Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Trust, Leadership and Community

I thought the decision was still up in the air? I really want feed back on this. Is there anyone else who thinks an interview should not have been given?

I am afraid to ask, but can the Board sign a lease without the assembly?

I see nothing trustworthy or Shimerian in the spirit in which this is being done. This article looks like a way of speeding up the process and burying the hopeful. I do not like the way that the Board Chairperson and the College President are handling this. That comment is not deragatory, it is clear.

It is hard to read the words of so many people dancing around that issue while the fate of Shimer is decided.

I will add this to the words of Daniel Shiner. If you understand nothing else, understand this:
If we stay in Waukegan we sink or swim on our own. At IIT someone else will be helping us determine the fate of Shimer. Not the Great Books education alone but the spirit of Shimer College that gives an academic home to those who are not so lofty... Shimer did change when it left Mount Caroll, it became more than it was.

When I got to Shimer, I had never read Plato or Aristotle. I always held them in such reverence that I felt I wasn't smart enough to read them. I left it to my betters to determine for me the value of the great works. I learned to read and understand the "big words" and "big thoughts". Don't get me wrong I was far from a stellar student. But I understand this:

Shimer is there for people who can't go to just any college. It needs to be exactly what it is. That is Shimers niche. It is called A-l-t-e-r-n-a-t-v-e education.

Let me tell you about the place I work, the Old Town School of Folk music. It is an institution for learning music in the aural tradition that went from 1500 students per week to 6000 in two years. The first thing that happened was that the price of childrens classes skyrocketed. Then private lessons were only provided in blocks of 8. Making the cost of getting private lessons quite an obstacle if you can't afford to buy 8 at once. Programming was changed to implement measurable standards for fundraising purposes. They began to do demographic studies.

In truth, none of these things is "bad" but the Old Town School is slowing becoming like every other institution that provides supplemental arts education. This little independant hippy organization that gave a home to the person and the songs of Big Bill Broonzy and Pete Seger now does business with Clear Channel. It just seems to be one compromise away from the next compromise at all times.

Maybe, it's Shimers fate to die in Waukegan. That seems to be the undertow of all the good thoughts behind moving to IIT. Let's move because we fear the death of the institution?

Think about what Jimmy Cliff said: " I'd rather be a free man in my grave than living as a puppet or a slave."

Shimer might die in Waukegan but when it does it will still be Shimer, not some annex of IIT.

If Shimer needs to move and have a lease then let's have a lease on our own. Novel thought eh?

Happy Thanksgiving!

3 comments :

Owen Brugh said...

Bill,
I thought (and still think) it is up in the air. I think it is important to note that the board is not of one mind on this. Young Kim seems to be the only one whose mind is made up.

I'm not happy with the article either. I say the article because I worked in the newspaper business for eight years, and I know stories can get a little screwed up in the editing process, especially when filed by a freelancer.

I suspect the article was assigned out after an editor read the story in the Saturday News-Sun. That's usually how the Trib gets these things.

In either case, I am very disturbed to hear that this move is about the survival of the college. Very little of what I have heard has made it sound that way.

While I understand that we need to increase enrollment somewhat, I still am not convinced a move does that.

Can you expand on your point on "At IIT, someone else will be helping us determine the fate of Shimer."? I understand that from the space aspect, but it seems like you mean more than that. I really want to understand your point here.

On your alternative education point: I understand what you are saying. I attended from several different colleges before coming to Shimer, and the Shimer method works wonderfully for me. What I am wondering is if you think that it wouldn't work for more "traditional" students?

I also want to hear more about why you think this deal would make Shimer and "annex" of IIT. It's not that I disagree (or agree) with you. I just don't quite understand what you mean.

And the Old Town/Clear Channel thing does suck, but I think I'd take that over no Old Town at all (even if it does screw up my parking four days a week).

And yes, the BOT technically can approve a lease without the Assembly. In the Constitution Preamble: "The Assembly recognizes the Board of Trustees as the ultimate legal authority of the College." However, it also specifies that the administration is expected to seek the will of the Assembly on issues of "the basic values of the College as a whole."

Read into that what you will, but I have a general sense that the board as a whole is not interested in alienating most of the College’s students.

dansbooks said...

I'm going to forego the usual niceties and diplomacy that go with being a Board member (and an adult) for a few minutes here. I was never very good at it anyway.

First, your comment that "Shimer did change when it left Mount Caroll, it became more than it was" is heavily disputed by many of my classmates, who felt, and still feel, that Shimer is not what it was in Mt. Carroll; in fact, they claim Shimer College doesn't even exist any more. I think at its essence, it is very much the same. But your comment expresses an opinion that is by no means universal. I was at Mt. Carroll, and I was at Waukegan. I doubt that fifty people on the planet can say they have been both places and have my perspective.

What I really resent is the notion that perhaps it is Shimer's fate to die in Waukegan. I've been through this before: in 1973, when the Board voted to close the College, and some students just left--after all, Shimer was officially dead. Same thing in 1977. Then in 1979, there were those who insisted that it was Shimer's fate to die in Mt. Carroll, that the College could not, and should not, even consider moving. If we had listened to the conventional wisdom then, we would not be having this discussion now.

One of the great Shimer instructors long ago talked about "death with dignity." He was discussing Shimer College in one of their crises. His contention was that to die with dignity was not to give up the fight for life, but to struggle against any odds, to tilt against any windmill, to fight no matter how slim the chance of success. I believed him then, and I believe him now.

Instead of quoting Jimmy Cliff, I'd quote Joseph Heller: "It's better to live on your feet than to die on your knees."

And I did NOT join the Board to oversee the College destroyed, period. I've put too much into this school. I spent nine years (1971-1980) attending and working for Shimer. I spent another ten years (1987-1997) as a Board member. I'm back again as a Board member. Shimer has been a direct part of my life for 20 years, and an essential part of my life since I set foot on campus over 34 years ago.

Do you honestly believe I am going to do anything I believe would harm an institution that may well be the single most powerful influence in my life? If so, you are very much mistaken.

Despite the tone of this response, be aware that, as Voltaire is alleged to have said (he didn't, actually, but that's another story) "I do not agree with what you say, but I defend to the death your right to say it." Only leave out the "to the death part"--I've got a wife and kids depending on me.

Take care, and keep the conversation going.

Alan said...

What is wrong with an institution growing from 1500 students to 6000? Isn't that good? Doesn't SHimer need to increase enrollments? Isn't this a sign that a Chicago Campus may draw in more students?
What is wrong with Clear Channel? Are you one of thoise people that immediately thing that because a company or corporation is successful it must be evil? This strikes me as some sort of crazy paranoia.
This music school went from offering individual lessons to offering blocks of 8. I can see how this wouldn't be great for music lessons. Shimer already has classes of around 14. Do you imagine we'd switch to lecture halls of several hundred?
As far as this move being made based on fear, that frankly is a load of crap. This move is simply an attempt to try a new approach to a problem that the current solutions have failed to fix in decades. At some point it is wise to stop trying the solutions that definitely don't work and perhaps try one that might work.
The main force that is motivated out of fear seems to me those who are afraid of the move.
Is waukegan the only place on the planet where alternative education can be offered?