Friday, April 21, 2006

News from Shimer

What News from Shimer College

Thanks to Sara Davilla for the invitation to post some updates for those of you who follow this blog. I’ll try to be brief but informative – and certainly invite those with additional questions to ask away. The Faculty and Administrative Staff have made a commitment (to ourselves and to the greater Shimer community) to strive for transparency throughout the process. One would certainly be forgiven for thinking otherwise given the poor communications at the outset - but it was tough and we didn't handle if very well, partly because we had no experience in such matters. Aside from missteps at the original annoucement I think you’ll find we’ve been pretty successful.

As soon as the Board voted to expand Shimer’s Weekday Program to Chicago, our community began to create a carefully structured project plan. We collected granular concerns from students, faculty, staff, alums, and notes from firesides, Assembly meetings, and general brainstorming sessions. The resulting several hundred pieces of information were consolidated into a project plan designed to facilitate Shimer’s meeting deadlines, addressing concerns, and balancing the workload amongst ourselves in a fashion that would prevent as much disruption as possible to our spring semester academic schedule.

What sort of tasks would be part of such a plan? Items as complex as how to be certain our architect really understands Shimer’s community before she begins her designs to things as mundane as how to define “smoking areas” in the exterior spaces. Items as critical to maintaining the Shimer experience as how to preserve community dining, firesides, theatre, and Assembly to less weighty issues like “how will we keep the coffee flowing?” Each of these hundreds of tasks has a staff member assigned to it. While we may not be responsible for doing the work, we’re absolutely responsible for making sure it gets done. Essentially we’re attempting nothing more extraordinary than the type of cooperation and group achievement that we do so well at Shimer. We work together, deal with problems head on, share responsibility and work as a group towards a satisfactory outcome.

In terms of items completed, the lease and student services agreement was signed on Friday April 7th. These documents outline the framework of our physical presence on the Chicago campus. We’ve also provided that the same kinds of services that are already available to IIT students will be extended to Shimer students such as health care, gymnasium, library, u-pass CTA access, campus-wide computer labs, wireless networks, printing, etc. Negotiations are always energetic – Shimer won some points and conceded some points. In the end we’ve a good workable understanding of our mutual obligations and freedoms over the term of the lease.

Construction crews have been working pretty much non-stop since March (it was one of IIT’s good-faith gestures that they began building to Shimer’s specifications long before the lease was signed or any construction dollars changed hands). All windows are being removed and replaced, sprinklers installed, and the entire site prepared for decorating in mid-June. Barring any unforeseen delays it would seem we are on track for an August 1st move-in date. Final color samples for paint and carpeting should be available for community comment next week. We can make a copy of the floor-plan available on request. Some of the Shimer-specific details we’ve designed include removal of most of the West side interior walls to create a large open free-form lounge, removing walls to create “double-wide” classroom spaces, and consolidating several large rooms into a single multi-purpose enclosed space on the East side which will serve for film screenings, Assembly, lectures and some performances.

Exterior planning is less able to be customized, but we’ve been given some leeway in this regard. Stuart Patterson will work with some students on this outside space. There seems to be some misconception of the campus as a concrete urban strip – but as we hope you’ll find when you visit, Mies worked directly with famous Chicago landscape architect Alfred Caldwell (The Lily Pool in Lincoln Park, The Peace Garden at Irving Park Rd.) to create vast green areas surrounded by open-plan buildings. We’ll do our best to bring the Shimer touch!

Shimer Faculty and Staff continue to build relationships with our counterparts at IIT. These contacts have been overwhelmingly positive: not just from the standpoint of being cooperative with one another, but we sense a real excitement and enthusiasm about Shimer’s presence this fall. This was especially evident at an IIT – Shimer summit meeting held in March and hosted by IIT when almost 35 staff from both institutions had a working lunch to focus goals and clarify open issues.

Wes and Noah have created a computer kiosk in Admissions with a virtual tour of the IIT campus and the new Shimer space.

Noah and Lance are developing programs to build and maintain Shimer community in Chicago. There’s some talk of a joint social event sometime this spring and we’re still planning to organize a larger field-trip event to include a tour of the campus, the space under construction, a meal in the commons, and a cultural event of some type in Chicago before returning to Waukegan.

Don Moon has been working his way through the weekday student body with individually scheduled meetings to assess student feelings, assist in planning, and generally be a sounding board for community sentiment. He’s found great excitement, occasional trepidation, but only one student who has reported she won’t be returning next year – her reason being non-IIT related. Students and staff are all singularly focused on maintaining community and intimacy as well as academic integrity.

APC, the Faculty, and Dean Barbara Stone have worked out a new weekly class schedule grid that embeds a Tuesday community lunch which segues into a completely class-free Tuesday afternoon. This is set aside as community time for activities, performances, lectures, or (perhaps most important) just hanging around together before heading outside for Frisbee. The rearrangement of the week did require the sacrifice of “no-class-Wednesday” but most students seem to feel that we’ve gained more than we’ve lost in that regard.

Now that our lease is signed and more specifics have become clear, you should be seeing a fresh copy of Symposium in your mail in the next few weeks and increasing communication from the Development Office. Until then, please continue to show the amazing support and care for Shimer’s future that you’ve exhibited on this website and when you’ve concerns, we’ll do our best to answer them.

There have been questions here regarding final celebrations and “farewells” to Waukegan.

The date for Solidarity Day has been erroneously reported here and should be corrected to Saturday May 13th. As always, everyone is encouraged to attend the events…the only restriction is with regard to Solidarity Night at the North Avenue Dormitory, the Dean of Students asks that”any non-student must be with a specific host who is responsible for the guest's behavior”.

Shimer’s final Waukegan Commencement is Saturday May 20th. Watch the website for more information.


Saradevil said...

This may seem like an incredibly stupid question, but what about the tables? What about the octagonal tables?

Marc Hoffman said...

The tables were the number one design requirement for the new space. Everything else had to flow from designing classrooms that were large enough for our Octagons. We learned quickly from our architect that they are a difficult shape to plan around as they swallow up so much space from the center of the room. That’s the reason for the double-wide classrooms.

Saradevil said...

If you can send a copy of the plans they can be hosted for others to see. I'd like to see them.