Wednesday, November 30, 2005
For the IIT area, enter 3300 South Federal Street or Beat #2113
For the University of Chicago area, enter 5801 South Ellis Ave.
For citywide comparison go to
I also have a crime map for the Shimer College area not available online, but it seems that documents cannot be posted on this site. The map (from '99, but themost recent I could find) is posted on the Shimer intranet, and I'm sending a copy to Sarah Kimmel.
All three of the schools are in "Fort Apache" locations: with a relatively low crime rate on campus & immediate vicinity, but with high rates if you wander off in any of several directions. It seems that at IIT the biggest security risk for students is the EL line and the Comiskey Park station. But IIT provides a 7-day per week shuttle service to various stops in & near the Loop, which runs fairly often and till fairly late (http://www.iit.edu/directory/shuttlebus.html). IIT also has a security force and "panic button" boxes on the campus. Returning from a recent visit to IIT, Shimer staff have taken the EL without incident.
Albert Fernandez (Shimer faculty)
If alums have any interest in working over seas, some countries (now including Korea) require sealed official transcripts mailed by the college in order to grant a foreign worker a visa to work in the country. Not sure how many other countries require this but Korea is not alone. But any job or school requiring this (sealed and mailed by the college) would in the future be off limits to Shimer alum. For this issue, the survival of the school is essential.
The date. I understand that the school must decide within 1 month whether or not to move. This gives me the impression that ITT wants rent not partners. Why such short notice and such a quick deadline. That by itself would make me work against the move.
The Shimer as we know it. Shimer is for the Waukegan alum an isolated distopia of mental rigors and emotional catharsis which seems hard to preserve in the midst of another larger and not particularly separate university. Simply having the proximity of such a large number of "others" would completely destroy the sense of isolated safety in which many Shimer students thrived for 4,5,8 years.
My guess is that the real problem with numbers is the isolation within Waukegan. And Marketing/recruiting practices. Shimer as a school has or had little interaction with Waukeganites or Chicagoans (little local recruitment, community interaction, community programs etc). A lot of people are only vaguely aware that it is there.
Marketing is expensive, but it seems that Shimer has no real marketing scheme or identity aside from hit or miss instances. And no market research. How do they find anybody? It seems to me random. What is the school’s target audience and do they make any effort to find them? How hard could it be to find 40 people? Fine, it's a strange thing to sell but whom are they selling to?
If the problem really is numbers, are there enough dedicated alums who could figure out a market or marketing for the school? It seems that the alumni may be the best people to explain and "sell" the school to others. We seem as a whole to have been "converted" to the school and most of us probably evangelize the methods, etc., given the chance.
Tuesday, November 29, 2005
The question then, if my reading is correct, is should the administration change its approach from argumentation to shared inquiry? Should the administration have started with a discussion approach instead of an argument? Since it's too late for the administration to change how it began, which was how we were expected to begin an essay at Shimer College, with a position, should the administration shift from the essay to the discussion group, by joining this discussion for example? If you follow the metaphor of the essay to its logical conclusion, then can't we treat everything that led up to announcing the proposal to move to IIT as rough drafts, prep work, and research that you would not turn in to the professor for a grade or submit to the academic community for consideration of being published? If the administration sustains its approach of arguing its main point of moving to IIT being the best solution to the Problem of Shimer College, if Shimer College is indeed an emergency, should we assume the role of the skeptical, reasonable educated citizen who is poking holes in the argument in order to make certain this argument is indeed good for the college and the students? If we are to treat this as an argument for moving to IIT by the board and the administration, should we prepare an "un-official" list of counter-arguments against moving to IIT and a list of arguments for staying in Waukegan, since there is no evidence that we have to accept that staying in Waukegan isn't an option, in addition to bombarding the administration with questions and doubts, which is absolutely appropriate if this is in fact an argument? Why is this argument so strangely problematic, puzzling, and irritating?
Since I sincerely believe that you have a highly developed aesthetic sensibility, which is demonstrated in your diction and in your lecture on Oscar Wilde, and since we are now being sold what I believe to be a very ugly building on the unattractive IIT campus, I can't help thinking that this proposal must be a hoax.
What does it mean that "[Waukegan] wants Shimer College to stay"?
1) Will the upcoming discussion with the mayor of Waukegan be a serious attempt to discuss with the City of Waukegan the possibility of how the City of Waukegan can potentially financially support the college--if the board and administration have already decided that the move to IIT is the best solution to the problem of increasing its revenue? (In a discussion, you arrive at a decision at the end of the discussion by shared consensus; in an argument, you begin with a decision.)
2) How can we find out what the City of Waukegan is willing to offer to Shimer College, if there is no informed transparency by the board and administration?
3) When is the President of Shimer College meeting with the City of Waukegan?
4) Will Shimer College and the City of Waukegan benefit from (and laugh at) the hoax?
Michael Dubensky '03
I believe discussion classes and self-directed learning where my main reasons for attending Shimer. I’ll have to admit the location was rather unappealing as well as living space and lack of amenities. Lack of an arts program was also a pretty big issue.
I initially left Shimer to explore the world a bit more. I also realized that I no longer needed Shimer. I realized that I could learn on my own, which is part of what Shimer is teaching. I returned to Shimer after traveling and moving around a bit in order to finish my degree. I felt that I needed a degree and Shimer was one of the few places I could stomach getting one. During my final year or so I moved to Evanston and commuted. I also spent a semester at Weekend College. Living away from Shimer helped a lot. I found myself able to participate in Chicago’s artistic community and lead a life not so steeped in the small community. I could come back to it refreshed and ready to listen.
It looks like from the above statement I’d be for the move, but I don’t believe I am for it. I am definitely for some physical improvements of the existing college. I think if the College were to go to Chicago I’d rather see it not affiliated with another College. If it had to affiliate with another college to survive I’d like it to be an institution with similar values. I’d like to see Shimer in Chicago or Waukegan with a broadened curriculum, taking other approaches to education that fall in line with dialogue classes and self-directed learning techniques. I’d like to see music, art, performance art, gender studies, global studies, technology and classes concerning political activism added. I believe this would attract more students of differing backgrounds and abilities. Speaking as a bit of an anti-intellectual, I’d like to see less intellectual types attend Shimer. I’d like Shimer to broaden its scope a little whilst maintaining the great books core curriculum.
I see some talk on this blog of Shimer students being a certain ‘type’. And, that somehow ‘other’ types might ruin the experience. I’m more of a mind to share the love. To seek people out who may not be the exact ‘type’ and bring them in to see what they are able to do. I certainly didn’t feel like the typical Shimer student when I attended. I often felt frustrated with the attitudes and intellectual dogma of a great deal of the student body. However, I felt I contributed a lot by being different. Diversity is a beautiful thing.
- Chris Heinisch
But what really struck me was David's proposal to become a College of Roosevelt University, but remain in Waukegan. In part because this is--to the extent that I understand it--what I would have probably supported at that time (had I not been 14 years old), but I think more because it presented exactly that balance that many of us have been trying to think through: how can we address the significant challenges (though, clearly the challenges then were far greater than the challenges today) the College faces--especially unimpressive recruitment--without undermining the unique (and I say unique, and not distinctive, in that I believe Shimer is not merely remarkable or "different" [a number of places are that], but genuinely unlike anything else, and hence "unique") character of the College.
In this light, I want to share David's conclusion in his motivating memo for his proposal, and ask us (and him specifically, if he wishes to take up this friendly address) what the meaning of this is for us today. He wrote: "The Shimer community has survived, and in many ways thrived, for nearly a century and a half as a geographically independent entity. While it is certainly possible that a move of the main campus to Chicago would enhance the program in certain ways, it would also risk the somehow intangible benefits of this geographical distance. The proposal I have set forth here seems to me to involve the least risk to our community as it currently stands" (roosevelt.pdf, p. 13). This entirely captures the nature of my concern today, and the motivation behind the alternative proposal Erik and I developed: might there be a way for us to see (at least "experimentally") if "we" really feel like "us" somewhere else, before moving the whole Shimer enterprise into the "brave new world" of the Southwest Loop (or elsewhere)?
And one final thing, while I am here. I taught for two years at a "liberal arts college in an urban context" (Eugene Lang College); which is growing propitiously (I mean like 30% a year), and succeeding by any measure. I am grateful for that experience, and especially to my students there. There were engaged, bright, fun, and eager. They were also largely attracted to being in NYC, and not necessarily to what was distinctive (and not unique) about Lang's curriculum or pedagogy; indeed many of them did not even know about the curriculum in much detail (with its seminar classes (capped at 15 when I started teaching there and 18 a year later, but 11 when I considered it as a potential undergrad back in 1993-4), 5 concentrations, rather than majors, and its focus on interdisciplinarity and so on). It seems to me entirely possible, in light of David's 1990 concerns, that Shimer would move to the Loop, increase recruitment significantly, and feel tremendous pressure to serve students wanted more to be in a "liberal arts college" (loosely understood) in Chicago than to be at the unique Shimer college in Waukegan (or wherever). Put another way: be careful what you wish for. Lang wanted like anything to grow. Now it has--it will reach 1000 students soon if it hasn't already, after having been at around 150 when the Assembly made its Roosevelt decision--and it will very soon cease to be truly distinctive (let alone unique), as it keeps raising the class size (now to 20, and soon beyond) and loses the "seminar" brand from its advertising materials and self-understanding. I am not saying this will happen to Shimer should it move, but it seems to me a very realistic possibility.
Monday, November 28, 2005
Since Mike and others have requested a write up of what was discussed at Sunday’s alum meeting, I will do my best to oblige. To be honest, we were all over the place, and no one issue got discussed in any great depth. Far more questions were posed than were answered and we seemed to bounce back and forth between things. It was difficult to keep up while I was taking notes, and even more difficult to make sense out of it once I got home. This will not have the larger narrative that my other summation did. Here are some of the informational points that came out of the meeting, in no particular order.
- No Shimer Trustees will sit on the Board of IIT. No IIT Trustees will sit on the Board of Shimer.
- It appears to be primarily Mount Carroll Alums who are in favor, and Waukegan Alums who are opposed to the move (not that there aren’t exceptions).
- In 1989-90, Shimer started exploring joining, merging, etc with other colleges. We had a 14-hour assembly, with more than 70 points on which there was discussion and a forced yes/no vote. At the end of fourteen hours, the assembly had agreed to merge with Roosevelt University. However, Roosevelt hadn’t consulted their own faculty, who objected to Shimer professors receiving tenure. So, the merger never happened. Who has this document with the 70+ points on which the assembly voted? Dave Shiner? This could be an invaluable document for considering the issues at stake here. If Shimer has already been through this process successfully once before…
- Our staff salaries are 60% of what they would be at comparable institutions.
- The North Central Commission was about receiving financial accreditation. It was pointed out that we had academic accreditation the entire time.
- Weekend enrollment has been decreasing. Weekday enrollment has been low for the past two years, after having 2 boom years. This means that we are about to graduate 2 unusually large classes. Unless there is some kind of recruitment miracle, our enrollment will be well below 100 next year, and possibly below 80 the year after that.
- Weekend college will also be moving to the IIT campus, should the move be approved.
- A particular point of discussion was Glorious isolation and peace and quiet vs. integration into the world. Mount Carroll campus was very isolated. Waukegan, while located in a city, has some of the same qualities of quiet isolation. Some pointed out that while the IIT campus is really in the middle of things, the campus is not without some green space, but that it is a very manicured kind of green space.
- Security concerns. The “L” stop on the IIT campus has the highest crime rate in the entire area (mostly students getting mugged for their laptops). Albert Fernandez looked into the overall crime rates between University of Chicago, IIT and Shimer. All of them share the characteristic of being islands of relative calm, with below average crime rates, while the space around them has above average crime rates. His analysis was posted on the Shimer intranet, which unfortunately is not available to alums. Albert, would you post your information here?
- Which scenario is more likely to ensure the survival of the college? Some thought there was more life and culture in Chicago. Is there a greater opportunity to market in an urban area?
- Many of the Mount Carroll alums have been unwilling to re-engage with the college. These are the people who are excited by the prospect of the move to IIT.
- There would be a kind of Institutional Relations Committee created to discuss any issues that arise between Shimer and IIT, such as student discipline, etc.
- Our Bond would be paid off by the sale of the Waukegan campus.
It would take 2 ½ million dollars to bring the Waukegan campus up to spec.
- The Alum Donor base is going to shrink in future, if only because the number of alums graduated from the college in the past 27 years has radically decreased. Right now, the last round of Mount Carroll alums are at the height of their giving power.
- It will cost approx 60 thousand dollars to move the college.
- Shimer’s library would be integrated into IIT’s.
- Bill Rice will be meeting with officials from the city of Waukegan. They do not want Shimer to move out of Waukegan.
- Notable quotes: There is no harsher landlord than poverty. Albert Fernandez
We’re betting the school. Barry Carroll On this issue, many people were struck by the risk we would be taking in moving the school.
- Albert reports that after a recent faculty meeting, most of the faculty are provisionally in favor of the move.
- In our financial projections for the move, we’re only betting that 6 IIT students will be taking Shimer classes.
- A Provisional Satellite arrangement? Bill Rice says it’s unfeasible. However, Albert, Mike Weinman and Erik Badger are putting together a proposal for a provisional arrangement, lasting perhaps 5 years.
- The Assembly will be on December 18th, at 4pm.
- Why is enrollment declining? According to the school’s present research:
Complete lack of visibility
Lack of Scholarship money
I hope this was helpful.
Class of ‘96
So can we get a few people to acknowledge Sara Kimmel, the alumn and the students she spoke to?
Without all of these emotional, over-reactive students and alumn this calm orderly, well mannered dialouge would never have taken place.
As long as people are patting themselves on the back for maintaining their composure and eloquence....
It's about the Ying and the Yang, Ya Know?
Now where were we? Oh yeah, some students asked some questions...
-- enrollment has flattened at 110 students. (Don Moon cited this figure at meeting). That's really not a whole lot of people with which to have a college experience nor is it a good way to increase visibility or a base of alumni financial support.
-- the future is not good for liberal arts colleges in general unless they are distinctive, a word Bill Rice used that made sense. Shimer's Great Books curriculum & discussion method is distinctive but it doesn't mean anything if no one knows about it. The pairing of liberal Shimer & techno IIT is unorthodox, which certainly boosts the distinctive factor.
-- most idealistically, Shimer shaped my life forever. I met at Shimer five of my closest friends, whom I have known for more than 30 years. I would like other people to have this unique developmental opportunity, particularly because our country and world need people who know how to think, see interrelationships and analyze. Plus everybody needs loyal friends.
Count me in.
I want to firmly state, even if I lose what few friends I have at Shimer, which is not too many at this point, that I sincerely believe (at least I don't have any reason or evidence to believe otherwise) that the president is doing his job, doing what he is being paid the big bucks for. He has analyzed a complex problem, explored various options, discussed the problem deeply with many smart people, and emerged with a solution. He and the board are now selling us on this proposal; they are trying to persuade us of the benefits of this move. Since there are some genuine benefits, which depends on the individual, such as the location in Chicago, access to pre-med and technology courses, and a stream-lined and simplified operation in which the professors can focus on what they are being paid the-not-so-big bucks to do, I would like to strongly encourage the Shimer community to respect the leadership of Shimer College, who must have put a lot of thought into this proposal. At the end of the day, whether or not the board honors the assembly, and whether or not the board decides to move to Chicago, it is the students who will decide whether they agree with the decison of the board with their purchasing power.
Think about the cost and benefits of the proposal, the pros and cons, the risks and advantages. Think about how you can benefit from this move, whether it is a good feel or fit for you, whether it will meet your needs, whether you can still deeply engage in the great books discussion groups at IIT. And then only you have the final power, the final authority, the final decision of whether you agree or not.
Michael Dubensky '03
If I am being naive about what is going on, and if someone wants to inform me about anything that could change the trust that I have that our leaders are acting in good faith and that their heart is in the right place (i. e., the quality of the education and experience for the students), I can be reached at (312) 217-4503 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dear fellow Shimerians,
In the process of deciding whether a move (or expansion) at the IIT campus on the South Side would be a good idea for the College, it is important to consider the effect it would have on recruitment and retention of students. I have seen little serious discussion of this nature and much unfounded conjecture. In order to replace this groundless 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, faculty of the present or past:
- What brought you to Shimer initially? What aspects of Shimer made the College appealing, and what aspects made is unappealing?
- What keeps you at Shimer (or made you leave)? What aspects of Shimer are those that draw you in as you live the Shimer life, and what aspects make you want to leave?
Please consider as many aspects of the college as you can, including but not limited to the community, the academics (both the curriculum and the format), the schedule, the location, the amenities and the physical plant.
If you’d forward this to people who you think should be included in this informal study, I’d appreciate it greatly.
Please return your responses with or without your name, but preferably including whether you’re a staff member, faculty member, weekday or weekend 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 4th of December, which is a Sunday of weekend college (and Assembly meeting!). I’ll have some sort of report and summary to the whole community when I can, hopefully with the information provided by David Shiner and the Self-Study group.
Please respond either by email (email@example.com) or in my box in Prairie.
Thank you very much,
Sunday, November 27, 2005
"In the meantime, I will be preparing a document representing the collective wisdom of the Shimer community. What are the major issues at stake, perceived and real? What will be resolved prior to December 18, and what will wait until afterward? How are things likely to play out if we remain in Waukegan versus if we move most of our operations to IIT? And so on.
"In order to do the best job on this I can, I ask that everyone in the Shimer community bombard me with whatever facts, opinions, or questions you have concerning any aspect of this....I’ll also use the notes from every meeting I’ve attended, from web blogs, from passersby, from everywhere. The Accreditation Self-Study group will help me prepare a document for
distribution to the entire Shimer community."
For these purposes, I'd like your permission to print excerpts from what various people have written on ths blog, along with your name, in the document I'm preparing. Of course I won't reprint everything, but I would like to have the option to include various statements and questions that seem particularly important to various aspects of our considerations.
I’ve been trying to figure out where to place myself in this discussion. Officially, I’m a member of the internal community, a member of the faculty. I work for the College full-time. At the same time, the particular assignment that the College has allowed me to create for myself means that I’m not in Waukegan more than a few days each year. Almost any member of the internal community has better information than I have and has had opportunities to think more deeply and in more subtle ways than I’ve been able to do.
A lot that’s valuable seem to me to be emerging from what I’ve been able to follow of these discussions. Two separate issues seem on the table, and they both are worth getting into, though for very different reasons. One is the College’s governance structure, what we want it to be and what it turns out to be in practice. The other is the possible move itself.
The first is made especially important because it seems to be the source of a lot of pain right now, with accusations and defensive responses as regular parts of the dialogue. Two points seem easy to make. The first is that the Board has final authority at the College. As Don once explained things to me, even such authority as we are accustomed to leaving in the hands of the Assembly is only delegated to the Assembly by the President of the College, whose authority comes from the Board.
The second is that the Assembly ought to have a powerful voice in the Board’s deliberations on so important a question as whether the College moves. Since I joined Shimer, the Board has consistently shown that it respects the Assembly’s role in College decision making. This is to say that the fact that the Board has the final voice – and I have more to say about this below – does not have to mean that the Assembly has no voice at all.
This is true even if the Board and its representatives are unwilling to guarantee that its decision will follow the Assembly’s will. I myself think it would be improper for the Board to guarantee, in advance, that the Assembly will get its way. Only current Board members can know how important the Assembly’s view is to them, and I doubt even they can be sure right now how they will react when and if they are asked to take a vote.
A third point clouds things, but it does so beautifully. If one wants to see the limits of a board’s final authority over a college, one need look no farther that to our own history. It was, after all, Shimer’s board that decided to close the College. (Was it twice?) And yet here we are. Though I don’t want to suggest that we members of the internal community prepare ourselves to ignore the Board and carry on if their decision is not what we want it to be, I do think that the College’s history can remind us all what internal community members have done over the years to earn the voice that they’ve traditionally had at Shimer – if, that is, a reminder is necessary.
As far as the move itself goes, I am at a loss. I’ve grown fond of the College’s home in Waukegan and of Waukegan itself, but am excited by the prospect of a campus in Chicago. There’s a lot about the space we’re in right now that suits us, but the most important academic aspects of our lives together do not, it seems to me, depend very much on the coziness of a particular space. I would be happy to be able to offer students and staff more in the way of services, but worry that a traditional College cafeteria would wreak havoc on the lunch program that has come to offer so much to our communal life. I wonder whether we can survive a move, with all the short-term difficulties that it may entail in lost staff and other problems, but have to admit that I’m part of the group that has failed to figure out how to make the College grow where it is.
One note: I am a little confused about exactly what kind of decision the Assembly will be asked to make, but that may just be because I’m so far away. If the Assembly is supposed to say whether it prefers Waukegan or the South Side, then it needs little more information than detailed descriptions of the facility we are considering. If, however, the Assembly is being asked whether it thinks moving is a good idea, then it needs much more. It needs summaries of the schools current financial position. It needs to know why someone might take the view that the school needs to do something dramatic. It needs a lot of information about the proposed deal itself.
It is the second question, the one as to whether making a move is the right thing for the College, that I would prefer to see the Assembly face. It’s a much harder question, of course, but I see no reason to protect the Assembly from hard questions. Though the Board has final responsibility for the College’s finances, that doesn’t mean that the Assembly should keep from considering such matters. David Shiner’s recent offer of information from various administrators seems very positive to me.
What comforts me as I watch the discussions from a distance is my conviction that those who in the midst of the discussions care deeply about the College. This is true of those of you who are speaking gently. It’s also true, I think, of those who are not. At first I was a little taken back by the testiness I see in some of this discussion, but I’ve come to think that it’s just a reflection of how much we all do care. I’d like to believe – and, in fact, I do believe – that at least in terms of our intentions in these discussions, we are all on the same page.
Friday, November 25, 2005
Now, I am in a situation in which I can sense the financial crisis of Shimer College deeply, and I am not sure how to respond. I am responsible for at least three full-time students at Shimer College, including one member of the current board and one current student, because of my referals, which may be worth over 200,000$ to the college. I have also made significant official donations of half-page advertisements, even before I graduated, in an Education Guide of a Chicago newspaper to the college, in order to address the problem of how to increase enrollment at Shimer College. This year, my donation was more directly concerned with the problem of the current job market for liberal arts graduates. I, therefore, subscribed to a national current jobs in the liberal arts bulletin that could hopefully inspire students to start considering how they are going to transition from Shimer College, a problem that I have temporarily solved like many, many other liberal arts graduates by enrolling in graduate school, although like Shimer College, I run a small mom and pop stand of a massage therapy company, which barely pays our bills each month. But how can I help the college financially, and, more philosophically, should I help the college? Is it my responsibility to help the college? What is our response-ability as alums to generate money for the college?
My initial follow-up questions are controversial, but they directly address this question of responsibility.
If a Shimer College student is drowning or at risk of drowning, should the Shimer College professor a) prevent the student from drowning by offering the student private swimming lessons in addition to fulfilling the obligation to show up for class and grade the paper; b) get his or her clothes wet by leaping in to save the student; c) hold up a sign that states "swim"?
If Shimer College is drowning or at risk of drowning, should the Shimer College alum a) prevent the college from drowning by offering the college financial assistance in addition to paying for the high cost of a liberal arts education; b) sacrifice his or her personal desires and needs in order to save the college; c) hold up a sign that states "swim"?
The problem then is a question of mutual responsibility. I could say, well, since Shimer College's academic philosophy is to tell the student to swim when he or she is in trouble, then I should, as an alum, tell Shimer College to swim in its predicament. This sounds harsh, but I am sure that there is more than one alum who is thinking the same thing, especially as they struggle to pay their student loans or work a less-than-ideal job, especially as they struggled to transition from Shimer College to the real world without support from the college or a network of alums, especially as they struggled academically while at Shimer College. On the other hand, this could be a reminder to the faculty that we are in this together, and that in time of academic need, the doctrine of placing the entire burden of academic responsibility on the student is easy on the professor, but harsh on the student (the question of whether it is for the student's own good is also metaphorically strained when compared with a real financial crisis). Forgive me for investigating an issue that deeply concerns me--the quality of education at Shimer College--at a time of crisis for the college, but I do have an appropriate point and message.
I have been asking for a long time for Shimer College to adopt various academic proposals in order to improve the quality of education at Shimer College--and consequently attract and retain more students. Now, I am going to suggest that perhaps it's our responsibility as alums to reach into our pockets and donate substantial money to the college, even if the college decides to stay in Waukegan, if nothing else as to set an example that we can recognize when there is a need and begin to consider an appropriate response to that need. But this is easier for me to say than do, since I am living on student loans and occassional massages. Regardless, the tough question for us--I would like to propose--is not necessarily whether or not Shimer College should stay in Waukegan, because the board and the administration are most likely going to make that tough decision, a decision that I would not want to make after considering the pros and cons of both options; the tough responsibility that the alum Young Kim seems to have taken on. The tough question for us is how do we go about creating a fund-raising campaign, regardless of whether we stay in Waukegan or move to Chicago. Although very few people want to admit their weaknesses, such as my chronic academic failures to understand one of the great books, the underlying issue in this case is, I would venture to guess, lack of money, the long-term effects of lack of money on the quality of education, and the problem of whether the college can make more money by relocating to IIT--and thereby improve the quality of the education. If more money will improve the quality of the education and renew the spirit of the faculty at Shimer College, and if moving to IIT will solve that problem, I am in favor of the move to IIT.
If my thinking is problematic, don't hesitate to point it out to me, and I will edit this message accordingly.
Michael Dubensky '03
1. A decision by itself changes nothing. A decision will not put itself into effect. How would this decision to move be implemented? Who would be required to do what? Who’s anticipating the risks and managing the consequences? An organization like Shimer survives, not by mere acquiescence to decisions, but by active, willing, even joyous participation. It won’t be enough for students and alumni to “let it happen.” Most new students come to Shimer through word of mouth, from alumni and current students. What motivates our passion for our alma mater? Although I recognize that we have differing motivations, I would submit that it is our strong attachment to the identity of the college that sustains our passion for it. Ah, but which identity? Shimer has so many. Here are just a few:
a. The place where anyone is welcome, no matter what their academic background. The place where anyone can have a second chance, based solely on their own commitment to doing the work and participating in the discourse.
b. One of the last bastions of radical political empowerment. Not so much for leaning radically to the left or right, as for it’s anti-leaning orientation altogether. After graduating from Shimer, one of the things that cannot be taken from you is your knowledge that you are not powerless. Those who attempt to manipulate you do so at their own risk. You have absorbed the lineage of every argument that might be thrown at you, and waded through the muck of their strengths and weaknesses. You have been through the Boot Camp of bullshit and collaboration.
c. The “Great Books College of the Midwest.” Ah, the noble academic pedigree. The venerable Hutchins, the shared inquiry, the dialogical methodology, ‘the great conversation’, the purely astonishing percentage of our alumnus who go on to receive graduate degrees (despite the fact that many of them would never have been described as ‘academic’ types before arriving at Shimer).
d. The Community. The sense of belonging, of being in a wholly safe space that allows you to condense so purely into the essence of what you are. And who can say of what this community is constructed? The shared experience, inquiry and curriculum; the aforementioned political empowerment, and the conviction that we are all getting ‘free’ together; the shared consumption of coffee at 3am; the enormous amount of work and effort and dedication that we invest in the institution and in each other; our charming, (or as some would have it, dilapidated) campus in one of the strangest outposts on the frontier of Chicagoland; the tight-knit (some would say incestuous) social environment where we live virtually without secrets for four intense years of our life.
What makes Shimer? The curriculum? The environment? The size? The collaborative process? Maybe all of it together. Maybe just our will to believe in it. Perhaps where we disagree is not so much a point of particular facts in a rational configuration, but in what we identify with in our Shimer experience. It cannot have escaped anyone’s notice that it is primarily those who identify with the community and the political empowerment aspects of Shimer who are the most concerned about the move. This makes a great deal of sense when you reflect that these are the aspects of Shimer’s identity that are most at risk in the move. How much could we lose and still be Shimer? If we were reduced to only “The Great Books College of the Midwest” would it be enough? Would it be enough to command the loyalty and passion of the alumnus? Enough to attract new students? Enough to create those purely Shimer types of people who are so distinctive that we can almost recognize each other on sight? I hope so, but I’m not sure. For me, I can imagine a worse case scenario than Shimer ceasing to exist. My true nightmare is that Shimer becomes just an ok place to read Aristotle. Let’s be honest, there are nicer places to read Aristotle.
2. At the moment a decision is made, we cannot possibly know whether it is good or bad. Decision quality, when measured by results, can only be known as the consequences of the decision become known. From Daniel Shiner’s post on this blog:
a. Move to IIT: Best case: Shimer maintains identity, draws significant numbers of new students, becomes everything it aspires to be in 5-10 years. Worst case: Shimer loses current students, loses identity, attracts few new students, and disappears.
b. Stay in Waukegan: Best case: Shimer maintains identity, somehow figures out how to attract more new students, becomes everything it aspires to be in 5-10 years. Worst case: Shimer student body steadily declines, buildings deteriorate from lack of money to fix & repair, and Shimer disappears.
c. As Daniel points out, this doesn’t really help much. We don’t know. Logically, we can’t know.
3. We almost invariably spend more time living with the consequences of our decisions than we do in making them. Rather than spending inordinate amounts of time and effort in the decision-making process, it would seem at least as useful to spend time implementing decisions and dealing with their ramifications. This is a leadership issue. Good leaders are skilled in managing the consequences of their decisions. Perhaps the leadership of Shimer College will be skilled in managing the consequences of this move. Perhaps they will not. Do we know? No. We choose to believe in their skill, or we choose not to. But Shimer is different from most other institutions. It is different in a variety of ways, but the one which is applicable in this instance is that students and alumni are far more crucial to the survival of the institution than they might be at a more regular company or college. The decision to move cannot be implemented successfully without a significant number of people getting on board and committing to it. Good leadership, in this case, is consensus building. Having the power to make the decision is irrelevant (tragically irrelevant, given what the price of failure would be). Having the skill and the credibility and the passion to get everyone focused on a common cause is the whole game.
Do we have enough consensus to implement this move? Can we build it? These are questions we have a good chance of answering. If the answer is no…
Would it be naïve to believe that those who have always supported the institution, in money and time and prospective students, will go on supporting the college wherever it is located? Maybe. Maybe not. I am not in favor of the move (like you didn’t notice). But I am sympathetic to those who want the advantages that the move might bring. However, I see no reason that consensus could not be created toward gaining those advantages in Waukegan, rather than through becoming a tenant of IIT.
I agree with danbooks comment below that we should cease speaking of this as if the college were facing imminent death. I don’t believe it either. I will not believe it.
Class of '96
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
I am afraid to ask, but can the Board sign a lease without the assembly?
I see nothing trustworthy or Shimerian in the spirit in which this is being done. This article looks like a way of speeding up the process and burying the hopeful. I do not like the way that the Board Chairperson and the College President are handling this. That comment is not deragatory, it is clear.
It is hard to read the words of so many people dancing around that issue while the fate of Shimer is decided.
I will add this to the words of Daniel Shiner. If you understand nothing else, understand this:
If we stay in Waukegan we sink or swim on our own. At IIT someone else will be helping us determine the fate of Shimer. Not the Great Books education alone but the spirit of Shimer College that gives an academic home to those who are not so lofty... Shimer did change when it left Mount Caroll, it became more than it was.
When I got to Shimer, I had never read Plato or Aristotle. I always held them in such reverence that I felt I wasn't smart enough to read them. I left it to my betters to determine for me the value of the great works. I learned to read and understand the "big words" and "big thoughts". Don't get me wrong I was far from a stellar student. But I understand this:
Shimer is there for people who can't go to just any college. It needs to be exactly what it is. That is Shimers niche. It is called A-l-t-e-r-n-a-t-v-e education.
Let me tell you about the place I work, the Old Town School of Folk music. It is an institution for learning music in the aural tradition that went from 1500 students per week to 6000 in two years. The first thing that happened was that the price of childrens classes skyrocketed. Then private lessons were only provided in blocks of 8. Making the cost of getting private lessons quite an obstacle if you can't afford to buy 8 at once. Programming was changed to implement measurable standards for fundraising purposes. They began to do demographic studies.
In truth, none of these things is "bad" but the Old Town School is slowing becoming like every other institution that provides supplemental arts education. This little independant hippy organization that gave a home to the person and the songs of Big Bill Broonzy and Pete Seger now does business with Clear Channel. It just seems to be one compromise away from the next compromise at all times.
Maybe, it's Shimers fate to die in Waukegan. That seems to be the undertow of all the good thoughts behind moving to IIT. Let's move because we fear the death of the institution?
Think about what Jimmy Cliff said: " I'd rather be a free man in my grave than living as a puppet or a slave."
Shimer might die in Waukegan but when it does it will still be Shimer, not some annex of IIT.
If Shimer needs to move and have a lease then let's have a lease on our own. Novel thought eh?
Special to the Tribune
Published November 23, 2005
Shimer College may repeat a history lesson learned more than 25 years
ago when self-preservation forced the school to move from western
Illinois to Waukegan.
The small liberal arts college on the north side of the city may
relocate next summer to the Illinois Institute of Technology on the
South Side of Chicago. The relocation is a survival move because
Shimer's enrollment has been stagnant for 15 years, said Young Kim,
chairman of the college's board of trustees.
IIT invited Shimer to its campus at 3300 S. Federal St., and college
officials say they will decide by January whether to accept the offer.
"I think we are obliged to move in order to survive," Kim said. "[But]
there's no imminent crisis forcing us to move."
The college would probably have to shut down eventually if it stays in
Waukegan because it has been unable to get its enrollment above 110
students and it needs a minimum of 200. "It's just not sustainable,"
"We do see growth as essential to the college," said President William
Thom Karnik, director of communications and marketing at IIT, confirmed
that the colleges are negotiating a lease.
Shimer, which opened in the 1850s in Mt. Carroll, would maintain its
independence at IIT and enter into a long-term agreement for a building
on the campus.
Most of Shimer's Waukegan facilities would be liquidated, Kim said. The
science classes for home-schooled students would remain in Waukegan for
the time being, according to a news release. The college has a weekend
program for adults that would be moved to IIT, although school
officials said courses would be held in Waukegan if there is a demand.
At IIT, Shimer students would have access to more amenities, including
a fitness center, and the opportunity to take advantage of some IIT
academic offerings, such as a pre-med program.
"We would be able to offer our students more," Kim said.
Shimer students attend classes primarily in houses converted to
classrooms on Genesee Street. The school moved to Waukegan in 1979. The
college is best known for its curriculum based on the Great Books and
Western intellectualism in which students participate in discussions
with the faculty rather than listen to lectures.
Shimer has an intimate atmosphere and almost none of the frills found
at larger colleges. For example, the college doesn't have food service
or a gym. But students say that's what makes Shimer unique, and some
would prefer to stay in Waukegan.
"It would be much more difficult to keep our community," said Kyra
Keuben, 21, of Wheaton as she and other students spent time last week
in Shimer's bookstore, which is in the living room of a converted
"I think the students here don't care as much about those things," said
Sarah Green, 25, of Pittsburgh.
Some Shimer students said they worry that the wooden tables used during
class discussions literally won't fit in the building where Shimer
would be housed at IIT. In addition, they said they would miss the
baked goods that students make every Friday to share.
But Colby Somerville, 21, of Florida said the small student body can
make life frustrating at times. "We're kind of lacking in diversity
that way," he said.
Shimer officials have been trying for years to create a campus in
Waukegan out of its 14 buildings, but it's too costly to build a
campus, Kim said. In addition, Shimer has been unable to run a capital
campaign to raise money, but Kim said that would probably change if the
school moved to IIT because the alumni are in favor of the relocation.
If Shimer moves south, students would be able to live in a dedicated
wing of an IIT dorm or off campus, and students at both colleges would
be able to attend classes at either school, officials said.
Kim, who graduated from Shimer in 1973, said he doubts the school will
be swallowed up by IIT.
"We have such a strong identity," he said.
Waukegan Mayor Richard Hyde said he plans to meet soon with Rice. And
Ald. Rick Larsen said Shimer has been an asset to Waukegan, citing
certificate programs that the school offers for teachers.
"This alderman wants them to stay in Waukegan," he said.
I’m Daniel Shiner, a Shimer student from 1971-1977, and an on and off board member (from 1987 to 1997 and again starting this Fall). I’m thinking about the proposed move, and a couple of thoughts are brewing.
Of course, the essence is that there are not only the obvious questions (the logistics of a possible move) but also a myriad of other questions that result from consideration of the first question--all the intangibles-- i.e., we can put together tangible information--costs of meal plans, space in buildings, etc; make our best guesses as to the effect on admissions, fundraising, profile, etc.; but we haven't a clue how this will/might affect what you (and most of us) consider the essence of Shimer--the dialogical community, within and without the classroom. I'm struggling with that one. From my frame of reference, when we moved to Waukegan, perhaps half the students declined to move, based on the same assumption--that in Waukegan, it would be impossible for Shimer to maintain its community; that the essence of the College could not survive anywhere except in an isolated, removed-from-the-real-world setting. I think time has proved them wrong. That same question recurs now. And like then, no one knows the answer. Those of us who chose to move back in 1979 believed (or convinced ourselves) that Shimer could exist anywhere; that the ideals were so strong, physical location could not destroy them, and if it did, perhaps the College did not deserve to exist. Of course, the logical extension of this (or absurd extension) is that Shimer could exist in any environment--prison, Antarctica, Baghdad. There are clearly some limits, not the least of which is attracting new students, which seems to me to be a major impetus for the move. And here we get to what Rumsfeld (I think) so (in)eloquently talked about--the known knows, the known unknowns, the unknown unknowns, etc. Whatever he said, it sounded bizarre but actually made sense in some situations, including the one Shimer finds itself in. And there is the realization that doing nothing, or slowing down the process, is making a decision, a decision for the status quo--which may not be a bad thing.
Usually, I look at best and worst case scenarios to help guide me in major decisions. Here, that looks something like this:
Move to IIT: Best case: Shimer maintains identity, draws significant numbers of new students, becomes everything it aspires to be in 5-10 years. Worst case: Shimer loses current students, loses identity, attracts few new students, and disappears.
Stay in Waukegan: Best case: Shimer maintains identity, somehow figures out how to attract more new students, becomes everything it aspires to be in 5-10 years. Worst case: Shimer student body steadily declines, buildings deteriorate from lack of money to fix & repair, and Shimer disappears.
This doesn't help me much.
What bemuses (and amuses) me most about this, I think, is that for many years I thought being on the Board meant that I would be among the first to know about important issues, that I would have access to far more information than if I were not on the Board, would be kept informed on all aspects of important decisions, etc. In essence, I thought being on the Board would be like gaining admission to some secret society--that the Illuminati, Freemasons, and Knights Templar would recognize me as one of their own and initiate me into the secrets of the universe. What I find, instead, is that I don't know, or learn, a damn thing more than when my involvement with Shimer was limited to sending a check each year. Until Young started talking at the October Board meeting, I barely knew IIT existed and certainly knew nothing about any proposed move. Now I find myself getting current information from reading blogs. I'm amazed at how little being on the Board means in terms of information.
If any students are interested in emailing me with their thought/ideas/insane ramblings, I'd be very interested; I don't know how one goes about disseminating a request like this to the community; I can't even figure out how to post to some of the blogs, except as replies. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d welcome anyone’s input. Thanks for being Shimer.
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
After reflecting some on the proposed move, here are some tentative thoughts.
On its face, the most obvious advantage of the proposed move would be to allow Shimer students access to more typical college amenities like more diverse dining options, a modern gymnasium, a better-maintained dormitory, a library, etc. All of this is desirable, as is an independent administrative and governance structure, and better, more modern facilities in general.
However, the other advantages claimed for the proposal are dubious at best, in the absence of further supporting evidence.
For example, that the College should move closer to its traditional source of students might seem an obvious strategy to change the school's fortunes. However, in recalling the location of IIT's campus, I don't see how relocating from Waukegan to a remote, semi-distressed neighborhood on the south side of Chicago would make students feel that much less isolated. (If we were thinking of moving to Lincoln Park, that would be one thing, but . . .) A move to the south side would also likely adversely affect the College's recent successes in recruiting students from outside the Midwest--if not the Chicago suburbs.
Without a large and targeted capital campaign, it's true that the long-term deficiencies in Shimer's Waukegan facilities will be impossible to overcome (though it's undeniable that they've manifestly improved in recent years). However, will the trade off in maintenance cost for long-term leases be worth it for the College? What savings will be realized by the College? What are the financial details here?
The intimation that Shimer's course offerings need to be made more "robust" through the option of taking IIT courses strikes my ears as (a) a lack of faith in the Core, (b) a degraded understanding of Shimer's educational mission, and (c) an affront to those of us who found Shimer's curriculum very robust indeed. Better they had just said that this would make it easier to "market" the school. But in pandering to a market, let's make sure it's the right one--and not one that would distort if not destroy the historical identity of the College.
More ephemeral are considerations of the poetics of place, but they should be considered at some level. For example, I'm not that wild about Shimer having a "storefront" entryway. Will IIT be the "anchor store" of our educational "strip mall"?
Finally, it is not at all clear to me that this move will automatically generate the other benefits claimed for it: increased enrollments, a stronger fundraising and donor base, the opportunity for the College to play a national role in Great Books education, greater recognition for the Hutchins Institute, etc. It does not follow, without further evidence, that this move will generate these improvements.
Simply put, if this proposed move is not part of a strategic, long-term plan, my confidence in the proposal would be greatly diminished to almost nil.
A start would be some baseline data. Have studies been commissioned that show that Waukegan is the reason Shimer's growth has been stagnant? Conversely, is there quantifiable evidence that the proposed move would have a reasonably good chance of reversing the College's fortunes? Or is this just a desperate hope?
I would hope that these questions are considered carefully before the Board makes any commitment to this move. Though I know the College is not nearly as healthy as we'd all like it to be at this point in its history, we are also not in Mount Carroll in 1977, when the only option was to move. A move now, even one that has been more fully justified, would undoubtedly cost us some students, and further splinter the loyalties of our alumni base into Carrolians, Waukeganites, and Chicagoans (and this after having some success with bringing many Carrolians back into the fold).
Finally, and in closing, I would ask whether or not the College may be writing off the potential of Waukegan's future too soon. The city is situated on a lakefront with much potential. The last time I visited, I noticed that many homeowners in the area surrounding the College had undertaken substantial renovations of their properties. This residential area is very complimentary to the College's mission. The Genesee Theater has been fully renovated. The Public Library is of remarkably high quality for a city the size of Waukegan. And Waukegan has finally come to fully embrace the College, after years of open hostility.
Yours in common dialogue,
David Koukal (Shimer, 1990)
I have made adjustments, much to blogger’s chagrin, so that all the comments will now appear upon the top level, rather then in a secondary page. While blogger may feel it is improper to post comments on the header page, as we all know, almost every comment is just as important as the statement that started it, so down with blogger’s unnecessary totalitarianism, and up with free posting for all, members or no.
p.s. There are a few repeats now in here, however it really is better I think
I think Shimer would have a lot to contribute to the near South side of Chicago and that Chicago would have a lot to offer Shimer. Shimer students would have greater access to museums, and theaters and all of the amenities of a powerful city/state. These tech students would have to take our classes in order based on prereqs. They would likely take maybe 4 or 5 of our core classes tops along with their specialized classes. Perhaps an architect could run through the Soc curriculum and gain a better understanding of how their designs impact the community and environment. An Engineer who took our Nat Sci courses would certainly be shaped in his thinking. We do have something to give in Chicago.
Shimer can be a hard pill to swallow whole. I'm glad I did. And we all know the benefits of a Shimer Education. I see the Shimer "Voice" as the echoes of plato's academy drifting through time. I think it would add to our voice if we are able to give part of our knowledge to the young industrialists. In fact, influencing the minds of engineers and architects etc. Brings our ideas and wisdom into the 21st century which is still largely undefined.
Partial tuition coming from these students fulfilling either their minimalist core requirements or even as electives would be added income. Plus their unique perspectives would add things to our dialogue that may otherwise go unnoticed by those of us full time Shimerians with our heads in the clouds. The campus appears pretty safe to me. It is well lit. The security is like a small police force. They have several cars and bicycle patrols along with radio contact to the Chicago Police department. There are Emergency call boxes on campus. They will even escort students after dark to several campus locations, housing, el station, etc.
I think there may be the potential to recruit part time faculty from the area as well. Perhaps UofC professors or graduates who feel like teaching a core class to a bunch of misfits. More part time professors and fewer full time professors might be a way to lower costs. It would be nice if the forced marriage between administration and faculty could be severed. Perhaps the old timers could semi retire to administration duties and teach at their leisure and rely more on part time faculty.
As far as the assembly is concerned, is it necessary? What is sacred and nearly untouchable to me is the Core Curriculum and the dialogical method. There is a possibility that the function of the assembly has run it's course and it is time for it to dissipate into the final stage of student communism. Perhaps the future of Shimer could be a place where administrators administrate, teachers teach, and students study. I'm still frightened by the idea of this move. But I do have faith in Shimer. I have faith in our method and our place in the modern world. If Shimer does relocate I hope they do it with optimism and hope.
Monday, November 21, 2005
And around the octagon, we do not tolerate personal attacks that distract us from the task at hand, even if some of those attacks may be warranted. Our tradition of dialogue demands that we take people at face value while critically examining their ideas and conclusions.
Not everyone involved in this discussion is good at expressing their views clearly. It is our responsibility to help them clarify their views with questions, comments, suggestions and critiques. This is at the heart of what it means to be a Shimerian.
We all have differing and evolving opinions about this choice. Those of us who have signed this letter are no different. But those of us who have signed this letter – the student and faculty members of the Board of Trustees – are unanimous in our belief that all who are contributing to the dialog, including those with whose opinions we may strongly disagree, are acting in good faith, however much their visions for Shimer may differ.
Although we may not notice them much, everyone on the Board of Trustees volunteers because they believe in Shimer and what it stands for. The vast majority are alumni. They have given vast amounts of time and money to the preservation and improvement of this College. Everyone in the Shimer community, including board members, is trying to determine what is in the best interests of the College.
Shimer College is best served by deliberations that address the merits of the proposal, not the motives, character or conduct of other community members. Let us together act in this way to ensure that we engage in true dialog and reach the best decision for Shimer's future.
Shimer College and its traditions of educational dialog deserve nothing less.
Feel free to contact any of us with questions, comments or concerns.
Weekend Student Trustee
Albert B. Fernandez
Weekday Student Trustee
Weekday Student Trustee
Thanks again, Michael. I hope this isn't only a private conversation in a public venue, like two sportscasters who address wach other on the air, but rather that others feel free to chime in.Your main point concerns the ability of the Assembly to make an informed and relevant decision on IIT by the time the bell rings. I don't know whether that will happen, but as I mentioned in an earlier post, I'm trying hard to help see that it does.On your other points: I didn't intend to give the impression that I see recent Assembly meetings as "irrelevant." I think they fulfill a somewhat different function than in the 80s and 90s - not all that different, but somewhat so. In thinking this over, it occurs to me that the rise in Weekend student attendance and the decline in decisions on substantive issues might be related to each other. The Weekend students, on the whole, seem to appreciate hearing committee reports and the like more than Weekday students and staff; it helps them feel more informed about what's going on at Shimer. They don't seem at all frustrated by the lack of substantive items, although they do speak up when we have discussions. I'll think more about it, but in any case I surely wouldn't characterize the Assembly as "irrelevant." I would say that Shimer is somewhat less democratic than it was a decade ago, and much less so than 25-30 years ago. I don't think that's a bad thing, but I do think it could become a bad thing if it goes much further. Since I'm obviously committed to the Assembly, I'll continue to try to figure out how to make it as functional and relevant as possible.As far as the statement that "even non-serious discussions about something like moving the College" would have been communicated widely in the past, I simply don't agree. Examples to the contrary abound. Back in 2002 Don was approached by a proprietary school that was interested in affiliating with Shimer. He told me about it some time after his initial conversations, and eventually he told the rest of the faculty. The talks disintegrated before the students and administrative staff (not to mention alumni) were brought in. Those dicussions never got to the point that the IIT proposal has, but they were certainly at least somewhat serious. If they had gone further, I assume the Assembly would have been brought in, although months after the initial contact. We'll never know. What I do know is that Bill, like Don, regularly gets calls about this sort of thing, which could loosely be termed "non-serious discussions to move the college" or to subtantially affect the college in other ways. I don't think it makes sense to have them all disseminated widely, or in most cases at all. What I think is probably in this case is not that issue, but the rather clunky way this particular situation has been handled. I hope that everyone involved, myself included, will learn to handle such matters better in the future.
Sunday, November 20, 2005
Thanks, Michael. I didn't talk about process much in my post yesterday, so maybe it would be good to do more of that here.The role of the Assembly at Shimer has been changing incrimentally for several years now. I've had to do a lot of thinking about that, because I'm chairing a group of staff members who are responsible for the next accreditation self-study report. One portion of a paragraph in the working draft of our self-study (which won't be completed for another couple of months) is as follows: "The Assembly’s present business is primarily threefold: the election of members to Assembly committees that are responsible for work such as academic planning, administrative review, and budget recommendations; the hearing of annual or semiannual reports by administrators, especially the President and the Dean; and the discussion of the future of the Assembly, including proposed amendments to the Constitution. While these functions are important, they do not suggest a body with significant decision-making authority, or one that needs to meet all that regularly." One can be happy, sad, or indifferent to this trend, but for whatever it's worth, it seems to those of us on the committee that it's been going in this direction for several years now. Last year I served as Speaker of the Assembly (as I do again this year), and on several occasions I had to introduce (that is, invent) motions and discussion items just so we'd have a legitimate reason for the thrice-semesterly meetings that were called for in the Assembly Constitution. I tried to get Assembly members to introduce items thenmselves, but with little success.That's not to say that the Assembly is dying. For our first meeting in September there were something like 75 attendees, which was pretty incredible, possibly a record. All Assembly committees were filled without anyone's leg having to be twisted, which to my memory hadn't happened for a long time. The next meeting was also well attended. Weekend students, who hadn't been all that visible in Assembly for many years (if ever), have been turning out in impressive numbers for the past year or so. It's true, I think, that orientation toward the Assembly doesn't come naturally to Young or Bill. I don't think that's too surprising, since Bill comes from very different academic environments (which, of course, is almost all of them) and there was no Assembly when Young was a Shimer student. It's a learning process for them, and also for those of us who are more used to Shimer's current brand of self-governance. When I'm around either of them and the issue of the Assembly comes up, they treat it with respect. It's an evolving process. I don't know how it will play out concerning the IIT situation. I doubt that the Assembly will be treated as "a mere plebescite," and I'm trying to do what I can to help, but I wouldn't want to make any predictions at this point. As you mentioned in an earlier post, the strengthening of the Board that appears to be happening these days is probably a good thing, but it might affect the Assembly in ways that are hard to foresee.As far as the issue of when conversations with IIT began, your concerns have also been expressed by folks around here at times. From my perspective the issue isn't innacuracy, but a difference in what is being talked about. From what I understand, Bill and Young had very casual conversations with folks at IIT back in the spring. Those conversations were at first infrequent, but became more frequent and interesting as the summer wore on. By the time I was brought into the picture about 10 weeks ago, it looked like there might be reason for serious interest on both sides. So in one sense the conversations began in the spring, in another around September or even later. It depends on what level of seriousness you're talking about. College presidents frequently say things to each other like, "Maybe we should work together on X." It's part of the terrain. The Higher Learning Commission (our accrediting agency) encourages it, as to some extent does the Illinois State Board of Higher Education. Up to a certain point such conversations are too casual to take very seriously, let alone enlist others in (sorry about ending that sentence with a preposition).Look, here's an analogy. Nancy and I met in the summer of 1988, when she started working at Shimer. We were married in the summer of '93. We definitely were not an item for the first couple of years; we weren't dating in any romantic sense. Sometimes we went out together casually (I remember in particular a ballgame in Kenosha in the summer of '89), but lots of Shimer faculty members do that sort of thing. As time went on we saw each other more often, because we enjoyed each other's company. By January of 1993 we were engaged. Somewhere before that, obvously, we were getting serious, but I'm not exactly sure where the tipping point was. If you were to ask either of us, we might well give different answers. Each of us might even give different answers from ourselves at different times. It's not a matter of duplicity, just what we consider important or decisive.That analogy might seem silly, but I hope it brings out at least one aspect of present-day Shimer situation that could as easily be looked upon as benign as otherwise. We don't have any spinmeisters here; we don't have people trying to control who tells what to whom. People do write press releases, and some voices are necessarily more "official" than others, but no one is duty-bound to toe any sort of party line. No one tells me whether to post on a blog such as this, and I don't ask. So sometimes a "story" won't look particularly "straight." You can see that as deceptive or even duplicitous; I see it as one of the defects of our virtues, the virtue in this case being that Shimer people, even so-called "high-ranking administrators," say what they want without a party line, prior coaching, or fear of negative repercussions. That's pretty rare in higher education or, for that matter, anywhere else. But it has been, and continues to be, one of the great things about Shimer.Keep the comments coming. I'll check in daily, or at least as often as I can. Take care.
Original Post: Sun Nov 20, 09:12:27 AM CST
Saturday, November 19, 2005
If we factor in current real-estate trends and Lake County regentrification efforts what are the options?
What is the probable return on that land if developed and used to give Waukeganites a Community Center devoted to personal academic growth and supplemental tutoring program for college bound teens some of whom could be routed to Shimer?
What if we taught Shimer students to teach workshops on co-inquiry learning, study habits and research skills and gave them credit for student teaching?
What about a rental property for wayfaring intellectuals, entertainers and speakers visiting the Chicago Area or a hospice for developing artists?
What about reaching in instead of out?
I understand that Sarah Kimmel is part of a group that handles problems very similar to Shimer’s for groups very much like Shimer.
By the way, I did notice that Young Kim did not give the specifics of the proposed contract with IIT or explain its stealthy presentation and that he looked at the Assembly as an advisory committee.
Perhaps it was not the way he intended it but it did read as though he was belittling concerns and vilifying people who asked pointed questions.
I have had quite enough of people dismissing legitimate inquiries and facts provided that do not support the move as the bantering of nay sayers and the whining of laypeople. Also, attempts to calm the people who are concerned by assuring them that nothing is wrong, especially in this political climate, are probably ill pursued. Let's talk about the problems and how to solve them without putting all of the schools eggs in a basket and crawling to IIT. Right now Shimer is in control of its own fate. If you have been alive long enough you know that that counts for more than you think it does.
However, the notion being tossed around that moving the College into downtown Chicago - and making it a small appendage of a professional school - may improve enrollment isn't based on much.
Waukegan and the College are within an affordable hour's ride of Chicago. Many liberal arts colleges are even further away from metropolitan fun than that. The Waukegan campus is - in my opinion - pretty nice (landscaping, historic buildings, etc.) and has improved through the hard labor of many over the years. My big complaint was that we didn't have enough books and our library was locked away in the basement of Waukegan Public (which has since changed, no?)
Waukegan itself is even nice. The lake, old houses on Sheridan, parks and whatnot, the diners. I was a bit nervous about being there my first year. But I also appreciated its remove, for the most part, and appreciated the opportunity to learn about Waukegan and find my niches there. (too bad Irene's is gone.)
My class schedule (at times including a 4-day weekend) allowed me to spend every other weekend in Chicago with friends and do all the exploring and getting-away I needed. A few days of city bustling then prepared me well to look forward to returning to the relatively more quiet - even quaint - surrounds of Waukegan and the campus.
From what I've heard, the IIT neighborhood is no great shakes either. Given this, and the benefits of the Waukegan campus noted above, exactly what are people thinking when they talk about students wanting to be there rather than Waukegan? How do you 'market' an industrial looking campus in a much more urbanized area, where - from what I've heard - students are instructed to not even leave the boundaries of the campus? How can this be better than Bob+Ann's and Prairie House?
Yours at the barricades,
Class of '98
I hope to use this space to try to clarify what's going on with the Shimer-IIT situation, in my view, and particuarly what the large-scale issues are. As I see it, there are three major issues, not all of which I'll have the time to address today:
1) Why is Shimer contemplating major action?
2) Given that Shimer has good reason for contemplating major action (and I think it does, as I'll explain below), why does this include the possibility of leaving (or at least mostly leaving) Waukegan?
3) Given that Shimer has good reason to contemplate leaving Waukegan, why this particular proposal?
I addressed #1 in my conversation with Katie and Sandy last week, and with others since. To recap and add to that, Shimer is in a tough spot. Although retention is up, enrollment is down. The enrollment of new students has declined for three straight years despite the fact that modest resources have been added to the Admissions office and budget during that time. We enrolled 19 new students this fall, the lowest number in something like 20 years. Donations are also down over the past few years. These trends are worrisome in and of themselves, because we've tried a lot of different appproaches without much success. If we had more money we could try more things, but we don't, and I frankly don't know how we're going to get it. As things stand, the Budget Commitee regularly projects more income from donations than we recieve, our best efforts to the contrary. That puts a strain on all of us.
Some people have proposed that sustainability rather than growth should be Shimer's goal. I'm sympathetic with that argument and in fact used to believe it myself, but now I can see that it won't work in the long run. We have regularly been told by our accrediting agency that we can't continue to operate with our current numbers of students. Our response has been that we'll try to increase our student body. We've tried for years, and we haven't been able to do that. Similarly, we've been awarded a number of grants in recent years. This has really helped financially, compensating for some of the things we haven't been able to accomplish (more students, donations, etc). However, granting agencies want to see quantifiable returns, such as more students, as the result of their "investments." We've promised those increases, and we haven't delivered. All this makes it less likely that we'll be awared future grants, which reduces another group of funding sources. Our accreditation is also a concern, for similar reasons - not this year or next year, but in the long run and perhaps sooner than that.
By the way, the downturns have almost nothing to do with the "new administration" that I can see. All of those declines were well under way before we hired professional administrators except for the Chief Financial Officer, who has nothing to do with any of them. The plans for growth were written into the 2001 accreditation self-study, chaired by Barbara Stone; the biggest grant we have received, Title III (U.S. government), was written by Don Moon and approved by the government agency more than two years ago. Board membership was almost entirely different 3-5 years ago than it is now, with only three or four holdovers.
This year 38 out of our 103 (fulltime equivalent) students will graduate. There will also be some attrition, as there always is. Unless an enrollment feat not seen since the 1970's occurs, enrollment next year (perhaps next semester) will be under 100 for first time since the early 1990's. So the situation is worrisome, and no one knows if and when it will improve.
There's no reason to be alarmist about any of this. Shimer has had its ups and downs over the past 150+ years. The recent trends might be a blip on the screen, or they might not. If they are, great. If not, we need to be prepared, and it's better to be prepared when you have a choice, as I believe we do now, than to wait too long and have no choice. I witnessed the latter when we left Mount Carroll 27 years ago, and it wasn't pretty.
To move on to the second point: When I first heard that Young Kim and Bill Rice were talking with IIT about moving most of Shimer to the IIT campus, I really disliked idea. As time has gone by, I've come to take a different attitude. It's not that I favor the move; I don't. I also don't oppose it. It's a tough decision. I haven't made up my mind yet, and I won't until more facts (or at least projections) are available.
But my current attitude has nothing to do with my personal views on whether the move is a good one. Simply put, as I now see it, before this idea came up Shimerians were thinking in a manner that was too restricted. We tried various things in Admissions and Development. When they didn't work, we tried something else. At worst, we got the Director out of the office and brought in someone else. Amateurs, professionals, this approach, that approach - we tried a lot of things. Not everything, obviously - we don't have the resources or expertise for that - but a lot of things.
What we never did, or did all too rarely, is take a step back and ask whether the problem wasn't bigger than we were conceiving of it. One effect of the IIT discussions, however they play out, is that we're doing that now. Maybe our campus is a major part of our problem, and maybe it isn't. We haven't decided that issue, and we probably never will, but at least we're thinking about it. Maybe Waukegan is part of the problem, or maybe not - same deal.
I say all this for a couple of reasons. First, it's true. Second, I know that some current students and recent alumni feel like we're being forced into a move by the Board, or Bill Rice, or the administration, or somebody. I can understand that; frankly, the dissemination of information around this whole matter has been, to put it delicately, less than ideal. But that's separate from the issue of whether this or any other move would be a good one for Shimer. As I say, I don't know the answer, but I'm glad we're finally asking the question.
It might be replied that we have asked this question before, in the Roosevelt negotiations 15 years ago. But that situation was a lot different. At that time we had been unaccredited for 10 years, and Don believed that only a merger (not a lease agreement) could save Shimer, because we had no realistic chance of getting accredited. Not getting accredited would mean no federal financial aid for students, which would obviously mean the end of Shimer. So we voted to become a college of Roosevelt, believing there was no other alternative but closing the school - in other words, basically the same deal as when we moved from Mount Carroll. It didn't work out, but we somewhat miraculously received a major grant, and the rest is history. My point here, though, is that we want to ask the big questions when we don't feel the situation is hopeless, when the possibility of choice still exists.
I've got to run, so that's it for now. I'll reply to any responses to this post, which I know is seriously incomplete, when I can make time for it. I'll also keep reading with interest, and I hope many alumni can make it to the meeting with Don Moon and Bill Rice in Prairie Lounge next Sunday (4 PM, if you hadn't heard).
I'll close with this thought. A few folks who don't like the possibility of the IIT move have told me, "This really sucks." What really sucks, in my view, is that Shimer still finds itself in this position: that we're always having to scramble for our very existence, that things never seem to get better, at least not for very long. I know that all the postings on this and other sites, different though they might be, come from a common perspective, which is that those writing them care enough about Shimer to weigh in on this, express concern, and see how other Shimerians are thinking and feeling. That's great, and I take heart from it. I just wish we could figure out how to translate all that energy into a more viable future for Shimer.
Thanks for listening, and caring.