Thursday, December 29, 2005

Shimer Floor Plans?

I'd like to announce the start of the play-with-the-floor-plan-of-the-proposed-space-at-IIT contest! Someone other than me (hopefully) will be administering it! Nominate yourself as administrator and judge! No actual prizes or influence in the eventual floor plans! Just a way to float neat ideas off each other!

At the end of this post, you'll find the current floor plans and my brief sketch of an idea. I made it in Microsoft Paint, included in Windows. Take the floor plan as it is (right click and "save as") and take away walls with the click of a button (painting white over them) and label things with text!

Enter the contest to win glorious prizes! There are no prizes. This is not a contest.

Send your plans to me by email ( or put them in my box in Prairie if you'd rather do it with white-out and pen. I'll post them somewhere when the semester begins. And figure out who may be responsible for figuring out what is eventually done and get all the proposed plans to him or her.

The only guidelines are that you can't knock down the pillars (little squares) and there should be some classrooms and potential office space.

Do it now. Seriously, how can we make this space Shimer?

Current layout

My sketch (one)

My sketch (two)

Outside picture



Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Let Me At 'Em, Sancho

Hope the link above works.

One of the things that hasn't been discussed yet--- what, if any, are the ramifications of the letters Jim passed out at the Assembly? Has anyone been in touch with the alderman who said such lovely things at the Assembly? Do we have copies of these letters? Yes, yes, we all know how I feel about Waukegan--- although some of us care to insult me and the hippy community by implying that I am a hippy, and thus show that they don't know me at all. Name your weapon, sirrah. Let us hope you do not blythely categorize me into something else I am not.

I find myself wishing that I knew if the whole offer is a beginning stance for negotiations or the firm and final offer (the latter, it seems, although I have been wrong before). And then I think--- does this indicate that we are really dealing with Shimerians here? And yes: what about Wednesdays?

I wish I knew what Susanne says about this. What Jack says. Yes, I trust the Buchanans. Yes, I trust Marc. But the more voices, the greater the harmonies, yes?

Friday, December 23, 2005

Happy holidays

Happy Holidays to everyone! Please take care of yourselves and have a happy holiday season!!!!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Calling All Teachers

If you are a teacher in the Waukegan/Chicago area that will be in class following the 1st of January, then your help is needed.

There is a project being undertaken to help provide the board with as much valuable information as possible before the final decision about the move is made.

Please contact me for further information or details. I will need all the help I can get to make this rather impossible feat doable within the next few weeks. More details with follow.

I can be found at or


Sara Davila
class ’99 in case I haven’t mentioned.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

From David Shiner: Assembly Motions

Here are the motions approved by the Assembly at its December 18 meeting:

1)Resolved, that it is the will of the Assembly of Shimer College that the College proceed with current negotiations with the Illinois Institute of Technology, and that, if and when the Board of Trustees judges that it is in the best interests of the College, Shimer enter into an agreement with IIT to relocate its undergraduate programs to the Chicago South Side campus of IIT and to offer courses there as early as fall 2006. MOTION CARRIES 46-29

2)Resolved, that it is the will of the Assembly that the Board of Trustees pursue offers from the city and community of Waukegan concurrently with the negotiations with IIT. MOTION CARRIES WITH ONE OPPOSED

The remainder of the motions are all recommendations of the Assembly continent upon Shimer's relocation to the IIT campus.

3)Resolved, that Shimer students have access to services that are available to IIT students, including but not limited to: extensive dining option, health services, library, computers, IT, and public transportation passes. MOTION CARRIES UNANIMOUSLY

4)Resolved, that negotiations to lease space on the IIT campus include the following: (1) a minimum lease period of 15 years; (2) right of first refusal to acquire a self-contained space on the IIT campus should such a space become available and Shimer's finances permit; and (3) the prominent display of "Shimer College" and other welcoming features at and near the entrance to the Shimer space. MOTION CARRIES UNANIMOUSLY

5)Resolved, that current Shimer students be guaranteed that their net costs for the years 2006-2009 will be no higher than would have been reasonable to expect had Shimer remained in Waukegan, taking financial aid into account. MOTION CARRIES UNANIMOUSLY

6)Resolved, that Shimer’s academic calendar be adjusted to make cross-registration between Shimer and IIT possible. MOTION CARRIES UNANIMOUSLY

7)Resolved, that the Faculty and APC establish appropriate policies for cross-registration between Shimer and both IIT and VanderCook School of Music. MOTION CARRIES WITH TWO OPPOSED

8)Resolved, that Shimer pursue off-campus housing equipped with kitchens for students, as well as contiguous on-campus housing in an IIT dormitory. MOTION CARRIES

Those are all the substantive (as opposed to procedural) motions that were approved. Other motions were either defeated or tabled.

David Shiner

Speaker, Shimer College Assembly

From Yael (moved up from comments)

I wanted to post this as a main header instead of as a comment, but I don't want to wait for a to-join invitation, so here it is. Just pretend this is a new topic entitled "this is what propaganda looks like."

It's so weird getting letters from Shimer. I will admit, however, that I prefer it to getting strange phone calls from sorority-sounding telemarketers who are obviously reading a script off of a page as they ask me to donate money to Shimer and inform me that Shimer does not have the staff to make these phone calls themselves. It's a strange, impersonal approach and one which I don't think many alums would respond to well, me included. I wonder if it has anything to do with the low level donations.

In any case, I was disappointed to receive the "information of interest" letter in the mail because it read like propoganda. I'll be up front about the fact that I never liked Waukegan and took Metra to Chicago every chance I could get during my time at Shimer. However, I never went to the South Side of Chicago for safety reasons. I also know how hard it is to get from one part of Chicago to the next even in the better parts of the city. It's not like it's a hop, skip and a throw from all of the art museum. But I digress. My point is that this letter didn't even cover SAFETY in the "number of objections" list. And I think it's a huge issue. I know that the letter stated that neither the pros nor cons are exhaustive, but I still don't think leaving out this very vital point was just an oversight.

Also, if you look at the wording of the "pros" versus the "cons," it is totally inconsistent. Every word under the list of "various rationales" is not just a verb, but a strong verb that reads like a resume: providing, strengthening, creating, enhancing, giving, promoting, positioning. The language used for the "number of objections" is extremely wishy washy. Like for example, "the loyalty that SOME alums feel to the Waukegan campus" (emphasis mine), the POTENTIAL loss of a distinctive Shimer identity, the lingering unfavorable reputation of the south side of Chicago DESPITE RECENT IMPROVEMENTS." This language makes the objections seem weak. Imagine if the rationales were written in that language. "The possibility that some people think Shimer college might grow that some but not all alum believe would exist" or "overall nervousness about Shimer's fundraising base weakening, despite the possibility that it could strengthen."

Is it just me, or does anybody else feel that a decision has already been made and this letter is just propaganda?

I feel like the most important thing is Shimer's survival, it is more important than this particular decision, finding ways we can all get together to support one another and support the college which has done so much for us. I felt this strange nostalgia I didn't expect just reading this blog and seeing how passionate everyone is, how they've taken the Shimer experience and applied it to different goals... even the way people have reached different conclusions in a way that is so thought-out and balanced and Shimerian. But when I get letters like this, I feel like it totally insults not just my intelligence but that of everyone who's ever stepped into a Shimer classroom and stepped out a different person. Despite what it says, to me it seems obvious that this letter obviously is not intended to provide a balanced perspective and to seek feedback, but to sell an idea. I'm disappointed. When my alma mater claims to send a document to "share an account of the issues at hand" I'd prefer to receive an account that is less one-sided.

Whether or not Shimer moves is obviously not my decision. The fact that my parents would have never let me attend a college on the South Side of Chicago (and that I would be very hesitant to visit for the same reason) probably doesn't matter at this point. I just find it disengenious for this letter to say that moving to that area would "provide an opportunity for Shimer alums to reengage with the college." Just a bit off kilter, don't you think?

I think everyone here has brilliantly hashed the rest of the rationale bullet points quite well, but I just wanted to add something about the whole "providing basic, traditional student services" and "overcoming isolation by giving students contact with greater cultural diversity, larger communities and more academic opportunities" thing. In my three years in Waukegan, I took two yoga classes in Lake Forest, a class at the Carl Jung Center in Evanston, went to the gym in Waukegan regularly, was involved with two pagan groups, was heavily involved with different types of activism in Chicago, and basically had a lot of contact with a large, culturally diverse community. This is a choice. It is possible to live in South Chicago and stay in one's Ivory Tower (and in fact that's probably a choice I would make were I at ITT, under the watchful eye of campus security.) It is possible to take falling-apart dormitory rooms and make them beautiful (as Kathleen demonstrated when she moved into the room I was in...what was it, 18? It took her two days to make it beautiful). It is possible to go to the gym, go to the library, take the train to a bookstore, learn how to cook, hang out in the computer lab, stay engaged with the college, have contact with a culturally diverse community, have access to the cultural assets of Chicago, and all the numerous rationales listed in these bullets in this letter--while still residing in Waukegan. It is much more difficult to maintain a tight-knit community amongst a much bigger one, to experience a city one has to worry about physical safety to get to.

I still have a feeling this decision has already been made, but just wanted to add my voice to the record, to the long list of objections to this move, and the inherent uncertainty of the positive projections listed in favor of this idea.

Yael Grauer, class of '02

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Assembly from Afar

For those who are unable to attend the special Assembly tomorrow, Shimer will provide an online reporting system which will allow you to track the progress of various motions and votes.


Our online system will not allow you to interact in any way with the proceedings short of reading the information as it is posted and/or updated.

The best way to use this tool without overwhelming the servers and/or becoming frustrated would be to let the page load and --occasionally-- refresh your browser or press your F5 key.

For those who might have forgotten the sometimes glacial pace at an assembly of such importance - leaning on your refresh button really won't do much besides swamp the server. Try a refresh cycle of every five or ten minutes.

To take part in viewing the progress of Assembly starting at 4:00PM Central Standard Time on Sunday December 18th, use the following link:

USER NAME: shimerguest
PASSWORD: cinderella

(Note that this is a secure page, please copy the link EXACTLY as it appears above)

If you have any questions or experience difficulty, we will have very limited ability to help as our I.T. staff will be taking part in Assembly as community members. You might try to send e-mail to this address:

As a guest, you will not be able to navigate to other parts of the campus portal, please don't try.

Thank you for your interest in this important event in the history of our College.

Marc Hoffman


--Albert B. Fernandez, Shimer Faculty

If you’re short on time or patience, though I think the issue before us demands both, I suggest you skip to my last three paragraphs or my final paragraph, which I dare say is a relatively original contribution.

Although I urge everyone not to finally make up their minds concerning the proposed move to the IIT campus until they have received as much information and listened to as much of the ongoing discussion as possible, as Sunday's Assembly meeting nears I think it is appropriate and helpful for those of us who are at this point strongly leaning one way or another to present their reasons, if only in summary form.

The point of departure that leads me, and others, to favor relocation is an assessment--which I believe at this point is a consensus if not a unanimous position among the staff—of the College’s future in Waukegan as precarious, for financial reasons. Data, arguments, and forecasts relating to enrollment, donor income, and grant income that support this assessment have already been presented by others (I will be glad to direct you to this information if you can’t find it), and I readily grant that there are also factors that work against financial pessimism. But, to sum it all up, Shimer is like a family that has been getting away with living from paycheck to paycheck for quite some time. It may survive like this indefinitely, but it’s also a bankruptcy waiting to happen. Given this assessment, it is widely felt, as I do, that Shimer needs to make some kind of “move.”

Given that assessment, the essential reason why I, and others, will be going to Sunday's Assembly inclined to support a resolution recommending the move is that we think it is more likely that Shimer College will endure and prosper if it does relocate to Chicago as proposed. And, in turn, the essence of this reasoning, for me at least, is that it seems likely that enrollment and the stream of applications to Shimer will increase. I can see four sources that will likely produce such an increase, independently, and it's more likely that at least some out of the four will do so. The factors I'm referring to, specifically, are as follows.

1) The College will be located right in the middle of a huge education market of working adults, so that the ailing Weekend Program stands to benefit especially,

2) Shimer will no longer be a “no-frills” college. I do not think that if prospective students (to say nothing of their parents) are reluctant to attend a College that has no cafeteria, no gym, no security staff, very little by way of extracurricular facilities, and--even now--not much of a library, and with buildings that still look rather ramshackle, it means they are not serious students.

3) Attrition will likely be reduced because it will be much easier for our students to take specialized courses not offered by Shimer, even if we don’t work out a cross-registration agreement with IIT. Currently the College fails to retain an undetermined but significant number of students because their grad school or career goals require them to take courses not available, or at least not easily or regularly available, at SC or nearby colleges (pre-med, specialized lab courses, economics, etc.)

I am saying “significant” mostly on the basis of personal recollection over my years at Shimer. But the nearest thing to a scientific determination of how many students are in this category, Enrollment Manager George Krafcisin’s attrition studies from ’96 and ’97, suggests that the number is high. In the ’96 attrition study, the 2nd most common reason for leaving the College (after “personal-emotional-health,” 38 students) was transferring to another institution (36 students). The ’97 study tallied reasons given by departing students themselves, and “career goals changed” was the third most frequent response.

4) Chicago. Little needs to be said about the appeal of the opportunities for cultural and social enrichment that Chicago offers. It has been countered that many college applicants prefer a rural environment, but Waukegan is not a rural environment.

The preceding outlines my essential reason for favoring the move, but it is not the only one. I am thinking that residing at IIT would enable us to make the claim that many other schools would kill for: "The advantages of a small college with the resources of a large university." I am also thinking that IIT students comparing our classes with IIT’s would probably enhance Shimer ‘s reputation, and that the word will spread. I am bearing in mind reports of Mt. Carroll alums who have said they would be generous to Shimer if we moved. And I regard our mixing with a different community (that has one of the largest proportions of international students in the US), which I have elsewhere called “contact with aliens,” as a fundamentally good thing for our community. Of course I also have my list of “cons,” which is posted on the intranet, and which includes the unappealing new building, but at this point my pros are trumping the cons.

I have been repeatedly using the word “likely,” at the expense of good style, to indicate my awareness that I cannot scientifically demonstrate almost anything that I have written. But I don’t believe that professional market studies or similar instruments, which some have called for, would be of much help, even if we could afford them, in what is, after all, predicting the future.

As for reasons and arguments that have been expressed in opposition to the proposal, I do not have the space to explain why each has ultimately not persuaded me, though I certainly do not dismiss them. But, taking them in the aggregate, it seems that the bulk of them are to the effect that if Shimer moves to the IIT campus it will lose its independence, or its soul, its uniqueness, its small classes…. First and most generally, it seems to me that whether things of this sort happen will be up to us. That Shimer should stay put to safeguard its identity strikes me as analogous to an individual avoiding people who are different for fear of losing his/her identity.

Even if it is assumed, for the sake of argument, that if we move Shimer will be run by soulless persons who do not understand Shimer’s values and care for nothing but marketing and the bottom line, the stupidest thing they could do, just from the marketing standpoint, would be to surrender what makes Shimer stand out---in the language of marketing, “product identity.”

What I think is generally being missed when worry is expressed about the pressures on our autonomy that we would face if we moved is that such pressures already are and have been enormous. There is no harsher landlord than poverty. After twelve years of teaching at Shimer in Waukegan, I can say that there has been virtually no decision, no project, no initiative, that has not been severely constricted by scarcity of resources and financial handicaps, including the very one we are discussing, and this applies not only at the institutional level, but for all constituencies, including students. Examples are legion. For a long time the College has meant to offer graduate education courses, but this has not been possible, even on a modest scale, without the tail of external funding wagging the dog. Faculty have to deal with an exceptional lack of financial support if they want to write, research, attend conferences, take sabbaticals, or otherwise contribute to the larger educational community or any community beyond the immediate one. And if you’re a student and, let’s say, want to organize a soccer league for neighborhood kids, you will likewise immediately come up against the College’s dearth of resources, facilities, equipment, insurance, etc. Nothing disempowers more than poverty.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Some IIT Thoughts and Concerns

1) “Security”, Racism, and Social Injustice

At the get together with Young Kim and Bill Rice in Evanston, part of the presentation involved discussion of the security situation around the IIT campus. Reassurances were made that the Robert Taylor Homes are coming down, the neighborhood is improving, and a new police station is being built.

In “Politics and the English Language” Orwell cautions against having our thinking colonized by language that distorts or obfuscates or prevaricates. At least since the Nixon era, law and order, good neighborhoods, security, and related terms have been used as code words for discrimination and racism. The current power structure in Chicago is no stranger to these endeavors, especially when it comes to getting control of Cabrini Green and the Robert Taylor Homes, now that the real estate has become more valuable. Local organizations and others have been documenting how the Chicago Housing Authority has been systematically undercutting the housing conditions for residents of public housing, and engaging in something quite different from urban renewal. The provision of housing for those truly in need continues to be a major issue conspicuous by its absence from the city’s agenda (and not just Chicago).

Relatedly, I recently taught a Basic Writing course at a Chicago college where most of my students were minorities. The focus for our papers was various aspects of their experience growing up in Chicago. By far their best and most memorable essays were written about their experiences with the Chicago police. Without exception, each student had had numerous encounters with the police, guilty of being on the street while black or hispanic. Repeated incidents of arbitrary stops and searches, abusive treatment, and other inappropriate actions are commonplace for them. I can assure you that few or any of them would feel reassured knowing that a new police station was being built in their neighborhood.

Which is by way of saying: let’s be careful about how we speak about the conditions in the neighborhood surrounding IIT. Let’s not buy into, even if unintentionally, the racism and resulting social injustice that continues to pervade Chicago politics. In turn, let’s take the likely move to IIT as an opportunity to contribute a Shimer voice to the proceedings, practicing the good citizenship we bespeak in our catalog. True security lies in the pursuit of social justice.

2) Cohabiting with the Military Industrial Academic Complex

The proposed move to IIT would not involve an affiliation but a landlord/tenant relationship. This would not be a distant landlord, but one with whom we would be sharing the campus or premises. Just as a major attraction of the move would be the opportunity to associate Shimer with Chicago and its rich offerings, so too we would do well to consider what our cohabitation with IIT will associate us with.

We would not be considering a move to IIT unless IIT were financially solvent. That financial solvency is significantly based in its military contracts.

As far as I know, in the past and currently IIT does research for the military, much if not all of it secret or what is termed Black Box. Typically such projects are for the Defense Department or the Energy Department. Or, to avoid the Orwellian doublespeak, the War Department and the Weapons of Mass Destruction Department. I would expect that those of us who do not want to associate with the apparatus of war and empire would be uncomfortable with contributions to those endeavors going on across the quad. It is ironic that we are seeking to increase our security by a move to IIT, while IIT’s military research projects are contributing to making our nation and the world less secure.

By definition, we cannot know what Black Box projects are underway, but we do have a good idea of the kinds of things currently being funded in the government’s black budget (including, of course, black prisons being run worldwide by the CIA). As a member of the North Suburban Peace Initiative, let me describe one of several such undertakings, one which is not atypical.

Rods from God: This is the Air Force’s descriptor, not mine. As accustomed as we may be to the Bush Administration’s hubris, I think we are still taken aback when we learn of still another instance.

The Bush Administration is currently completing a new Presidential Decision Directive that would move the United States quickly into the uncharted territory of deploying offensive anti-satellite weapons and spaced-based weapons for attacking targets on Earth. One of these programs, “Rods from God,” would hurl cylinders of tungsten, titanium, or uranium at surface targets. Pentagon and Air Force documents have put forward a vision of “space control” to ensure superiority. Additionally, orbiting “death stars” to attack ground targets are being considered. This would spark a new, costly, and unnecessary arms race with other states including Russia, China, and India. American space-technology industries combined in 2000 to generate $125 billion in profits, and total American investment in space technology is expected to be $600 billion by 2010. (Keep this in mind when recalling the costs of responding to the devastation from Hurricane Katrina or the latest proposed cuts to student loan programs. Also, the College Board estimates that the expenditures for one day in Iraq would pay the full cost of public higher education for 17,000 students.) In addition to weaponizing the heavens, note that the destruction of satellites would create space debris that would endanger and/or knock out most worldwide communications.

How does the Shimer Community feel about being associated with programs such as this? My own view is that they are obscene, a more appropriate use of the term than so-called family values coalitions employ. If we make the move, will we learn to hold our noses and adopt a smell no evil, hear no evil, see no evil stance? We can anticipate that over time it will be possible to become acclimated. Alternatively, might we (for example) look forward to leafleting outside whatever building(s) on the IIT campus are housing such research? A different leaflet each week could outline another of the likely Black Box projects being pursued. Another possibility would be modeled on Bush’s demand to send inspection teams to Iraq searching for Weapons of Mass Destruction. Shimer might form its own inspection team and announce that it would be inspecting IIT for work on WMD.

I suggest that such initiatives would constitute practicing good citizenship, not to mention being a good tenant.

Monday, December 12, 2005

SaraDevil's Response to Noah's Survey

I have wanted to answer this and today I finally have time.

What initially brought me to Shimer was the amazing thing that was the Escher campaign. That campaign was brilliant in it’s simplicity and had a profound effect on my decision. I believe that Shimer heard about me, because I certainly had never heard about Shimer, when I ticked boxes on both my ACT and SAT exams for colleges under 900 students. That must be how the found me.

Before Shimer Antioch was my first choice, a great deal of that because of the politics and the community there, followed by a small college in Ohio whose name escapes me, and finally OSU because my father was very, very concerned it be on my list, preferably as a first choice. Then I got a postcard from Shimer. It was simple and to the point. Do you like to read? / Don’t you like to read? Two stickers. Pick one, put it on a side of the postcard, mail the post card in. Well, hell, I was floored. And I liked to read.

So I sent in the postcard and figured I’d see what was what. Didn’t expect much. A few days later a package arrived in the mail. It had a letter. It was written by David Buchanan. It began:

Dear Sara,

This is a form letter. I hate form letters.

I will never forget that opening of that letter that I received, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. I read those words and my brain turned over and Shimer was the place I wanted to be. I was equally enticed by the lack of concern for my ACT and SAT scores, as I felt standardized testing was a load of crap (my ACT’s were good, but my SAT’s weren’t, not helped by the fact that I went to sleep for an hour during the test, and burdened by the sheer fact that I could not afford to take the test again) and that real education had to step outside of programming and onto something more.

I spent four years in High School hating education. I even forced my English teacher to turn my class into an independent study so I could learn something, which she almost held against me later, but I digress. Needless to say, I was not an average student, I was not looking for an average University, and Shimer set itself apart. Because Dave Buchanan hated form letters I loved him. And I decided to go to Shimer.

Everything made Shimer appealing at that point, but mostly that it was an escape. I did not visit the campus before going to Shimer. I signed on the dotted line, signed my future debt free world away, and on a hot day in August packed into a Van for a full day drive to a place I would call home that I had never seen before. I had talked it though. I’d talked to Dave, among others. I talked with Bill Patterson, who I immediately adored. I talked to Psyche on the phone because I liked her name and though, “This is someone I want to know.” I was manic, and a little crazy, and I was going to be taken away to some strange place I had never seen that was more attractive then anything I had known. I knew what to expect, though, from reading about Shimer in the catalog, from talking to Shimer on the phone. I new it was an odd assortment of buildings and eclectic people. Shimer did not disappoint me.

I arrived with stuff in tow, we parked next to 438, and the van officially died. Dave, and several others finally managed to find someone to come out and put a new alternator in the van so it could be moved to the parking lot so my things could be moved to Godot. I would be living in Armstrong, which was not ready. Everyone was very helpful. My mother, in typical fashion, decreed my decision and stated on the spot that I was returning home with her then and there. I did not. Shimer was my home. I cried for a long time my first night at Shimer. I had nothing to eat. I had no money. I had a box of pillows, and some clothes, and a new place to live, and I was freaking out and loosing my mind, and very very afraid, but somehow Shimer would make it all okay.

And it did.

I met Dave and enjoyed his cigarette smoking man pose and the way he dealt with my mother. I was happy and relieved. And everything did get better.

Then when it really began, after running the gauntlet and getting classes and beginning to throw myself into reading, and two day weeks, then it really, really became the place that attracted me. I never understood how people who left after a few weeks did it. Shimer seemed to perfect. Why would you want to leave?

The program was exactly what I wanted. No longer was I being programmed to thinking a preformatted way to perform much like a trained monkey on a test. I was thinking, perhaps for the first time in my life I was really thinking about what I was doing, who I was, and how I learned. Educational methodology will tell you that the kind of learning we do at Shimer is truly valuable for establishing metacognative thought and personal dependency skills. This has remained a valuable tool of Shimer. It helped me survive many things, not the least of those things Shimer. Bill Patterson told me on my third day at Shimer that I would hate it eventually. I told him he was wrong, I could never hate this.

In the middle of my second year though, I began to consider leaving. Leaving for me was not the program, it was the pressure. The pressures were the lack of money. That was it, the number one reason for wanting to leave. I could not afford Shimer. I had been on my own since I’d refused my mother and not gotten back into that van. I paid for the expenses not covered by my loans, small scholarship and grants with my work-study money. I was working 20 hours a week at Shimer the max allowed, while balancing 3 classes. I worked hard, to hard, my CWS ran out, and then I was in big trouble. I had no money, no prospects, no car, and all the other pressures of being on my own. That is what made me want to leave.

Shimer helped that too. There was intervention, and help, and assurance, and I stayed, and it was a good decision. Hard, but good. My best friend in the world moved away, he couldn’t take it anymore. I stayed and was comforted through it by my slowly coming around friend Sam, and by Psyche. Shimer let me stay through the summer’s and I loved that because it meant I did not have to go home. I always loved how quiet Shimer was in the summer time, and how wonderful Waukegan was. It was cheap and easy to live there, and I lived well on less then 70 dollars a month. Life was perfect and grand, and Shimer made it so.

Then I got sick. And Shimer helped me through that. Four days after surgery I started classes on time with everyone else my Junior year. And Shimer took care of me, and looked after me, and helped me get the help I needed. I needed that help, and Shimer, like a warm hand, took me in and kept me safe. Sam brought bread, Psyche laughter, 309 the magical mystical cures they always seemed to have, and Nancy Rose intercepted a phone call from my mother and made sure she could not find me, so that I had time to heal. Shimer was there for me when I needed it most. And I loved it for that.

I went to my classes and I continue to learn to think about thinking and learn about learning and I was very happy. The program was wonderful and I loved it. I loved my classes and the challenges, and the discussion and the writing. For my Hum comp I wrote my final paper as a formal essay by Aristotle critiquing Virgil (assuming Aristotle had lived a little longer). I learned to think outside of boxes, and passed with honors. I learned to live and be free and happy with who I was, with my thoughts and my thinking. Shimer did all that for me.

I didn’t want to leave Shimer when the end finally came, but I could not linger on. Part of that was just who I was, and part of that was knowing that I could not be in classes anymore so I had to go. I needed a little distance and I got that. I got a lot more. But I miss Shimer, and think about it often. I’m surrounded by Shimer everyday in a way, as those people whom I love more then anything, Sam, Sarah, Psyche, Wolf, Bonnie, MikeyW, David S and B, Barb, Eileen, and others and others, are all still there for me.

Last year I decided to partake in some foolishness. I need the help of Shimer which was the only place I knew that existed where I could get shot records. I called up and spoke with a student who put me on the line with Barb Boghart. She sent a fax in just a few hours and even a fed ex with the originals. Could I do that at any other institution?

During the last Winter the laws in Korea changed and Americans working here were suddenly required to present original unopened transcripts from Universities. I called Shimer and Bill Patterson answered the phone. He put me on to Barb Stones phone because Barb B. was out of the office. Barb emailed me right away and I had transcripts in less then a few days. Because Shimer is a place where we take care of each other, no matter how long we have been gone. I love that about Shimer.

I may be removed from the campus life, but I’m not forgotten. Shimer continues to look after me. Daily I return to what I learned at Shimer to read massive amounts of text and glean the important information, to argue and opinion or point and be able to support that with evidence, to help others understand and idea or concept. I learned to do that at Shimer. I refined it as a skill that I can use whenever I need to. I make impossible things happen on a day to day basis. When I have all the pieces of the puzzle I can do amazing things. Shimer showed me how to see those pieces in unusual ways. I’ll always be grateful for that.

Shimer was one of the most difficult things I ever did. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It is both appealing and unappealing, but underneath it all is the love of learning and the love of the participants that holds it together. That will keep me coming back to it every time.

When people ask me if they should go to Shimer I almost always say no. I’m selfish and I don’t want to share. So I say no and then tell them what Shimer means to me, and very rarely do they listen to that no. More often then not, it makes Shimer that much more interesting and appealing.

Shimer is a wonderful place. We are lucky to have it. If the community can survive the move, then others will find what I found in Shimer, and they will be lucky to do so. I know how lucky I am.


Sara Davila

Ramblings on all things Moveumental

I haven't had nearly as much time as I would like to post or to at least state my thought about Shimer and Shimer's potential move. Part of that is because I'm in the midst of a personal transition crisis at the moment and adding Shimer's transition crisis to mine just seems like a bad idea. But it is hard not to think about it at the moment, because at the moment I am again without a solid place to call home, and that almost always makes me think of Shimer. Regardless of where I was there, I was always home, even when sleeping in the gym basement because the heat had gone out in the dorm, or because I was visiting the campus and needed a place to crash, I knew I was home.

On the proposed move, I've listened to many of the different arguments made here and have tried to collect in my mind some pros and cons. I'm going to restate what I feel those are here, as a why of trying to organize my own thoughts on this argument.


IIT would allow Shimer to offer more to the current attending students.

IIT would reduce maintenance and up-keep expenses of the current campus.

IIT would help to increase enrollment to move Shimer towards a goal of 300 FTE's.

IIT would offer Shimer students amenities not currently had, like an eating program.

IIT would offer Shimer students closer contact to Chicago, a vibrant and beautiful city in it's own right, despite all of its sordid problems.


The space at IIT is not nice. It's not very cozy. It's not Prairie House on a cold day, or it's not the only air-conditioned building on campus on an insanely hot summer day, like say Koko house would be.

IIT's no 438 with the octagonal tables, historical flavor, and years of wandering students to add scrawling history to he tiled bathrooms with covered tubs and creatively renovated second floor to allow for offices.

ITT does not guarantee a fix to the enrollment problem.

ITT is not ours. We don't own it. We would be leasing it.

IIT is moving to fast in it's own, understandable way, but sometimes with a dialogical society you need to take things slow.

I think it is easy to see where my heart is based on my cons, however, at the end of the day those are cons.

I've been back and forth over the debate to try to figure out where I stand. When I first heard about this move I was 100% not for it. That was a matter of personal taste, more then anything else. However, I started to think about it. That is an unfortunate thing for me because part of the work that I do is making impossible things happen and work. I'm actually quite good at making the impossible happen. For example I managed to turn a farcical five day English immersion "fun camp" into a legitimate, grounded, methodological institute of learning, that’s still fun. It wasn't easy, but I kept saying it was possible and I was right.

So, when I think about Shimer moving, though my initial reaction was no way no how, I started to think about it like any other problem I deal with on a day to day basis and began to see how to make it possible. Bear with me, I might ramble on for a bit, but I have the time to do so at the moment so I will.

Shimer moving to IIT is certainly possible. The program that Shimer employees is sound enough to be taught anywhere, and is truly grounded enough that any student lucky enough to come into contact with it will grow in leaps and bound by merely experiencing it. It would certainly be a boon to IIT students to be able to enjoy the experience that is Shimer even if they did not immerse themselves in it as Shimer students will.

Considering the dietary habits of the lay Shimerian, having a food program would not be such a horrible thing. In fact, it may be better for all of us in the long run.

Living in Chicago does have advantages, and being a school in Chicago is certainly attractive, may in fact be more attractive to students. And, program or no program, Sheridan Road home or not, without students Shimer will die.

The space, though institutional, can be made cozy, by association, by the love that Shimerians bring to it naturally, by the learning, by the experience. It is possible. Anything is possible.
A move would not be a death blow, but a change, and while change is difficult it is not always bad. Even our dear Socrates if asked might consider the move and think of it. Perhaps he addressed it, I recall:

Then if he [the prisoner] called to mind his fellow prisoners and what passed for wisdom in his former dwelling-place, he would surely think himself happy in the change and be sorry for them. They may have had a practice of honouring and commending one another, with prizes for the man who had the keenest eye for the passing shadows and the best memory for the order in which they followed or accompanied one another, so that he could make a good guess as to which was going to come next. Would our released prisoner be likely to covet those prizes or to envy the men exalted to honour and power in the Cave? Would he not feel like Homer's Achilles, that he would far sooner 'be on earth as a hired servant in the house of a landless man' or endure anything rather than go back to his old beliefs and live in the old way?
(Plato, 1945, p. 230)

As much as I love the Waukegan campus, I am not willing to lock myself in chains and see it as the most perfect, the most beautiful and the most true home of Shimer. If we are going to be truly honest with ourselves then we must be honest about at least considering the move. To take a chance on that change and realize that it might not be so bad. I’m willing to consider chances.

However wonderful all that may be however, I am also practical, as many of us here are, and I like to think of things in practical terms of survival, a life skill which I also learned at Shimer, surviving on nothing but my work study used both to live and to pay for my education at the same time, a trying thing my first year, as I recall.

As a practical person I would rehash many of those arguments made before. However, the greatest one is the speed. Just as our poor prisoner came to finally accept the wisdom, he had the grace and good will of time to do so. He was reluctant when first dragged into the light, and unwilling to accept. So am I. I am reluctant and unwilling to accept such a radical life change for the institution I still think of has home so many years later, without at least some more assurances of how it really would be better.

Show me the students.
Show me the money.
Show me the support.

So far, what we have at best is a potential leasing situation. We have all our varied eggs in one very fragile basket that could be a better reality, or could be much worse. While I think Shimer might survive the move, I’m much more concerned that if it doesn’t survive it, then it won’t survive at all. For those who would look back and say, we did it in the 70’s-80’s, I’d say that at that time there were more alums, and a small core of very dedicated professionals who gave up their lives for an institution that is often ungrateful, unsupportive, and unhelpful. Though they helped bring Shimer back like a phoenix, I’m not sure that same support system is in place to do it a second time. I fear for that possibility.

And that brings me, alas, to the final point. I don’t think the move is in the best interest for Shimer at this time. The small bonuses of the IIT move don’t fix the underlying problems. The underlying problems can certainly be fixed in Waukegan, but when and how? And that leave us, the alumn’s who have been coming here, in a quandary. Because, essentially, it is now up to the 100-150 so who have graduated in the last few years to find a way to make this school work before it doesn’t exist anymore. For that I will continue to do whatever I can. To make the home we currently have the best is my desire. I think home is in Wauekgan. I think the campus can be the place we want it to be with or without IIT, and I’m looking at it with a fresh mind, from knowing that the grass my in fact be greener.

My own transition crisis not withstanding (I made the personal decision that the move for less pay, to a less swanky position was better) I don’t think that a move at this time will be the best for the school. For all those personal and philosophical reasons that have been well outlined I believe that. For all that Shimer is my home, I believe that. For all the lack of time in the world, I’d rather spend the little I have trying to create the utopian educational atmosphere in our Waukegan surroundings, than lose it all for a transition that can offer potential, but not real adequate hope.

As always rambling,


Plato. (1945). The Republic of Plato. London: Oxford University Press.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Dubensky's Postscript


I'm not sure if it's too late, and I doubt that my attempt at being funny will be successful, but one approach to a bad argument is to forgive it; another approach is to laugh at it.

I wanted to first say that I agree with your conclusion in a few thoughts "that it would be more difficult to hold on to the College's key mission at IIT." But what did you mean by your November 30 blog posting to Ed: "The fact that the announcement was a bald-faced lie was what made me mad"? I'm still trying to figure out what a bald-faced lie would look like.

Is Barbara your research paper adviser? Could you tell Barbara that Michael has studied the Shimer College Student Catalog very carefully, and he needs to know what page in the Shimer College Student Catalog does it state that the purpose of Shimer College is to "take the mission of the College, education, to new those who are overly confident and need a bit of knocking down." Should the Shimer College Student Catalog be rewritten for the next edition in order to integrate this idea of knocking students down into the mission statement? This is what Barbara must dream about after a night of grading papers, especially after the crap that I used to turn in to her in my first couple of years.

Wouldn't Albert be a good professor to work on a thesis question about what constitutes evidence in literary criticism (unfortunately, a tape recorder, legal documents, and citing professionals seem to be more persuasive as evidence than analyzing the style, attempting to perform a close reading, or interpreting the arguments)? If you do see Albert, could you tell him that I received his second phone call on my voice mail which means I now have evidence of his method and he can call for a phone consultation about how to improve his method at 300$ an hour? But since Albert isn't rich, could you tell Albert calling me up in order to make me doubt my thoughts, my writing, and my mental health is not only a perfect demonstration of the kind of pedagogy that he should try to avoid in the future, but it's also not going to work anymore (bad Albert; bad, bad)?

Could you do me a favor since you are a student member of the board? Could you tell the board at the next board meeting that if they put as much thought into how excellent the faculty were truly-in-practice doing their jobs as they and the faculty did into the rhetoric of these arguments that they would have 300 FTE's (maybe only 200 FTE's because Shimer is still a bit odd) before they even knew it? Could you tell the board that maybe they should buy some new Hondas for the staff if they want to attract and retain more students?

Could you also ask David Shiner if Young Kim's Condition is "If Shimer and IIT can agree on lease terms by January, they will hold the space for us without rent for an additional several months"? This is a strangely-worded statement, which I could benefit from some legal assistance in understanding. Does it mean if Shimer College adheres to the strict time frame and agrees to the terms of a lease [agree on lease terms does not necessarily mean sign the lease] with IIT by January then it will save money on a few month's rent (which is a bit amusing, I have to admit)?

This proposal still feels wrong, and I have read a lot of blog entries, attended multiple presentations, and written too many blogs entries. It seems as if IIT respected getting into a relationship with Shimer College enough to be to open to waiting before getting married to Shimer College; I would, therefore, have preferred if Shimer College launched "A More Beautiful Home for Shimer College (Possibly at IIT) Campaign" and then waited patiently for a better facility to have become available at IIT; even if that's naive, I would have been able to support that campaign. We could then have had a chance to really mull it over, think it through, and talk about it (and talk about it; and talk about it; and talk about it).

This blog has become so quiet that I have a feeling that I may have written the unthinkable truth; in my pursuit of truth and justice, if I have written anything true, please point it out to me so I can edit this blog accordingly, because I have not willfully written anything true in my blog postings. Everything that I have written has been written in a dishonest manner and in bad faith, since I sometimes think that Shimerians may be a bit too over-zealous in their faith for Shimer. We should afterall keep them on their toes, so they don't think they can get away with not doing what we go into debt the big bucks for.

I wish that I could end with a quote by Aristotle, but I have a bad memory and I don't have quotes at the tip of my tongue like some people seem to have a talent for. But didn't Aristotle say something to the effect of excellence being a question of the importance of the motive, the end, and the means; if someone knows which quote I am referring to, maybe you could share it with me. I'll check my edition of Aristotle; I'm almost sure it's in Nichomachean Ethics, which I'm glad because I won't reread Posterior Analytics (although it's a catchy title especially if you are sitting next to a good-looking student) even if it had the answer to all of the problems in the world.

Sam, I think I just took that stress pill (laughter) you recommended; as a massage therapist, you would think I would know how to recognize areas of stress in the body and respond to pain in order help the person achieve homeostasis.

Did you know that massage therapists and literary critics share something in common?

A massage therapist who develops his or her proprioceptors can feel the exact location of a hair that is located in a thick book even if there are hundreds of pages in front of it; a literary critic who is good at his or her craft can recognize the signature of the writer by noticing punctuation marks, specific words, phrases, and sentences.


Friday, December 09, 2005

From David Shiner

Hi All,

David Shiner has dirstributed a packet of information to the community to help make the upcoming decisions. It won't be posted publicly, but David has asked that I make it available to fomer community members. If you send me an email, I'll get you the document. It's twenty three pages of thrilling reading.

My email, once again, is

With Love,

Noah Kippley-Ogman

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Alternate proposal link

This didn't come through before. It's what I refer to below as the first link.


Alternative Plan Proposal

Shimer folks:

Below please find links to three documents that an alum, Michael Weinman ('98), and I put together in response to the IIT proposal. The first, the "Alternative Plan Proposal," argues for the necessity and feasibility of a pilot project through which to gain more information about partnering and/or moving. The second, "Critiques&Replies," regards the Proposal.

The last is a brief multiple-choice survey seeking to learn more about the significance that Waukegan played for alums in their decision to come/stay/leave Shimer. I encourage you to fill it out and return it to me at I will work with Noah to make sure this information informs his findings as well.

We hope to make a constructive contribution to this discussion with these documents. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to contact us.

Erik Badger ('97),
Michael Weinman ('98), Michael Weinman

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

A Response to Noah's Survey


Your survey reached me via Dave Buchanan, whom I've copied here, along with Bill Paterson. Any of you should feel free to circulate this, should you want to. I will likely also post it to

What brought you to Shimer initially? What aspects of Shimer made the College appealing, and what aspects made is unappealing?

What keeps you at Shimer (or made you leave)? What aspects of Shimer are those that draw you in as you live the Shimer life, and what aspects make you want to leave?

I'm Shimer '90, and presently teaching philosophy at a Catholic university in Detroit. I'm a born and bred Waukeganite, and so it was an unusual situation of the College in a sense finding me instead of me finding the College. K-12 I was a spectacularly average student and underachiever, probably bored and didn't know it.

When Shimer first arrived in town over the fabled winter of '77, taking up residence in a run-down 438 behind a rather shabby sign announcing its presence, most people didn't know what to make of the place. Many, including myself, thought it might be some kind of cult. In 1983 or so I ran across some Shimer literature in the print shop over which I lived. After two years of cautious investigation I enrolled in the weekend program to check it out. It wasn't boring. After one semester I was hooked, and never looked back.

At the time, the weekend program met at a conference center in Lake Bluff. While a luxurious break from our working lives for many of us weekenders, it did tend to foster resentment among the day students confined to the then very shabbier confines of the Waukegan campus. In any case, the College (due to financial exigencies, I believe), relocated the weekend program to the Waukegan campus, where I completed my studies. At that time, I would have followed the College anywhere. I still would.

There was nothing that ever made me want to leave, but I was always deeply concerned about the fate of the College. If you're familiar with Shimer's history, you know that it is a history of crisis. If Shimer had a "golden age," it was a brief one, probably sometime in the 50s.

While I was at Shimer it was only a candidate for accreditation, and I always wondered (1) whether a degree from an unaccredited school would hurt me in a search for a grad program, and (2) would I graduate before the College collapsed altogether? The fiscal situation was perilous, to say the least. But I did graduate from an unaccredited school, I did complete a legitimate graduate program, I am practicing my calling full-time, the College is now accredited, but the fiscal situation is still dire.

At the same time, however, in some respects things have gotten manifestly better for the College. It has acquired most of the properties included in its master plan from the 80s--something I regarded as a dream on paper at the time. It has unified the campus to a large degree. The lab in Hutchins was an astonishing acquisition. The College has at long last put money into a seriously ramshackled dorm. It has cultivated advantageous political relationships at the local and state levels. It has reached out and become a part of the local community. And the city which initially regarded the College with open hostility now regards it as both a citizen in good standing and an essential part of any renaissance of its downtown.

But--there's always the "but"--despite all this, enrollment has remained stagnant all this time. And because Shimer has never had a large student body, and because many of its graduates do not enter the corporate or entrepreneurial worlds, it has never had a large endowment. And because of this, enrollment is the key consideration.

So, in principle, I'm in favor of anything that would increase enrollment and hence put the school's future on a firmer footing. Which brings up the matter at hand--would the IIT move do this?

Unfortunately, I have yet to see anything that would indicate that this idea is anything more than a hope that smacks more of desperation than deliberation. That the president of the board went in the space of a week from being "undecided" to intimating to the Chicago Tribune that he was for the move seems to underscore this. All this and the short time frame for a decision makes me extremely nervous, especially in light of the fact that school is not facing an impending crisis (that I know of).

Look, as a member of "conventional academia" (and Shimer is gloriously unconventional), I can tell you that schools spend years doing serious studies of the possible outcomes of proposed changes far less momentous than the one being proposed here. Schools far more robust than Shimer have been severely damaged or ruined due to rash administrative decisions. Given that Shimer is a very, very fragile institution, is is essential that our administration be especially cautious.

If the administration can produce evidence that the move would have a reasonable expectation of stimulating enrollment, I would tend to support the move. But, as I've already said on the blogspot, in the absence of such evidence, I have almost no confidence in the proposal.

So, what then? Can the College afford to stay in Waukegan with stagnant enrollment? This option is not all that appealing. As much as we like to romanticize the countless hardships that Shimer has survived over the years, it seems to me obviously foolhardy for us to continue to dance on the knife's edge. This suggests another question: How can the College stay in Waukegan, take advantage of the roots it has put down there, but stimulate enrollment?

Let me suggest a promising place to start, and it would also involve a survey: a survey the students and parents who visited Shimer but decided not to attend. Through several conversations that I've had with Bill Paterson over the years, here's what I think such a survey would reveal about why such visitors decided against Shimer: (a) "it doesn't look like a college," (b) its physical plant is run-down, and (c) it is located in a distressed area of Waukegan.

To take up the last matter (c) first: it's not like IIT is in the best of neighborhoods, though it has a campus security force which would be a comfort to many. At the same time, I've read on the blogspot that the crime around IIT is much more pronounced, but that makes sense--there's just more people. And it seems to me that the area around the Waukegan campus is starting to turn around. I remember when virtually all of the Victorian frame houses in the neighborhood were carved up into tiny run-down apartments rented cheap to iffy people. Several urban pioneers have come into the area and have invested serious work and money into their properties--just the kind of people I think compliment Shimer's mission.

(b) If you visit any college campus and look closely at all but the brand new buildings, you'll see a lot of wear and tear. Students are hard on buildings. But it must be admitted that many of Shimer's buildings are especially worn, given that most are decades (if not one hundred-plus) years old. If the College is to remain in Waukegan serious money must be raised and put into the physical plant, and a program of maintenance put into place. At the very least, this would probably entail new roofs and heating/cooling plants all around, and new electricity service where below code. Given the number of buildings the College now owns, this would require a substantial but not overwhelmingly large sum of money by conventional standards, though it would be a lot of money by Shimer standards. But we hired a new president (who doesn't teach, I'm told) whose chief responsibility is to raise money. How is that going?

(c) "It doesn't look like a college." What could this possibly mean, given the wide variety of architectural styles that comprise various college campuses--or any single college campus? But deep down, we do know what this statement means (or at least I do, because I asked it myself when I was checking Shimer out): "It looks like a bunch of houses." We had a board member once (an architect, Ed Noonan, I think) who took up this perception and came up the notion of a "college of cottages," which formed the basis of the 80s master campus plan. As I've already observed, much of that plan has been realized: a unifying quad, professional and well-placed signage, etc. In my view, the Prairie House, Hutchins, 438 and Admissions present a good "collegiate" face to the public; our other properties on the block need work to bring them up to these standards. Finally, something like a semi-permeable boundary around the campus, like a low brick wall (expensive) or a low, well-maintained hedge (not so expensive), would further unify the campus, perhaps lend some psychological succor to those concerned with security, remain reasonably open to the community, and hopefully give an (admittedly intangible) impression of a "small, quaint, liberal arts college"--emphasis on the "quaint."

At long last a final word on Waukegan and Shimer. I'll admit that I've come to a greater appreciation for Waukegan over the years. I also think the city has a more promising future than most give it credit for. But please don't take me for a biased apologist for my home town. There will always be those who will hate the fact that Shimer is in Waukegan; the tensions between "town and gown" are as old as Oxford. This will hold if the College moves to IIT, or anywhere else. And I would suggest that the cultural "isolation" that some students feel is easily cured by a cheap, one-hour train ride to downtown Chicago, from where one can take any number of cheap trips on the El to virtually any place in the city. (Imagine being a student at Ball State in Muncie, IN, where the only cultural salvation is an hour away by car . . . in Indianapolis!)

Even in the best case scenario, a move anywhere will cost us some students, and we have to seriously consider whether the College can survive an undefined period of reduced enrollment until the alleged "IIT effect" kicks in. Furthermore, Waukegan *needs* us; just look at the alarm of the city administration when it heard the rumor of our move. IIT, on the other hand, is just shopping for a tenant that could be of some benefit to them.

In the end, I have to say that without compelling evidence that the proposed move would likely improve Shimer's enrollment in the near future, I think it would be foolish to burn the bridges we have built through good will over the years in Waukegan.

Dave Koukal

D. R. Koukal
Associate Professor of Philosophy
Director, University Honors Program
University of Detroit Mercy
4001 W. McNichols RoadDetroit, MI 48221-3038
phone: 313.993.1138
personal web:
honors web:
"A very popular error: having the courage of one's convictions; rather, it is a matter of having the courage for an attack on one's convictions!!!" - Nietzsche

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

From Barbara Stone

Hi Everybody,

It’s Barbara Stone, Dean for a time in the early 90s, and Dean now, with a stint in Development in between. I’ve been following the blog for a long time; it’s been good to hear from so many of you again, and to follow the discussion.

Of course I’ve also been trying to pull my thoughts together for a while. This past Sunday I gave an Academic Affairs speech to the Assembly at the College. Most of it treated the long-term academic issues I see facing the College in the years ahead – whether we stay in Waukegan or go to Chicago. I also outline some details related to the possibility of a move to IIT, and report on a faculty discussion of the issue. So, I think this should be of interest to many of you.

Though I understand that the blog is meant to be a personal discussion, for me this speech is very personal, and outlines my own views of how I see things. So, I’ve excerpted the section (yes, it’s long) that treats IIT for all of you to read.

And, to make my life easier (it’s the end of the semester and extremely hectic) I have asked Noah to post it for me since he can do it more quickly than I can. I will of course read responses; and feel welcome to email me at too.

From: Academic Affairs Speech
Barbara S. Stone
December 4, 2005

I have excerpted the lengthy section that treats my view of the academic long-term issues that face the College, and how a move to IIT relates to them.

The question I want to address is: How do I see the discussion of the possibility of a move to IIT, and the rethinking of how we do things here, fitting into the mission and the long-term vitality of the College? And, since this is a State of Academic Affairs speech, I will narrow it down even further, and focus on the “academic vitality” part – rather than on the long term financial well-being, though these two things are closely connected.
I shall begin by taking stock, and outline where we are, and how we got here. I shall consider a number of issues that impinge on what I consider to be the long-term health and vitality of the College, especially those that impact the future of our academic programs. I will add some basic information which may help to answer a few questions that have come up repeatedly in my conversations with others in the last weeks. My major argument is that, even leaving aside financial difficulties, it is of primary importance that the College’s enrollment grow significantly in the next few years, in order to retain its level of excellence for future generations of students. To my mind, this is one of the basic questions that must be kept foremost in mind as we weigh the option “To Stay or Go.” Some issues I will be addressing will be described slightly differently in a paper which David Shiner is putting together in preparation for the Assembly discussion in two weeks, but hearing them more than once is probably a good thing - at least it’s taken me a while to fully wrap my head around some of these matters.

First, to the current enrollment situation: quickly, somewhat bleakly, and to the point. This year’s entering class was the smallest in a long time, more precisely since 1987. We also have an enormous number of seniors who are expecting to graduate in May. This is the result of a combination of factors, primarily more transfer students and much less attrition. But the number of students who will continue next year, if there were absolutely no attrition – obviously not the case - is that we have 72 remaining students, 21 in the Weekend Program, 51 in the Weekday Program. This doesn’t include readmits, and there are always some, nor does it include new students. Nevertheless, chances are very high, even if Admissions has an extraordinary year, that we will have fewer than 100 FTEs (full-time equivalent students) for the first time in a decade. Though one could argue that money and size, are in fact somewhat peripheral, and that smallness, in and of itself, is a plus, I do not believe this, at least at this scale.

A declining student body has implications for a number of things at the College. I’ll rattle off a few quickly and go into greater depth on some others. Having a critical mass of eligible students to warrant the Shimer-in-Oxford Program is important; lack thereof could place that program in jeopardy. Small enrollment limits the number of elective offerings each semester. And, even though some may love it, it guarantees having the same fellow students in class after class, over and over again. Yes, it can be argued that it forces one to learn to get along better; but it can limit the entry of new ideas and perspectives. In addition, these enrollment figures have major implications for the question of faculty size in the coming years. Today, not counting off- campus faculty members, we have 11 faculty members teaching in the Weekday and Weekend programs. None of these are less than 40 years of age, and the ratio of senior faculty to junior faculty is 9/2. Looking to the future, we are reaching, or have reached the time in which some of our senior members of the faculty may be looking towards retirement. Additionally, other faculty members will be requesting Leaves of Absences as a time for renewal, and to explore other opportunities. Yet, because of static and/or declining enrollments, limitations are now placed on the hiring of new faculty. This is the second year in which we have not brought in new faculty members, nor do I anticipate that this will be possible next year, wherever we are. Though I’m not confident about estimating a “healthy” senior faculty/junior faculty ratio, too many of either is not desirable. Junior faculty prevent a sense of stasis in the senior faculty; they bring in new ideas and vitality, and make us view our procedures from the point of view of a newcomer, which may be difficult but good for all of us. Especially at a time when faculty are looking towards retirement, it is important that new faculty learn from those who are most experienced with our method of teaching and the curriculum. So bringing in new faculty quickly is pivotal to the long term health of the College. At the other end, whenever we have brought in three or more junior faculty in one year, it has been disruptive and has not worked out well. One wants a balance of seasoned teachers and newer members. This can only occur with a sizeable student enrollment which allows for more turnover. For this reason, as I see it, the primary issue before us, on an academic level, is how to grow College enrollment, and how to make the best judgment as to where this can best happen.

With this background, I will clarify a few issues raised by a move of a considerable portion of our operations to IIT. I am of course working on some of these matters right now, but will share my thoughts with you on some of the details. I emphasize that under this proposal Shimer will remain an independent identity and is not becoming part of another college or university.

Academically, wherever we are the College will hold true to its academic mission of original sources in small discussion classes with the Core Curriculum comprising approximately 2/3 of a student’s course registration. Class size and reading lists would not change because we were moving. In fact I would say that most curricular issues and academic requirements at the College are independent of time and place. The Weekend Program, before settling here in Waukegan, took place in different venues, and graduated a terrific group of students, Bill Paterson among them. We would also have our own bookstore and continue to use our won editions of texts.

In terms of cross registrations at IIT, course prerequisites would need to be honored for students registering for courses at IIT or Shimer. For example, Shimer students would need to demonstrate mathematical competency for advanced IIT math courses; IIT students would need to show competencies in 1 & 2 level Shimer courses prior to taking 3-levels. This could be done by placement exams, or, as with Shimer transfer students, we would use the Bachelor of Science model to determine by-pass of core courses. Likewise for elective courses, the same standards would be applied to IIT students as to Shimer students. Shimer students interested in pre-med programs or teaching certification programs in science and math could get a head start on this work prior to graduation. Additionally, VanderCook College of Music is located on the IIT campus; this would give our students the opportunity to take music lessons and courses, which has been a long-term interest of ours, but difficult to accommodate here. So, this represents an argument that being closer to IIT would enhance our course offerings. However, to make cross registrations possible would require changes to our calendar to conform more closely to IIT’s time schedules and calendar.

In addition, we would need to reserve spaces in our classes for Shimer students “over IIT students.” I would expect IIT to likewise give preference to their students. This would require earlier registration and planning for Shimer students, and that, dare I say, may not be such a terrible thing.

What would it feel like to encounter a non-Shimer group of people on a daily basis, and not just when I get on the train and leave Waukegan? In a way it’s been very comfortable here; it’s known and familiar, despite the irritations of being on a campus with deferred maintenance, leaky roofs, scanty resources, and copy machines that are always breaking down. Yeah, on some level it’s pretty comfortable and we all have our habits and know one another’s. I think for many of us there is comfort in small numbers, except for having to respond to the occasional outsider’s question: “What’s wrong with you that you’re so small?” But, as you know by now, I’m not sure this smallness is such a good thing. In fact, I’m pretty sure it isn’t. I say this despite some arguments I have heard in the last weeks, some of the more convincing ones, as to whether there is something about the Shimer curriculum that invites or needs an ascetic way of life.

Nor is such smallness a part of the Shimer mission. As I argued above, the danger is that it can result in personal, if not institutional ossification. At IIT, we would have interactions with many more people, or at least it would be quite difficult not to. This would be a challenge. It is very easy when encountering a new culture to find oneself tending towards the “us” and “them” mentality. Some Shimerians might find meeting new people exhilarating, others might feel: “What do I have in common with all those others who are “techies, nerds, urbanites, … fill in your own words?” and they might dismiss the whole project and leave. When I hear this kind of talk, I find myself thinking – I do have a lot in common with those others– we’re all humans. And “ussing” and “theming”, though well understood to anyone here who has taken Natural Sciences 2 and read Lorenz’ On Aggression, is quite a dangerous thing, especially if one has even a minimum level of commitment to peace and justice. Closer to home, I am reminded of the “disdain” that Weekday students and Weekend students felt towards one another when the Weekend Program first came to Waukegan. Three weeks ago the Weekend students in my Sunday afternoon discussion group begged to be together with the Weekday students if we move since the students from both programs have such great discussions with one another and feel so much that they are part of the same school. I was really touched by this. So, I think this would be a challenge, but might make me - I won’t speak for others - just a bit more open-minded than I tend to be. And to me that’s what education is all about.

It is clear to me that the discussions of the last few weeks have already changed us, and that we can’t go back to the “before-the-IIT-discussion-started-mentality” – in large part because we can’t continue operating in this way in Waukegan – whether the argument is of a financial nature, or an academic one, as I have put forth here. I’d like to read the mission statement of the College, something we rarely pay as much attention to as we should. It has new meaning for me these days.
“The mission of Shimer College is education – education for active citizenship in the world. Education is more than the acquisition of factual knowledge or the mastery of vocational skills. It is the process leading away from passivity, beyond either unquestioning acceptance of authority or its automatic mistrust, and towards informed, responsible action.”

At their worst our discussions of the past weeks have exemplified “unquestioning acceptance of authority” or, at the other end of the spectrum, “its automatic mistrust”. At their best our discussions have exemplified thinking that will lead us “towards informed, responsible action.” Over the next weeks we need to keep these things in mind as we continue to talk with one another. And let us remember, people change and institutions change, and yes, they also stay the same amidst the changes

We are at a fork in the road, we need to figure out what we should do, and how to go about it. Let’s make the changes we need to remain one of the few Great Books colleges in the country that is based on small discussion classes. What is most important to me is to take the mission of the College, education, to new students – to those who are afraid of the world and lack confidence, to those who are overly confident and need a bit of knocking down, to teachers, to home-schoolers, to Early Entrants, high school graduates, to transfer students, to urbanites, to suburbanites, to techies, nerds, luddites, antidiluvians, and so on and so forth.

Finally, I would like to return to the faculty, and their commitment to the College and its continued excellence. .The possibility of moving a significant portion of our operations to IIT raises many questions for all of us in this room – both institutionally and on a personal level. But if we look to those who have been most actively involved with the College, on the day to day, for the greatest number of years, we know it is the faculty who are the longest enduring. And for us, the impact of such a decision is major; and it comes at different times in our lives. For some Waukegan is their home, for others Waukegan is a place you go to because that’s where the College ended up after Mt. Carroll. For some Waukegan is a short and easy commute, for others it’s long and inconvenient. For some the idea of city life is inviting, enticing, energizing, and full of new opportunities. For others, a quiet life along the lake across the Wisconsin border is just the ticket.

The faculty met a couple of weeks ago to discuss the possible move to IIT. This was after our regular monthly Wednesday business meeting. We didn’t have a format for the meeting; we decided to just let things happen. As it turned out, we wanted to hear from one another how we felt about the move, on a personal level. We went around the room and shared with one another our feelings about the potential move. Despite the hardship this may cause for some, and the excitement it offers others, we were all unified in accepting that, if it is best for the College, we will make it happen, and we will be there for you. Thus, I can assure all the students in the room, that the faculty will not abandon the College if it moves. The same number of faculty plan to be with the College for the next years, whether we remain in Waukegan, or move some of our offerings to IIT. Or to quote David Shiner’s words from that meeting, “Wherever Shimer is, I'll be there.”
Thank you for listening.

"IIT invitation is conditional until January."

Yesterday, I decided to call up IIT in order to ask a few questions and find out if IIT has any more beautiful facilities available for Shimer College.

I spoke to a couple of people in the Property Management Office, including a nice woman who handles leases for IIT by the name of Brenda Stewart, who can be reached at (312) 567-3923. She told me that a decision had not been made as of a meeting last week, but that she would speak to John Collins, Vice President for Business and Administration, who is handling this project directly.

I also spoke to Vicki who transferred me to John Collin's office, and I spoke to a nice person on the phone by the name of Meg Mattson, Assistant to the Vice-President, who can be reached for confirmation of any of my statements or her citations at (312) 567-3060.

1. Meg Mattson from IIT told me that a decision has not been made yet to relocate Shimer College. By "decision," I assume she means that the lease has not been signed yet.

2. Meg Mattson from IIT told me that there isn't a deadline, a specific date by which the decision has to be made, but since the facility needs some work, it would be to the best interest of Shimer College to sign the lease as soon as possible in order to prepare the space for the following school year.

If Meg Mattson from IIT told me that there isn't an official deadline, why would Young Kim, Chair of the Shimer Board of Trustees, report in the official Shimer College announcement on November 18 (I think) of the proposal to move to IIT on the Shimer College Web site and published in the Waukegan News-Sun: "The IIT invitation is conditional until January"?

Sarah Kimmel reported in the first blog entry on November 9: "However, the space is currently empty, and they would like to lease it to us, but they have to make a decision to lease it to somebody very soon. So, Shimer has 2 months to decide. If we let this space go, it may be some while before another contiguous space becomes available. Dave [Shiner] says that if this is still a live issue in 2 months, there will be an assembly, probably on December 18th."

In Kim's letter posted to the Future of Shimer College Blog on November 18, Kim wrote: "There has been some pique expressed over the seeming abruptness in which the IIT discussions have been brought to the attention of the Shimer community, as well as the relatively short time line for decision-making about a possible move. The time line is what it is, and not completely within our control. To the extent that we decide not to make a decision within the time frame, and we may do so if we choose, that may very well serve as a decision."

Owen Brugh stated in his November 30 blog posting: "We did not pick anything in this situation, not the actual space and not the time frame."

Sara Davila in her December 6 posting wrote: "First, while I do not always believe everything I read in the paper, I feel that the following article is certainly evidence that the move is under consideration and could be taken as evidence that the move is a valid and true fact that is being considered: "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" (Bell, 2005, para. 1). "

David Shiner wrote in Choosing our Future: "In recognition of Shimer's interest, IIT has not actively pursued other potential renters for that space since the departure of Easter Seals in the late summer of 2005. However, they are not willing to continue waiting indefinitely. If Shimer and IIT can agree on lease terms by January, they will hold the space for us without rent for an additional several months. If not, they will seek another renter. If they find one, it might well be a while before another contiguous space becomes available on their campus, and any spaces that do become available might be beyond Shimer's means. " (December 8)

If I accurately understood Meg Mattson from IIT, whom I strongly encourage you to call in order to verify these statements, that there isn't an official deadline for signing the lease agreement, if there even is a lease agreement with agreed upon terms, I can't help thinking that my thesis may be correct, which by the very nature of a thesis statement you have the freedom to disagree with and doubt: Shimer College has most likely planned out this decision a long time ago, but it needs to persuade us to agree with its decision possibly for the sake of donations from alums, even if it does not make the final decision of signing the lease agreement. If you decide to call IIT or Shimer College, challenge David Shiner's recent December 8 claims, his warrants, his conditional statements, his if-then statements: "Is it true if this then that?" "Can you support your written statements with textual support?" "Can Shimer College start a fund-raising campaign to alums and family of students and alums, before the lease has even been signed?"

Even if the motive of making money is tolerable, even if there are multiple benefits in relocating to IIT, even if the facilities were more beautiful than the current campus, even if the majority of the current students and alums were to agree with the decision to move Shimer College to IIT, even if there weren't a huge risk to the quality of the dynamics of the pursuit of an excellent great books discussion group--the method, the argumentation, the dynamics, and the process of this argument in favor of moving to IIT lack virtue.

Should I have had to ask Kim, 'what is the condition of your statement that the IIT invitation is conditional until January'? Should I have had to ask Kim, 'what are the underlying if-then statements [see Shiner's excerpt above] that your statement is built off of'? Is this some kind of rigged game in which I will lose the game if I make a false assumption? In my opinion, this is still yet another example of a bad argument that you can get away with, but an argument non-the-less that lacks virtue if you are conducting yourself in good faith.

3. I then asked Meg Mattson from IIT if there are any more beautiful buildings for Shimer College to rent. She told me that besides the cost of a more attractive facility, "there is nothing else available for next year."

Meg Mattson from IIT asked if I had ever seen the inside of the facility, implying that the inside of the place is in terrible condition; but I have only seen the outside of that ugly building, a building so ugly that even Owen Brugh admitted at the end of his November 30 blog posting that it is one of the ugliest buildings on the campus: "although I think you're right that the building they are offering might be the ugliest there." If the facilities at IIT are not even in good condition, how are they a solution to the current physical plant? Why don't you use the money that would be used to move, redesign, and remodel the IIT facility and invest it into the current Shimer College facility, especially since everyone is claiming that there is no guarantee of increasing enrollment by moving to IIT?

The current condition of the proposed facility and the absence of any other facilities for next year would suggest that the "possiblity of a low-cost pilot program at IIT" that David Shiner mentioned in his November 27 blog entry and Noah Kippley-Ogman's recent December 4 posting about "talk of doing a pilot program first" could not make sense if you consider the time and cost of moving and remodeling. This alternative plan proposal, especially if it requires inevitable financial investment of a facility in terrible condition, may be used to transition Shimer College from Waukegan to Chicago.

By making these phone calls, I have shattered two of my major hopes: 1) Waukegan will save Shimer College; 2) IIT will offer Shimer College a more beautiful home.

I guess your final decision comes down to the cozy or the ugly. And the process of making this decision and the execution of this argument will be less than beautiful. It's reality, which may be one of the ugliest hoaxes of all.

Michael Dubensky

Monday, December 05, 2005

Shimer Survey

The letter below is from Noah Kippley-Ogman, a current junior at Shimer and a weekday student board representative. I encourage you to reply to him.

Apologies for the short notice. Best,
Erik Badger ('97)

Dear fellow Shimerians,

In the process of deciding whether a move (or expansion) at the IITcampus on the South Side would be a good idea for the College, it isimportant to consider the effect it would have on recruitment andretention of students. I have seen little serious discussion of thisnature and much unfounded conjecture. In order to replace thisgroundless guesswork with guesswork based on some little substance,I'd like to hear from as many current students, former students,graduates and students who left the answers to two sets of questions,and certainly wouldn't mind hearing from staff or faculty of thepresent or past:

- What brought you to Shimer initially? What aspects of Shimer madethe College appealing, and what aspects made is unappealing?
- What keeps you at Shimer (or made you leave)? What aspects of Shimerare those that draw you in as you live the Shimer life, and whataspects make you want to leave?

Please consider as many aspects of the college as you can, includingbut not limited to the community, the academics (both the curriculumand the format), the schedule, the location, the amenities and thephysical plant.If you'd forward this to people who you think should be included inthis informal study, I'd appreciate it greatly.Please return your responses with or without your name, but preferablyincluding whether you're a staff member, faculty member, weekday orweekend student and whether you're still here or left by graduation,retirement or by your own volition.If I could get these back in a week or two, that would be awesome.Let's say the 6th of December. I'll have some sort of report and summary tothe whole community when I can, hopefully with the informationprovided by David Shiner and the Self-Study group.Please respond either by email ( or in mybox in Prairie.

Thank you very much,

"The mayor is looking into possibilities..."

I spoke to the Mayor of the City of Waukegan, Richard Hyde, in order to find out if the City of Waukegan could do something for Shimer College in Waukegen.

It made me sad that the City of Waukegan can't financially support Shimer College with public money. Because Shimer College is a private institution, "the city can't do anything for them."

One of his responses clarified a question that I asked in a previous blog entry, what is the meaning of "This alderman wants them to stay in Waukegan"? (Chicago Tribune, November 23) The mayor stated that "We would like Shimer College to stay, but this is a decision that they would have to make."

The City of Waukegan was my biggest hope for Shimer College in Waukegan.

Did the mayor's attitude change after David Shiner reported on November 30 that President Bill Rice's meeting with the mayor went quite well and President Bill Rice is happy about how the meeting went: "The mayor is looking into possibilities that would help make it easier for Shimer to stay in Waukegan"?

But the mayor didn't make any comment in our conversation that would suggest that the mayor has any intention of doing anything for Shimer College.

Michael Dubensky

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Request for Focus

I don't want to offend anyone but this is a blog whose purpose is listed in the Title banner. It really is not meant for you to post general Shimer information. This blog is about the move specifically.

Also, sarcasm does not carry well in this context.

Basically, this is the kind of thing that weighs dialogue down. It really does not help the dialogue to be interupted by people saying hello or unclear posts about "Hoaxes".

Can we please attempt to focus on the discussion for those of us who do not have time to drive up to Waukegan and visit the campus on a regular basis.

This is important to me. I am divorced, I have two children, 3 Jobs and two bands that I am hustling to combine into a healthy paycheck. My time is important to me.

I really and truly care if this is a scam to get Shimers Property in Waukegan or to shut down the school by trying to make it live up to standards that it cannnot-- namely high enrollment requirements and leasing costs at IIT. These are problems we do not currently have.

Consider this: This is not a dialogue where we consider various solutions for the problem of low enrollment because the move is on the table and a decision must be made soon. Therefore what is on the table are all arguments supporting assigning faculty to that campus, the signing of a contract with IIT, and the selling of property. The backdrop of course is the question of the boards willingnes to use the power it obviously has in spite of oposition to a decision that some board members do not remember hearing about much less voting on.

I am troubled by the rhetoric from all those who think that the students, faculty and alum do not deserve an explanation as to why Bill Rice did not present this in a more formal fashion. Did he in fact post on here as someone else to test our integrity?? What would have been the point of that?

The facts are that the political climate today is full of merger and take overs. This is so prevelant in our society that it is seen by many as a secure business move. Cheat your employees and dumb down the working class so that you can pay them less. The connection to Shimer is that we have leaders acting and it is not clear that it is the best interest of the school.

This is what is known as a social fact. Just read your newspapers or talk to someone who has been layed off like me. The lies people are told across corporations is so similar that management sounds like a bunch of parrots. And believe me -- the voice of reason is always there. It keeps saying trust your betters and it criticizes anyone who asks a question.

Don't bother knocking my post. Just produce some real statistics. Don't worry about what anyone thinks just give us your argument for the move and defend your stance. I don't care what others think I will make my own decision based on the facts.

Right now all I see is a smokescreen of whining and supposition. Pretty shameful for Shimerians.

And before you write it down. I am not accusing or insiting anything. I am asking that we focus on answering the questions honestly with verifiable data.

P.S. Mr. Dubinsky please consider a call for a clear and concise explanation of your post.

1.) Are you saying that Bill Rice misrepresented himself on this blog and if so, given the fact that this sort of thing is common place on the internet, what of it? Make your point, please.