than the challenges today) the College faces--especially unimpressive recruitment--without undermining the unique (and I say unique, and not distinctive, in that I believe Shimer is not merely remarkable or "different" [a number of places are that], but genuinely unlike anything else, and hence "unique") character of the College.
In this light, I want to share David's conclusion in his motivating memo for his proposal, and ask us (and him specifically, if he wishes to take up this friendly address) what the meaning of this is for us today. He wrote: "The Shimer community has survived, and in many ways thrived, for nearly a century and a half as a geographically independent entity. While it is certainly possible that a move of the main campus to Chicago would enhance the program in certain ways, it would also risk the somehow intangible benefits of this geographical distance. The proposal I have set forth here seems to me to involve the least risk to our community as it currently stands" (roosevelt.pdf, p. 13). This entirely captures the nature of my concern today, and the motivation behind the alternative proposal Erik and I developed: might there be a way for us to see (at least "experimentally") if "we" really feel like "us" somewhere else, before moving the whole Shimer enterprise into the "brave new world" of the Southwest Loop (or elsewhere)?
And one final thing, while I am here. I taught for two years at a "liberal arts college in an urban context" (Eugene Lang College); which is growing propitiously (I mean like 30% a year), and succeeding by any measure. I am grateful for that experience, and especially to my students there. There were engaged, bright, fun, and eager. They were also largely attracted to being in NYC, and not necessarily to what was distinctive (and not unique) about Lang's curriculum or pedagogy; indeed many of them did not even know about the curriculum in much detail (with its seminar classes (capped at 15 when I started teaching there and 18 a year later, but 11 when I considered it as a potential undergrad back in 1993-4), 5 concentrations, rather than majors, and its focus on interdisciplinarity and so on). It seems to me entirely possible, in light of David's 1990 concerns, that Shimer would move to the Loop, increase recruitment significantly, and feel tremendous pressure to serve students wanted more to be in a "liberal arts college" (loosely understood) in Chicago than to be at the unique Shimer college in Waukegan (or wherever). Put another way: be careful what you wish for. Lang wanted like anything to grow. Now it has--it will reach 1000 students soon if it hasn't already, after having been at around 150 when the Assembly made its Roosevelt decision--and it will very soon cease to be truly distinctive (let alone unique), as it keeps raising the class size (now to 20, and soon beyond) and loses the "seminar" brand from its advertising materials and self-understanding. I am not saying this will happen to Shimer should it move, but it seems to me a very realistic possibility.
Bringing it to Scale
1 day ago