Monday, November 28, 2005

Thank You for Creating a Dialogue

I want to thank President Bill Rice for holding the alum meeting last night and the previous meeting in Evanston. We are a critical and cynical group of students and alums. We are passionate about our education and we have been trained to question and disagree. Unfortunately, one of the negative effects of being taught how to argue is that we develop the tendency to label and treat real people as problems--and even enemies--that a skeptical reader doubts--and even hates. But it's not the person that should be doubted, although the person may appear to be the cause of the problem, but the proposal (which is essentially an argument), the reasons for the proposal, the reasons against the proposal, and the evidence or lack-there-of for the proposal. I know that's a heavy claim, with debatable philosophical and legal implications, which some people will not accept or tolerate, but so be it. This is not at all meant to discourage rigorous debate and discussion, which I strongly promote and believe is necessary for a healthy, strong democracy. I am also very aware that there is a lot at stake with this proposal; the very survival and identity (some people would even go so far as to say "soul") of Shimer College are being gambled with. But I feel that we need to have some respect for the decision-makers and the decision-making process regarding something so huge and complex. Even if you feel that one of the core values of Shimer has been violated, the value of dialogue, which is one of the main selling points of the college, we need to recognize the efforts of the administration to remedy its errors, which I suspect in this case is because we have been offered a deal in the last minute with short notice to act upon it, and include us in the dialogue, even as they work their way through complex territory and issues. Frankly, the whole situation is less than beautiful, and even IIT's approach to Shimer College does not appear to be as generous as I would like it to have been; but Shimer College is a poor liberal arts college, and it simply can't afford to buy a Lexus, when it can barely afford a Honda.

I want to firmly state, even if I lose what few friends I have at Shimer, which is not too many at this point, that I sincerely believe (at least I don't have any reason or evidence to believe otherwise) that the president is doing his job, doing what he is being paid the big bucks for. He has analyzed a complex problem, explored various options, discussed the problem deeply with many smart people, and emerged with a solution. He and the board are now selling us on this proposal; they are trying to persuade us of the benefits of this move. Since there are some genuine benefits, which depends on the individual, such as the location in Chicago, access to pre-med and technology courses, and a stream-lined and simplified operation in which the professors can focus on what they are being paid the-not-so-big bucks to do, I would like to strongly encourage the Shimer community to respect the leadership of Shimer College, who must have put a lot of thought into this proposal. At the end of the day, whether or not the board honors the assembly, and whether or not the board decides to move to Chicago, it is the students who will decide whether they agree with the decison of the board with their purchasing power.

Think about the cost and benefits of the proposal, the pros and cons, the risks and advantages. Think about how you can benefit from this move, whether it is a good feel or fit for you, whether it will meet your needs, whether you can still deeply engage in the great books discussion groups at IIT. And then only you have the final power, the final authority, the final decision of whether you agree or not.

Michael Dubensky '03

If I am being naive about what is going on, and if someone wants to inform me about anything that could change the trust that I have that our leaders are acting in good faith and that their heart is in the right place (i. e., the quality of the education and experience for the students), I can be reached at (312) 217-4503 or


mikeyd723 said...

Michael, we do not know one another, but we do share a name, and of course an alma mater--which in this case is a lot. I totally hear and appreciate your apologia for President Rice. I surely do not want to be guilty of any ad hominem attacks, which are always senseless and purposeless (see "negative campaign ads") but which are utterly undermining of community and dialogue. (Which I take it is what we are all about--so much so that we are spending all these hours thinking and hoping and discussing what might be best for a College with which we are no longer affiliated.)

I have said here though, and I reiterate now, that it at least seems to me that Bill and Young are not necessarily predisposed toward transparency and informed concensus building when it comes to making important decisions. This is totally reasonable in that (a) 99% of all instiutions are not transparent about the information they have when making decisions (I mean internally as well as externally) and (b) "we all know" that democracies are totally inefficient and that true leadership calls for the very attributes you describe in your post: independence, putting your neck out, making the tough calls. It is a position that I see them expressing--though not in as many words--and I call attention to it, because I believe it is an erroneous position as regards Shimer and its uniqueness.

It may, of course, be that I am wrong about this perception regarding transparency and informed concensus bulding. If so, you or someone else pointing this out to me would not be an attack on me, but rather an expression of your dissent to my position. At that point, I would have the responsibility of either being convinced by you, or else telling you why I am unconvinced.

D. R. Koukal said...

Hey, I have a Honda . . .