Sunday, November 20, 2005

On the Powers & Nature of the Assembly

The following was posted in the comments section by David Shiner in response to Mickey D. It seemed something that everyone would like to read.

Thanks, Michael. I didn't talk about process much in my post yesterday, so maybe it would be good to do more of that here.The role of the Assembly at Shimer has been changing incrimentally for several years now. I've had to do a lot of thinking about that, because I'm chairing a group of staff members who are responsible for the next accreditation self-study report. One portion of a paragraph in the working draft of our self-study (which won't be completed for another couple of months) is as follows: "The Assembly’s present business is primarily threefold: the election of members to Assembly committees that are responsible for work such as academic planning, administrative review, and budget recommendations; the hearing of annual or semiannual reports by administrators, especially the President and the Dean; and the discussion of the future of the Assembly, including proposed amendments to the Constitution. While these functions are important, they do not suggest a body with significant decision-making authority, or one that needs to meet all that regularly." One can be happy, sad, or indifferent to this trend, but for whatever it's worth, it seems to those of us on the committee that it's been going in this direction for several years now. Last year I served as Speaker of the Assembly (as I do again this year), and on several occasions I had to introduce (that is, invent) motions and discussion items just so we'd have a legitimate reason for the thrice-semesterly meetings that were called for in the Assembly Constitution. I tried to get Assembly members to introduce items thenmselves, but with little success.That's not to say that the Assembly is dying. For our first meeting in September there were something like 75 attendees, which was pretty incredible, possibly a record. All Assembly committees were filled without anyone's leg having to be twisted, which to my memory hadn't happened for a long time. The next meeting was also well attended. Weekend students, who hadn't been all that visible in Assembly for many years (if ever), have been turning out in impressive numbers for the past year or so. It's true, I think, that orientation toward the Assembly doesn't come naturally to Young or Bill. I don't think that's too surprising, since Bill comes from very different academic environments (which, of course, is almost all of them) and there was no Assembly when Young was a Shimer student. It's a learning process for them, and also for those of us who are more used to Shimer's current brand of self-governance. When I'm around either of them and the issue of the Assembly comes up, they treat it with respect. It's an evolving process. I don't know how it will play out concerning the IIT situation. I doubt that the Assembly will be treated as "a mere plebescite," and I'm trying to do what I can to help, but I wouldn't want to make any predictions at this point. As you mentioned in an earlier post, the strengthening of the Board that appears to be happening these days is probably a good thing, but it might affect the Assembly in ways that are hard to foresee.As far as the issue of when conversations with IIT began, your concerns have also been expressed by folks around here at times. From my perspective the issue isn't innacuracy, but a difference in what is being talked about. From what I understand, Bill and Young had very casual conversations with folks at IIT back in the spring. Those conversations were at first infrequent, but became more frequent and interesting as the summer wore on. By the time I was brought into the picture about 10 weeks ago, it looked like there might be reason for serious interest on both sides. So in one sense the conversations began in the spring, in another around September or even later. It depends on what level of seriousness you're talking about. College presidents frequently say things to each other like, "Maybe we should work together on X." It's part of the terrain. The Higher Learning Commission (our accrediting agency) encourages it, as to some extent does the Illinois State Board of Higher Education. Up to a certain point such conversations are too casual to take very seriously, let alone enlist others in (sorry about ending that sentence with a preposition).Look, here's an analogy. Nancy and I met in the summer of 1988, when she started working at Shimer. We were married in the summer of '93. We definitely were not an item for the first couple of years; we weren't dating in any romantic sense. Sometimes we went out together casually (I remember in particular a ballgame in Kenosha in the summer of '89), but lots of Shimer faculty members do that sort of thing. As time went on we saw each other more often, because we enjoyed each other's company. By January of 1993 we were engaged. Somewhere before that, obvously, we were getting serious, but I'm not exactly sure where the tipping point was. If you were to ask either of us, we might well give different answers. Each of us might even give different answers from ourselves at different times. It's not a matter of duplicity, just what we consider important or decisive.That analogy might seem silly, but I hope it brings out at least one aspect of present-day Shimer situation that could as easily be looked upon as benign as otherwise. We don't have any spinmeisters here; we don't have people trying to control who tells what to whom. People do write press releases, and some voices are necessarily more "official" than others, but no one is duty-bound to toe any sort of party line. No one tells me whether to post on a blog such as this, and I don't ask. So sometimes a "story" won't look particularly "straight." You can see that as deceptive or even duplicitous; I see it as one of the defects of our virtues, the virtue in this case being that Shimer people, even so-called "high-ranking administrators," say what they want without a party line, prior coaching, or fear of negative repercussions. That's pretty rare in higher education or, for that matter, anywhere else. But it has been, and continues to be, one of the great things about Shimer.Keep the comments coming. I'll check in daily, or at least as often as I can. Take care.
Original Post: Sun Nov 20, 09:12:27 AM CST


Psyche Z. Ready said...

David, thank you so much for posting. I can't tell you how much it warms my heart to read your words. The work you have done and continue to do for Shimer is admirable. I'm personally very grateful for it.

I'm literally beside myself thinking about the proposed move. Even together with Jason and Chris, who usually inspire the lying on your back, up-until-4 sort of conversation, we find ourselves speechless but for dreamily revisiting the strength and greatness of the education we were so fortunate to receive- I feel, incapable of guessing at what is best to do here.

Anyway thanks for posting, Dave, I love you

David Shiner said...

I love you too, Psyche. Your posting made my day.