Friday, December 02, 2005

A few thoughts

When I first sat down to write this a couple of weeks ago, I started with an apology. I did that elsewhere, so I’ll just recap. I have made poor judgments in handling myself in conversations both digital and analog about the proposed move. I worked to stifle dialogue in direct and indirect ways, and for that I’m very sorry. To be very clear, I am currently undecided about the proposal and certainly would appreciate any thoughts that could help me make a decision as to how I should cast my vote in the assembly, and while I’d also appreciate any thoughts that could help me make a decision as to how I should cast my vote at the board meeting, the assembly’s advice will be doing most of the helping to which I’m interested in listening. And I assume that other members of the assembly and board feel similarly, making it not just a favor to me to express opinions and thoughts but an obligation to both the assembly and the board.

I think the rubric by which we must judge the proposal in whatever form it is at a given time is by asking the following question:

“Is Shimer in Waukegan or Shimer at IIT more conducive to maintaining the college’s essence while increasing enrollment?”

Because that’s what needs to happen. If Shimer moves or doesn’t move, enrollment needs to increase while maintaining the college’s essence.

So the easy part is figuring out what the college’s essence is and how it is affected by Waukegan and how it would be affected by IIT. And then figuring out how enrollment is affected by Waukegan and how it would be affected by IIT. I think these are the questions that I’m hoping to shed some light on with the survey I’m conducting.

But I’ve got my own tentative answers.

I think that Shimer’s essence is simple and straightforward. I think Shimer is about dialogue. The courses are structured as dialogue with students and faculty and the ages. The governance is structured as dialogical. Hell, buildings and grounds are run pretty dialogically, as is housing and admissions and FWS stuff. If there’s a problem with anything, the answer lies not in appealing to rules and regulations but in coming together to work something out using past experience as codified by rules and regulations as a text.

I can see a Shimer at IIT maintaining dialogue in the classroom with faculty, students and the ages. I can see Shimer at IIT maintaining a dialogical Assembly that elects dialogically run committees that govern the college, the way it is now. I have more trouble seeing a dialogical element in the outside-of-daytime life of weekday students of Shimer at IIT. I have trouble imagining a proposal to, say, build a fire-pit being taken seriously and being explored through dialogue.

But I’ve been told by Jim Donovan, the current Dean of Students, who has talked extensively with the parallel staff at IIT, that there is a great deal of it. In a (not so well attended) meeting on Wednesday, Jim expressed his belief that a truly dialogical atmosphere was the way the housing is run. And that a fire-pit was being talked about.

But the dialogue of Shimer isn’t just the formal dialogue of classrooms and governance, it’s also the meeting faculty and staff and students and alumni in the quad randomly and talking. All the time. And in a place where the dorm may be far from the Shimer “campus”, that would happen less, maybe. And if we’re not all eating lunch together, I’m not sure what would happen.

I think that the Waukegan campus has been conducive to dialogue because of its together-ness and the eating together and the housing across the quad from classes. And Harold or Steven living above the bookstore. And because it’s difficult to leave to someplace interesting (no offence, anyone – I hate both Chicago and Waukegan with all my soul and prefer the nice, clean town of Evanston where everyone’s a yuppie and wealthy except for the people who have service jobs and no one cares about anyone else. Sorry Evanston aficionados).

And recruitment and retention? I probably wouldn’t have attended a Shimer at IIT, but my mother wouldn’t have been in tears leaving me to the filthy Godot my first semester. And I’d probably have been a lot less hesitant about staying. So, as I’ve said before (not here, I guess), the best solution for me would have been to spend the first semester or two in Waukegan and then have the college move to IIT’s campus.

But more seriously, in Waukegan, a prospective Shimer student has to really want to attend, whereas I can see less passionately Shimerian students being attracted to Shimer-at-IIT. But a parent’s decision to let her/his child attend or to pay for it could be made a lot easier by a move to IIT’s campus. So, I’m pretty sure that my view of recruitment sees it as a wash between Waukegan and IIT-town (but a move would probably be awful short-term). I’m hoping to have a clearer picture based more on many peoples’ impressions than on my feelings after compiling things sent me by the survey, and will make results public as soon as I have them.

So, in conclusion, I think that a Shimer at IIT would not change enrollment dramatically (until I’m convinced otherwise) in either direction, and that it would be more difficult to hold on to the college’s key mission at IIT.

So the question comes down to, how much of a problem is the physical plant? Is it enough of a problem to maybe make the college’s essence more difficult to do to dramatically fix it?

Answers, please.

And I’d like to see the conversation that Michael (I think) tried to start a while ago about what Shimer is happen.

Yours,

Noah

1 comment :

Snorey said...

I just wanted to mention that I have tried to start that conversation here, where it will not have to swim against the present stream of verbiage. Input is welcome from anyone; you don't even have to create an account to post.