Thursday, December 01, 2005

Save Shimer College in Waukegan: An Argument Against the Shenanigans of the Final Hoax

Position Statement: Shimer College can be Shimer College somewhere else, but Shimer College can't be Shimer College at IIT.

1. Take a position on whether you are for or against relocating to IIT. This is the fundamental task in argumentation, and this is an argument, not a discussion.
2. You have to be prepared to doubt the claims of even people that you are fond of or used to respecting.
3. If this is an argument, the decision to relocate has already been made; the board may, on the other hand, change its mind, if it is persuaded that the risk in relocating is too great or that there are greater benefits in staying. You may choose to disagree with its always already existing decision; you may choose to not buy into the relocation.
4. This isn't a proposal. A proposal is defined in the dictionary as "an act of putting forward or stating something for consideration." This move has already been considered for many months before anouncing the decision. There are two ways of treating a proposal. 1) You propose something which will be decided by shared consensus; 2) you decide whether you accept the already existing proposal. In this case, if this is a proposal, which I don't think that it is, we are dealing with a proposal in the latter meaning of the term.
5. If the board and the administration are not prepared to honor the decision of the assembly, the assembly is a hoax. This does not mean that it won't occur or that it may not matter. That all depends on the motives of the board and information that we are not fully aware of. But if the board and administration are not prepared to honor the decision of the assembly, then the assembly is being used as the means of creating the illusion of Democracy and Dialogue (which used to be the Core Values of Shimer College) and the appearance that the Final Decision has not already been made. This would explain why there was such strong resistance to even having an assembly meet upon this issue.
6. Resist the insidious problematization of the Beauty of Shimer College (for example, the production of the perception of an ugly campus through the rhetoric of the "Beautify Shimer" campaign) that we all fell in love with for its Simple and Honest Virtues and with what will most likely be very strong argumentation and rhetoric to sell you on moving to IIT and staying with the "remains" of the Shimer College that we once loved.
7. It is not un-Shimerian to disagree with the move to IIT. It may be more Shimerian to decide to remain in Waukegan, if you believe in the fragile beauty (like the glass unicorn in Eileen's theatrical production of The Glass Menagerie) of the cozy campus, if you believe in an authentic "good-faith" assembly and proposal, if you believe in dialogue as the means of conducting the business of the College, if you believe that Shimer College deserves a more beautiful home than the lease at IIT, if you believe that Shimer College is selling out its Ethos and Values in these shenanigans, if you believe that the dynamics of the discussion groups that we work so hard to cultivate will be compromised by students from IIT who are not fully invested into the purpose of achieving an excellent great books discussion group.
8. A decision is defined in the dictionary as "a determination arrived at after consideration." In a discussion, a decison about a proposal is arrived at by shared consensus. In an argument, you begin the proposal with a decision. The proposal to move to IIT is technically a decision to do something that was not brought to the attention of the students before determination of the proposal had been made. But, in order to qualify my argumentation, this does not mean that the board may not still make a decision to withdraw its initial decision or arrive at a different decision. On the other hand, the decision to persuade students to accept the proposal means that the board and administration are still arguing for a specific decision, the determination by the board and administration, and not necessarily the students and alums, that relocating the current students to IIT is the Final Solution to the Final Problem (why is it the only "real" problem?) of moving Shimer College to IIT.
9. If you know for a fact, deep in your bones, in the full truth of your being, that you will not relocate to Shimer College if it moves to IIT, gather signatures and present it to the assembly or the board for their re-consideration of a possibly fatal blow to the Real Shimer College (which is the Platonic Form that is our community's vision of Shimer College) with the True Shimerians (not the students who will most likely be paying for great books classes in order to merely fulfill their liberal arts requirements).
10. Will the board honor the decision of the assembly not to relocate to IIT, if the board and administration do not successfully persuade the assembly of its position?

Michael Dubensky


Owen Brugh said...

Are you basicly saying it is time for everyone to take a side? Is that your position?

Inspector Michael D . . . said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Dan Shiner said...

Michael--I am a Board member. I would appreciate your letting me know what evidence you have that "...the decision to relocate has most likely already been made...?"

I have made no decision on the merits of a proposed move. I have written a number of comments, here and elsewhere. I'm assiduously collecting information and opinions from everyone involved, including carefully reading every post on this (and other) blogs.

If a decision has already been made, I'm surprised my fellow Board members did not inform me of it. I think that would have been common courtesy, don't you?

I'm not sure what information you are not fully aware of that you seem to suspect others have. Personally, pretty much all of my information comes from reading these blogs. If there is any information you are not aware of out there, you can rest assured I am also not aware of it.

You can email me directly at, as can anyone else with any thoughts or information. I'm going to continue with my assumption that we all love and care for Shimer College, and that any lack of tact or diplomacy--or worse--are based solely on a deep and abiding concern for the College. Thank you.

Inspector Michael D . . . said...


I have adjusted my 10 propositions to directly address your concern about the meaning of "decision." In a rhetorically charged environment in which language is being used to persuade students in favor of moving to IIT, it is appropriate to remind everyone involved that words, phrases, and sentences need to be questioned in order to get at the meaning and motive of the statement, which is the act of critical thinking and reading.

I trust in the intelligence of the students, the alums, and the board, and if I have made a bad argument, I ask for any reader to doubt it or disagree with it.

Michael Dubensky

Owen Brugh said...

In the future, you could just ask me what I think instead of telling me.

I have responded in such a way as to try to clear up some misconceptions and incorrect assumptions that have been voiced, and I have tried to personally defend people who I feel have been maligned. That doesn't mean I agree with the maligned party. Nor does it mean I disagree. I haven't made a decision either way.

And that is the point I think I need to stress more than anything else. I haven't decided yet. How many times do I have to say that?

I don't know if this is in the best interests of the college. I think I need more information. There are positive and negative aspects to both possible decisions. I've been trying to weigh them.

So while I appreciate your respect for my position, I don't actually have one yet. I'm becoming so frustrated repeating this every day that I'm beginning to think spending time on this blog is a waste.

I really want a dialog about this. But it seems, especially in the last two days, like it has become about individual personalities and warring positions. In my attempt to dialog out the problem, I’ve also tried to understand the opposition to the proposal (as it is separate from individuals). I do that by questioning. I’m sorry if my technique has led you to believe that I believe something I don’t actually believe (yet) and might never believe.

But, for the last time, my mind is not made up one way or another yet. Stop telling me what I think.


Inspector Michael D . . . said...


I want to clearly establish that these are my interpretations, positions, and claims, on the basis of my reading and analysis. Only time will tell if my reading was accurate; I hope for the sake of everything good and beautiful about Shimer College that I have performed a good (in the full sense of the meaning of the word "good") reading.

Owen, I am not telling you what to think; you have the freedom to think and respond how you best see fit, but that does not mean that you get to control my interpretation that you have, in my opinion, been relentlessly arguing in favor of the move to IIT, which may lead you to believe that someone is telling you what to think. Anybody who does an analysis of your responses will arrive at the same conclusion that I did. For all I know, like the board itself, you may change your position. At least you have the luxury of making that decision or changing the already existing decision.

Although I should not have to remind people of my authentic blog postings in defense of the character of Bill Rice and Young Kim, and my willingness to rewrite my questionable letter to Bill Rice, which I may have written badly because I was trying to place my argument in a formal structure, I also want to point out that there is already some question of my person and character, instead of my argument, which is the kind of argumentation that we are supposed to avoid. Dan has questioned whether my motives are pure with the phrase "or worse". You made an argument to dismiss my arguments by making a reference to "individual personalities". I am prepared to withdraw from this discussion, because I feel like I have arrived at a mature argument and position, which I expect that the board will carefully deliberate over.

Why does this become a war, in the sense of your phrase "warring positions" as soon as someone takes a stand against the move to IIT? When I made the statement in my first blog entry that "I am in favor of the move to IIT" no one accused me of making war; when I made the statement "I really feel we should respect the decision-makers and the decision-making process," no one accused me of making war. But this is an argument, and this is what argumentation leads to. Who started the war?

I would also like to ask that if someone is going to criticize one of my clauses, that the clause should be read at the very least in the context of the complete complex sentence and possibly even in relationship to the sentence that precedes and follows it, and possibly in relationship to the main point of the paragraph and the other paragraphs that may be designed to clarify the word or clause, especially if the phrase is within a sentence that suggests conditionality. If you take a clause out of the conditional sentence, then it communicates a different message than if you quote the entire sentence. This is bad argumentation that you can get away with, but is not virtuous.

The question that I have to ask myself at this point is have I fulfilled my role in this argument or is it my responsibility to see this through to the end? If I choose to not respond to any other postings, it will be out of respect for Owen's argument that this has become a problem of "warring positions" and "individual personalities".

With all due respect to the decision-makers and the decision-making process,

Michael Dubensky

Snorey said...

Let's try to stay mellow and assume good faith, folks.

Neither moving, nor staying in Waukegan, will destroy Shimer. However, the manner in which either decision is reached could easily do so. As participants in this conversation, we all share responsibility for making sure that the decision is reached in a way that we can all be proud of.

dansbooks said...

Hi Michael--I can't find where I used the phrase "or worse," or in what context if I did. Then again, I've made a number of postings here, so it is possible. What I don't think is correct is that I questioned your motives. I may have questioned your assumptions; I may have questioned where your evidence came from; I doubt I would question your (or anyone else's) motives. I believe everyone's motives are the same: To do what is best for Shimer College. I've tried to state that several times; perhaps I did not succeed. I'll try again: I sincerely believe that everyone is acting in the best interests of Shimer College, no matter what their opinion on the proposed relocation. If you feel I questioned your motives, Michael, then I apologize.

I will also point out that, like Owen, I see positives and negatives in the proposed move. Mostly, I see unknowns--things we will need to make our best guesses about and make a decision based on those guesses. And like Owen, I have not made up my mind one way or the other about the proposed move. I truly appreciate those who bring up various arguments, pro and con, to see what the response is and to try and gather whatever bits of information I can.

I know that, like each of us, when we are called upon to make a decision, we will not have all the answers. Chicago could be a disaster. Then again, the roofs of our buildings in Waukegan could collapse this winter, which would be no less of a disaster. We could lose our identity in Chicago; we could lose our students in Waukegan. I agonize over these things. When I joined the Board less than two months ago, I had no inkling any of this would be happening.

And, once again: I sincerely hope that, whatever is ultimately decided, the Shimer Community will pull together and support the decision. The worst outcome that could possibly happen is that whatever decision is made, internecine struggles end up hurting the College. Whatever anyone's position, whether Shimer stays in Waukegan or moves to Chicago, can we all agree to stay with and support the College?

I know I will, because my commitment is--as it always has been--to Shimer College.

Inspector Michael D . . . said...

I "took back" one of my postings, because it contained an apology about my first draft of my letter to Bill Rice, which I rewrote out of respect for the rules of argumentation. Since then I have been trying to figure out what was the problem with that original letter. I thought to myself that it must have been badly written, that maybe I was being rude, but it was written very carefully. After thinking about the problem of that letter, I have decided that I didn't fail with that letter, because I only know that in my soul I tried to carefully structure my thoughts in order to not offend anyone. The problem with that letter was that I wrote the truth as I experienced it, and that truth was a bit too harsh. Although the essence of that letter remains in the letter that I have already re-written, the argument against IIT in the name of all that is Beautiful, I did have one statement that I will try to faithfully recreate which is my Final Point.

Proposal to the Assembly, the Board, the Administration, and the President of Shimer College: After you are done with your shenanigans, the best solution to the problem of retention and attraction of students is to focus on nurturing the beauty of the dialogical education, cultivating the quality of the educational dialogue, and creating a real fucking good great books discussion.

When I was ten year old, my parents bought the Encylcopedia Britannica, and it came with the Great Books Series. Although I was too scared to read the great books at the time, I read The Great Conversation by Hutchins, and although I don't remember much of what he said, I was so struck by his vision of education that I, at the age of ten, underlined sentences in almost every page. I still have that book, and that great books series is amongst all the other great books that I read at Shimer College in a beautiful, solid, rustic, mahogany book case, which enframes those great books,worn-out from being read and re-read, in the same way that a frame adds dignity to a painting at The Chicago Art Institute. Shimer College is the promise of excellence, which in the dictionary refers you to in bold capital letters, VIRTUE. In my judgement, since I am a tough critic, Shimer College never fully achieved excellence, when I was at Shimer College, but I always sincerely believed that it made an attempt to do us. I hope that I was not mistaken, because I truly loved Shimer College, the idea of Shimer College, the experience of the discussion groups, and the feeling that I was at home when I drove out from Chicago and pulled up in front of Prarie House, and walked past the gym, and sat down on the bench in front of the main classroom building and watched people smoke their cigarettes and talk crap about the professors and each other and the great ideas at a maybe not so great college, but a good college. Like the Honda that I brought up in one of my previous blog entries, Shimer College in Waukegan may not be a Lexus, but it's good and reliable, and like a Honda, it can still last a long time.

It breaks my heart to experience, even vicariously, this failed operation.

Michael Dubensky