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,

1 comment :

Anonymous said...


You are concerned about the problem of recruitment and retention. Although I have directly addressed this issue in my position paper for the Shimer College Self-Study, I would like to approach your question more directly. At Shimer College, as students and alums, and also as administration, we talk about the Shimer College method. This method is known as shared inquiry and it is the method that we associate with our classroom experience. But there isn’t one Shimer College method at Shimer College. There are two Shimer College methods: shared inquiry and doubt. I would like to argue that the shared inquiry of the classroom experience is responsible for attracting students and retaining students, but the method of doubt that is used to teach argumentation and assess papers is responsible for attrition of students and also lack of referrals.

There is more than one way to approach a great books discussion group. There are facilitators who are in love with the sound of their voices; there are facilitators who are performers; there are facilitators who are control freaks. But Shimer College professors have figured out a way to restrain themselves in order to enable students to participate in their own learning experience. There are, of course, disadvantages to this approach; for example, there are students who could benefit from some instruction or intervention. But, overall, the controlled restraint of the Shimer College method does produce a unique liberal arts experience and education. This is why most Shimer College students fall in love with Shimer College, stay with Shimer College, and refer friends and strangers to Shimer College.

But the Shimer College approach to teaching argumentation is responsible for attrition and lack of referrals to Shimer College. The Shimer College method of teaching argumentation is dangerous and destructive of the integrity of the student. For proof, notice what has happened as a result of my doubt of the main claim that there is an opportunity to relocate to IIT. Since there is an opportunity to relocate to IIT, what is the effect of my doubt of that claim? Many alums and students have begun to doubt Shimer College, its intentions, and its methods. But this is the fundamental Shimer College method of assessing student papers, and I can assure you that many students begin to doubt their selves and their thinking process, and the effect can be destructive of the self-esteem and integrity of the student.

Another example of the problem with the Shimer College approach to writing instruction can be captured in my use of the word “hoax.” Bill, the blogger who asked for clarification of the hoax, demonstrated this perfectly. Although Shimer College’s approach to this proposal is still a hoax, and I will not necessarily clarify what that means to me, I would like to point out that the effect of my deployment of the word “hoax” is the equivalent of the Shimer College method of teaching writing by writing in the margins of a paper: unclear, sloppy, or confusing. It’s natural for a student to respond in exactly the same way that Bill has to my use of “hoax,” what does it mean? The fundamental hoax of Shimer College is the Shimer College approach to writing instruction and teaching argumentation.

Even if Shimer College moves to IIT, this problem, the Shimer College approach to writing instruction, will still be responsible for not attracting and retaining students, and I would like Shimer College to strongly consider a new approach to teaching argumentation and writing instruction that is more clear, less confusing, and less destructive of the integrity of the student.

Michael Dubensky