Special to the Tribune
Published November 23, 2005
Shimer College may repeat a history lesson learned more than 25 years
ago when self-preservation forced the school to move from western
Illinois to Waukegan.
The small liberal arts college on the north side of the city may
relocate next summer to the Illinois Institute of Technology on the
South Side of Chicago. The relocation is a survival move because
Shimer's enrollment has been stagnant for 15 years, said Young Kim,
chairman of the college's board of trustees.
IIT invited Shimer to its campus at 3300 S. Federal St., and college
officials say they will decide by January whether to accept the offer.
"I think we are obliged to move in order to survive," Kim said. "[But]
there's no imminent crisis forcing us to move."
The college would probably have to shut down eventually if it stays in
Waukegan because it has been unable to get its enrollment above 110
students and it needs a minimum of 200. "It's just not sustainable,"
"We do see growth as essential to the college," said President William
Thom Karnik, director of communications and marketing at IIT, confirmed
that the colleges are negotiating a lease.
Shimer, which opened in the 1850s in Mt. Carroll, would maintain its
independence at IIT and enter into a long-term agreement for a building
on the campus.
Most of Shimer's Waukegan facilities would be liquidated, Kim said. The
science classes for home-schooled students would remain in Waukegan for
the time being, according to a news release. The college has a weekend
program for adults that would be moved to IIT, although school
officials said courses would be held in Waukegan if there is a demand.
At IIT, Shimer students would have access to more amenities, including
a fitness center, and the opportunity to take advantage of some IIT
academic offerings, such as a pre-med program.
"We would be able to offer our students more," Kim said.
Shimer students attend classes primarily in houses converted to
classrooms on Genesee Street. The school moved to Waukegan in 1979. The
college is best known for its curriculum based on the Great Books and
Western intellectualism in which students participate in discussions
with the faculty rather than listen to lectures.
Shimer has an intimate atmosphere and almost none of the frills found
at larger colleges. For example, the college doesn't have food service
or a gym. But students say that's what makes Shimer unique, and some
would prefer to stay in Waukegan.
"It would be much more difficult to keep our community," said Kyra
Keuben, 21, of Wheaton as she and other students spent time last week
in Shimer's bookstore, which is in the living room of a converted
"I think the students here don't care as much about those things," said
Sarah Green, 25, of Pittsburgh.
Some Shimer students said they worry that the wooden tables used during
class discussions literally won't fit in the building where Shimer
would be housed at IIT. In addition, they said they would miss the
baked goods that students make every Friday to share.
But Colby Somerville, 21, of Florida said the small student body can
make life frustrating at times. "We're kind of lacking in diversity
that way," he said.
Shimer officials have been trying for years to create a campus in
Waukegan out of its 14 buildings, but it's too costly to build a
campus, Kim said. In addition, Shimer has been unable to run a capital
campaign to raise money, but Kim said that would probably change if the
school moved to IIT because the alumni are in favor of the relocation.
If Shimer moves south, students would be able to live in a dedicated
wing of an IIT dorm or off campus, and students at both colleges would
be able to attend classes at either school, officials said.
Kim, who graduated from Shimer in 1973, said he doubts the school will
be swallowed up by IIT.
"We have such a strong identity," he said.
Waukegan Mayor Richard Hyde said he plans to meet soon with Rice. And
Ald. Rick Larsen said Shimer has been an asset to Waukegan, citing
certificate programs that the school offers for teachers.
"This alderman wants them to stay in Waukegan," he said.
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