Bear with me please. This might seem a little long, but I think all of it is important. And please excuse any obvious typos. I don’t normally write this late, but I couldn’t sleep without getting this out.
I’ve been a little short-fused lately because it seems that a lot of people have assumed that I, along with other board members, have made up my mind on the proposal. I’m sorry for the misunderstanding and the shortness of my fuse.
Sometimes Thursday afternoon, I started wondering if the problem was that I had made up my mind and just hadn’t realized it yet. As silly as that sounds, it can happen to people sometimes. Sometimes, we’re the last ones to know what direction we intend to go.
After some thought, I realized that is not the case here. Instead, what has happened is that I have shared my thoughts from only one of the two visions I have for Shimer and its future. The reason nobody else seems to be able to tell that I haven’t made up my mind, other than those who trust me at my word, is because I’ve never articulated these competing vision.
I’m going to try to do that here.
My first vision for Shimer is that it remains in Waukegan as a centerpiece in the redevelopment plan for the city. We would fix the buildings to nearly new standards. The power lines in the middle of the campus would be buried. We would build new student housing where the building next to 438 is now. 438 and the other buildings worth saving would be rehabilitated in a way that retains their charm while best utilizing the space and allowing the college to fully provide for students with limited mobility.
The college would utilize energy efficient technologies as much as possible. A new building would house the library and computer lab. Enrollment would grow at a rate that preserves the ideals of the college but allows it to reach the largest audience possible, and the stature of the college would rise again as one of the premier institutions for dialectical education into the 21st century. Shimer would lead.
I know a lot of people have this vision for Shimer (more or less). I believe the college has that potential because of how it views the student and how it approaches knowledge. The faculty and staff have been trying to create this Shimer for decades. Still, it has not happened. Enrollment is stagnant to declining. There is no endowment. Many alumni are giving less than in the past. Deferred maintenance is catching up with us at the worst possible time.
Still, I’m not ready to give up on this vision. Maybe that is because I’ve never had to fix a broken toilet or try to figure out where to cut the budget so we can repair a broken boiler. I think part of the solution is in marketing, but since much of my professional skill set is within media, I’m loath to fully believe it is marketing alone. If there is one thing I have learned at Shimer, it is that at least one great thinker in every discipline believes his or her discipline holds the key to “fixing” the world. (See Plato’s Republic, Fraud’s Civilization and its Discontents, Hobbes’ Leviathan, Augustine’s City of God, Lorenz’s On Aggression or anything by Marx.) It feels like a trap to believe that my professional skill set has the solutions to the problem.
The other difficulty I have with this vision comes from the fact that people have been trying to make it a reality for a couple of decades. They have tried many things. Is it lunacy to keep trying to do the same thing while expecting different results? In this case, I’m not so sure. The admissions office doing very well, last I heard, and this proposal itself has focused the attention of alumni and the greater community on the needs of the college. How long that will last is anyone’s guess.
My other vision for Shimer is as an urban oasis of dialog in a difficult, emotional, conflicted world. In this vision, I see Shimer growing into a space not dissimilar from the Machinery Hall on the IIT Campus. (It’s not like it sounds. It is one of the two red brick buildings dating from the turn of the 20th century. It’s a great loft space, but it needs work.)
In this vision, Shimer grows into a place where people come to find ways to create solutions in the world and foster respect and caring for our fellow human beings. More people come because it’s closer to them and they know about it. Shimer would interact with the neighborhoods and with students from other schools, while at the same time remaining grounded in what it means to be Shimerian.
In this vision, I see Shimer as potentially one of several small schools within a large campus, all with independence in education but interdependence in facilities. Our ideas would reach a larger audience both within and outside the collegiate world. For students, I envision a place where they have the amenities of a large school with the coziness and personal attention of a small college. I don’t think that is impossible, but there are several great hurdles to that result, and the path is riddled with huge unknowns.
For instance, in trying to get to the point where we can leave that horrendous excuse for Modern architecture (and I like Modern), we could continue to lose enrollment and find ourselves locked into an unsustainable lease, while the dedication of the students we receive might decline. We might end up right back where we are right now financially without the benefit of our own space.
I see great potential for success and failure in both visions. I have no idea which one is more feasible. But I do know that, whichever direction the community decides to go, I plan on being there to help make it successful.
As for how I will vote on the board, I will represent the constituents who elected me. If the weekend college students support a move, I will vote that way at the board. If they oppose it, I will carry their opposition to the board. I believe it is my duty as their representative. It’s not my seat. It’s their’s, and since they have a direct voice through the Assembly, I will know what they want.
I’ve been cautious about expressing this in the past for fear of possibility locking myself into a decision when new information might present itself at the 11th hour. However, if such a situation were to occur, I have come to the conclusion that I would feel uncomfortable making a decision without the consent of the Assembly. I am their servant.
I hope this clears up any misconceptions about where I stand in all of this. This is why I’m looking for dialog instead of argument.
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