Monday, December 12, 2005

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.

1 comment :

D. R. Koukal said...

But remember, Socrates refused to move from Athens . . . but by that logic, Shimer would still be in Mount Carroll . . . ;)