Monday, September 17, 2007

Mini Globe and President

Okay, I’ll fill you in on as many interesting happenings at Shimer that I can muster before I go to sleep…cool things going on at Shimer…well, my favorite “cool” thing is (literally) the miniature “Cool Globe” that Shimer students, faculty, and staff designed and created to increase global warming awareness. The following text is from the e-newsletter I sent out today…

“Shimer has been awarded one of 10-20 “Mini Cool Globes” in response to our submission of the artistic vision “Read the Earth: Great Books and Great Art Supporting Environmental Stewardship.” Shimer students, faculty, and staff have covered the oceans of this miniature globe with quotes about the environment from influential texts, including selections from Maria Montessori, Albert Einstein, Pindar, Darwin, Heraclitus, Lao Tze, Aristotle, and Alice Walker. The continents feature naturalistic images including those of Leonardo DaVinci, Carl Linnaeus, Maria Sibylla Merian, and the Cave of Lascaux.

Shimer’s mini-globe will be auctioned along with larger globes on October 5th at the Auditorium Theatre, at an event hosted by activist/comedian Al Franken. Tickets for the auction are $75.00 (you can also bid online – for general information about the auction, visit We would like a Shimer alum to win the globe at auction, so if you are interested in bidding, please contact either Stuart Patterson ( or Julia Mossbridge ( to receive a free ticket…first come, first serve, but serious bidders only, please!”

The next cool thing occurring to me is that, with a remarkably quick turnaround time, Shimer has named Ron Champagne the Interim President. He has worked closely with Shimer in his past role as Vice President of Development at Roosevelt University, and is President Emeritus at St. Xavier. He’s also a likeable, respectful, kind, responsible, well-read and intelligent guy, at least in my dealings with him so far. Here are some words from the e-newsletter on Ron…

“Shimer’s President Emeritus Don Moon tells us, ‘As President during the Roosevelt negotiations, I met with Ron and got to know him. More importantly, he got to know Shimer and its mission, which he and the then president of Roosevelt held in high regard. I have confidence that Ron Champagne will provide excellent leadership for the College during the coming year.’

Shimer’s Academic Dean David Shiner agrees, adding ‘The transition is being managed at the Board level by Chair Chris Nelson, the President of another Great Books college. Like Ron Champagne, he is a longtime friend of Shimer. Both Ron and Chris should be stable, positive forces at Shimer while we search for the next Shimer President during the coming year.’”

…Now I have to sleep…my kid is sick and I’m afraid I don’t feel altogether vibrantly healthy…more on the Marshall Field donation, The New Digs at 3424, Fall Lecture Series, etc. later. By the way, if you want this kind of news more regularly (albeit a bit more formally), please sign up for the e-newsletter at . I send one out around the 15th of every month, and there’s no way your email address will be traded/sold/packaged/mutilated/turned into an electronic widget of any kind, at least as far as I can control such things.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Overwhelmed with options...what would be interesting?

Hi Shimerians,

I'm physically new at Shimer, but philosophically old. My parents, aunts, uncles, step-parents, graduate advisor, and good friends all either attended Shimer or work here. I, on the other hand, went to Oberlin because my parents told me they feared Shimer would go bankrupt before I graduated.

Wrong, of course...and that's part of why I'm here. I want to become a full-time natural sciences professor/facilitator/teacher/whatever at Shimer, but there isn't enough money to pay for a new faculty hire. So I'm here as a marketing/PR consultant to get the word out about Shimer...and I'm here as an adjunct faculty member to get a sense of what it means to profess/facilitate/teach at Shimer.

Sara invited me to blog because, in my role as PR/marketing person, I have a sense of the goings-on here and I'd like alums to know about them. We've got an email newsletter and of course the Symposium paper thing...but a lot of folks don't read those. SO...I have a lot to share...some amazing cool stuff happening in this place that both is and isn't Shimer (I loved that post). I'm overwhelmed with ideas about what to share, so I'm taking you want to hear about Shimer's entry into the mini-cool globe project (, the guerrilla marketing effort underway this summer, plans to create a Crucible-like play with actual readings from the McCarthy era, the new Shimer viewbook, Marshall Field donation of Art Institute memberships to Shimer students, the IIT/Shimer academic cross-fertilization experiment...something else I'm forgetting to mention?

If so, post here or (better) send an email to me at j.mossbridge at

Groove on Shimerians of many eras...


Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The Interim Prez

I'm responding to Sara's question about the Interim President. At least that's what I'm trying to do; I've never been too good with machines. Anyway, the plan is for Ron C (the Interim President) to be around for about a year. We're planning to begin a search for a "permanent" President soon. The Presidential Search Committee consists of 1/2 Assembly members and 1/2 Board members. The Assembly will elect its members this Sunday, and the Board will elect theirs when it meets at Shimer next month. A search like this takes about 8 months (at least the last one did), so allowing for slop of various sorts we should have the new person in tow by next summer or thereabouts. Of course, this is Shimer, where things of this sort don't run on schedule all that often, so take this with several grains of salt.

In other news: how do you like my picture? Lots more gray hair, eh? The student with whom I'm speaking in the photo is Meg Nelson, whose mother was a Shimer student when I arrived all those years and two campuses ago. Time shows no mercy.

Best to all,
David Shiner

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

First Community Lunch - year two

We also thought you might like to see some pictures from the Community Lunch/Picnic last week. It was a great start to the semester.

COSMOS: Interim President Announcement

As members of this blog you've shown an interest in
Shimer College and its future in Chicago.
Many of you are still part of the COSMOS
mailing list but some are not.

We'd like to share with you some information which
was sent out to the entire internal community.

An official press release will be forthcoming in
the next day or so.
Thanks, as always, for your interest in the success
of the College in our new home.


Dear Shimer Community:

This e-mail brings exciting news regarding our College's
search for an interim President occasioned upon Bill Rice's
departure in mid-September. As you know the Board of
Trustees and representatives of Shimer Faculty and
Staff spent much of the past month interviewing and
evaluating prospective candidates. Our goal has been to
provide Shimer with the best possible leadership and
continuity of fund-raising efforts during the upcoming
Presidential search. The Board of Trustees joins with
our Faculty and Staff to thank the College community for
its characteristic good will and support for a decision
that needed to be made quickly. While our Assembly will not
meet for another week we trust that all members of the
community understand the power of their voice in College
affairs and will feel motivated to become involved in the
search for a permanent President.

John Meech of Shimer's Advancement Office will be responsible
for notifications to the press, alumni and our accrediting
bodies and will begin that task tomorrow morning. While the
following information is, therefore, not yet generally known
we wanted you of the Shimer Community to be the first to hear.
None of this is secret and you may certainly feel free to
share the news with your friends and family. Please refer
any request for official statements directly to John.

This Thursday, September 6, the Shimer community will
welcome Ronald O.Champagne as the next President of Shimer
College. Ron will serve as interim President while the Board
of Trustees and the Assembly undertake the presidential search

Ron is President Emeritus of Saint Xavier University in
Chicago where he served from 1982 to 1994. At Saint Xavier,
Ron led a ten year program of expansion that in 1992
culminated in the institution's transformation from a
college to a university. During his tenure Ron also
strengthened Saint Xavier's distinguished Board of Trustees
and implemented a three-year faculty compensation program that
yielded substantially increased faculty compensation.

Since departing Saint Xavier in 1994, Ron has held senior
development positions at two prominent Chicago institutions:
He was Senior Vice President for Development at the National
Alzheimer's Association, and Vice President for Development
at Roosevelt University. During his career at the Alzheimer's
Association, Ron's team raised $238 million, increasing yearly
receipts from $54 million to $66 million. At Roosevelt Ron
led a team of twenty-eight people who raised funds for two
campuses in Chicago and Schaumburg. Ron organized and led a
successful campaign to raise $6.5 million for the Roosevelt
University scholarship fund, personally securing major
scholarship gifts including a $2 million gift from the Pepsi
Corporation. In the 1990s Ron played a key role in negotiations between
Shimer College and Roosevelt University concerning
a possible affiliation.

Ron earned the Ph.D. from Fordham University, New York, in 1973 after
receiving his M.A. from Catholic University, Washington, D.C., and his B.A.
from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh.

Ron has served as an Academic Dean at Salem College in Salem, West Virginia;
as a Professor of Mathematics at Saint Xavier University and Salem College;
and as a Professor of Philosophy of Science at Roosevelt University. In the
1970s Ron co-founded the Manhattanville Advanced Studies Program, a highly
innovative college-level program for 170 gifted junior and senior high
school students.

To quote Chris Nelson, President of St. John's College and Acting Chair of
the Shimer Board of Trustees, "Ron Champagne brings an extraordinary wealth
of experience to the position. He has known Shimer and its leadership for
nearly two decades. He has extensive presidential and fundraising
experience, and knows Chicago well, having made it his home for years. We
are incredibly fortunate to have a person of this caliber for our president,
while we undertake the process of searching for a permanent president. This
should be an energizing year for the college."

On the Road to Shimer

I didn't want to bump the prime news but I wanted to share. ~S

The day prior was spent on and in Lake Michigan on the Indiana side. This was followed by the typically early wake up and some more sleeping and laying about and then a brunch-ish breakfast. On the drive up to Chicago, returning to the fabulous Ms. Skimmel's, Sam turned and asked "do you have anything you want to do on the South Side?"

There are lots of questions that one might enjoy hearing asked about Chicago. "Want to go drinking?" "Want to go eat?" "Want to go shopping?" "Want to go to the lake?" "Want to go listen to some music?" "Want to hit Evanston?" "Want to drive LSD?" "Want to go to a Museum?" "Want to go to a game?" "Want to go to boys town?" "Want to hit Belmont?" "Want to go to the Parthenon?" "Want to hit the aquarium?" "Want to go to a midnight marathon of Kubrick movies at the Music Box?" These are all perfectly acceptable questions to ask someone when you are heading in or out of Chicago. Asking "Anything you want to do on the South Side?" is just one of those question that would make any salted Chicagoan give you the look that says "'Da fuck?"

I'm not saying that there aren't some interesting things on the South Side of Chicago. Hyde Park is on the South Side of Chicago and aside from the Seminary Co-op you have some fabulous places to eat. The Dixie Kitchen, for one and there is that Jamaican place that does the jerk food name of which escapes me. And Hyde Park is pretty. It's a very pretty little part of Chicago all tucked around the UIC. Of course, you don't really want to be caught on the south side in the ten block radius that surrounds Hyde Park, Hyde Park being an island of suburban decadence nestled in the dark underbelly of Chicago.

And while I should have just given the "Da fuck?" look. I instead, asked a question.

"Where are we, again?" I had not been paying attention.

"Stony Island, just past 95th."


There is thinking.

">We could go to Shimer."

There are many a time I have often dreamt of going to Shimer, but rarely would I have thought to utter a response to a question like "Anything you want to do on the south side?" with the answer "We could go to Shimer."

But I did.

And we did.

Sam drove and we looked for signs for the IIT campus where our school had relocated. No longer really our school, I felt. More The School, the Shimer of my dreams now being nothing more then a collection of random memories for buildings that are occupied by people I will never meet. My school is gone, replaced instead by The School which has been relocated to somewhere on the South Side of Chicago. And now in a rented car, with a big orange dog, I was traveling to visit The School and I was not really sure why.

Curiosity more than anything else, perhaps. A confirmation of my fears. A longing. A chance to see something that had been missed. The sense of belonging to something again, even if it wasn't really mine. Shimer. Shimer. I dream a dream of Shimer.

It took a few minutes and some searching but signs were located, a general direction established, and a parking lot was found. The car was parked and the boy, the dog, and the girl got out and crossed the street to head towards a neatly clipped and manicured lawn with a few sprawling trees on a hot summer day. This was Shimer.

My brain railed against it.

This was not Shimer.

And yet, this was Shimer.

We walked together to the front entrance only to find it closed, so we turned down some sidewalks and found a path leading around to the back of the building, where we saw a sign. Shimer College. The door was propped open with a wooden doorstop. And for some reason it screamed to me that this was perfectly Shimerian. We walked through the door, our little ménage a troupe and found that the first thing to catch our eye was a bookshelf. "Take a book." Being that we are in fact true to our calling we stopped and looked through every title on that shelf to find what that might appeal. I picked up a tome on Education and Capitalism and regretted having not brought a book with me to leave. We walked in and found at the front desk a very attractive young girl full of piercings and I found this very comforting. It settled my heart for some reason that there would be some girl working admissions who reminded me of all the pierced out lovelies of my own Shimer generation. She was an amalgamation of myself, and Caila, and Psyche, and Layla, and Natalie (a little of Jason Stahl, but in a feminine sort of way) and a dozen others I could name. She had that sense about her and I recognized it. A feeling, a subtle shift in attitude, an extenuation of grace: Shimerain.

We asked for catalogs but the new ones were not available. She said hello to us, to the dog. We asked if we could go up. "Visiting Alums. Just want to see."

"Sure, sure. There's an elevator around the corner."

"Can we take the dog? He's also an alum."

"I don't think it's a problem." So the three of us found the elevator around the corner and went up to the second floor were Shimer, all the buildings collapsed into a small space, is now housed. The doors opened on a library. And this was somehow comforting. My heart was beating fast; thrumming pounding. Because as strange as this place was, as new as I knew it to be, it was in some small way still a part of myself. And that part of me that is full of Shimer and that will never be able to let Shimer, the education, the people, go; that part of me was called by this place. And that part of me responded to it like a home, an old friend.

The floor was cool and dark, most of the lights were off. Some of the doors were opened but most were locked. We walked through silently. Not speaking, just taking it in. There was a lounge called Cinderella and in the lounge there was a painting I recognized. I used to set up coffee service under that painting. It hung in Prairie House lounge, the tree in a field of muted colors. I talked under that painting. I read Hobbes under that painting. I bumped into Ariella (the littlest Amazon) one night doing a mailing for no readily apparent reason under that painting. She talked to me about getting paper cuts on her tongue. I'd once attended a breakfast where Steve blasted Jonathan Rickman as he served. I'd sat in this very room on many an after-hours night alone playing piano to ease my heart; to make me feel alive. It was not surrounded by the place I remembered, but somehow it felt right. It was a piece of my past and it pulled this place together and made it Shimer.

A few doors were open to classrooms so we let ourselves in. The classrooms were named names that brought just as much to my mind as the paintings. There was Infinity classroom where I drank cognac with my Hum 2 class lead by Sklar while reading The Brother's K. Wolf and Mas got wasted during the class. In the end Wolf walked singing at the top of his lungs towards the train to make sure Mas got on to Chicago where he needed to be.

There was Pi (or was it radical 2), you know the room at the top of the stairs on the right. Where the sound system was, a room where I had discussions with Nancy Rose and where David Shiner got so pissed after a day of silence while discussing the Iliad in IS 5 that he actually walked out on us. I can't really blame him for that as the class was truly abysmal that day. I blame the grayness of winter and the fact that at least seven out of twelve people had not done the reading. I do admit though that at the end of the course I found the Iliad was by far a much more engaging read then the Odyssey and have become quite enamored with it.

I was looking into rooms that were not the classrooms I attended, not the rooms with the high vaulted ceilings, the explosive halogen lamps burning last years dead mosquitoes; rooms thick with ancient smoke that no manner of non-smoking policy would ever remove; rooms with memories of a dozen other Shimerians before me who could argue that this place was there's; it wasn't 438, it wasn't Hutchins, but it was somehow still Shimer and it still felt like home. The octagonal tables finished where the paintings left off and I stroked the side of one and thought of some names and smiled to think these tables were still here.

It wasn't my Shimer.

There was no Shimer-Henge. There was no quad. There were no crappy pea gravel paths to cut a swath through the middle and connect buildings. There would be no trudging through the snow to make classes from one place to another. There was no gym basement to play pool in. There was no coffee shop to move from building to building to building. But there was a Young Chang piano that I had played till my fingers bled. There were pictures I remember staring at when my attention wavered after a night of too much reading and too little sleep. There were names that were familiar. There was Shimer. And it is Shimer. We walked through quiet, almost reverent, alone and opening doors and peaking in to see what we could see. A thousand ghosts and memories in every corner of this building that I had never been in before; all of it telling me that this was still Shimer.

It is still Shimer.

Of all the people who were angry about the move, and of the most stubborn, I did not think I could find anything redeeming in this place. So I made a pilgrimage to The School to be angry and to fuel my distaste and my rage. And it didn't happen.

It's not the same. I won't try to argue that it is. It's merely Shimer. Seeing it there whole and intact stole all my hatred from me. It's still Shimer.

The boy, the dog, and I walked down the stairs to find the Nubian pierced goddess of Admissions who was working on a Saturday. We asked for bookmarks and she gave us a stack; bookmarks to be used to promote Shimer, to keep it alive, to put new people and new memories into this new building. I want to keep it alive for the most selfish reason of all, because knowing it is there in some incarnation is easier then letting it go.

The journey the rest of the way north was spent silent for a while. Both of us lost in thoughts of our own Shimer, a little world that had been created there. Then came Skimmel's and coffee and the discussion of what we can do. "Anything you want to do on the South Side?" Yeah, yeah, there is.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Repost: Rice is waving Adieu

This is a repost from the Chicago Reader article of today.

So Long, Shimer

President William Craig Rice engineered Shimer College’s controversial move to the IIT campus, but he’s not hanging around to see how it works out.

August 31, 2007

When I talked with Shimer College president William Craig Rice earlier this summer about how the venerable little school was doing after its first year as a tenant on the IIT campus, he said he was looking forward to the fall of 2008. Last August, at Rice’s urging, Shimer made a controversial move from its cozy cluster of vintage buildings (all but one homes) in Waukegan to the stern Miesian campus on the south side. It’s now a radical pocket tucked into the larger school—its beloved campus traded for the second floor and a main-floor entry at 3424 S. State, in one of IIT’s beige bunkers. Shimer, where students read and talk their way through a Great Books curriculum, made the move in an effort to goose enrollment, which Rice says has been stuck at about 100 for the last 15 years or so.

But instead of bumping up last year the Shimer student body dropped 25 percent. And things weren’t looking any better for this year: Shimer—which accepts serious students without a high school diploma and charges about $22,000 for tuition—had signed up a grand total of 75 undergraduates. Rice said this small number must be transitional and pushed the date for the expected growth spurt ahead to the 2008-’09 school year. Then, last week, just before the start of the fall term, he announced that he’ll be splitting in September to take a job with the National Endowment for the Humanities.

That news left the Shimer board, which he’d clued in two weeks earlier, scrambling for a replacement. According to academic dean David Shiner, no one at the school is positioned to step in. “We don’t have any vice presidents, and this close to the start of the term our [teaching and administrative] lineup’s set.” Shiner says the board wanted a quick fix—an interim president who could fill the gap for a year while a more leisurely search for a permanent hire could be conducted. They turned to the Registry for College and University Presidents for help, which has a roster of mostly retired university executives. (At press time, negotiations were under way.)

But a mere placeholder president could be dangerous at such a delicate juncture. And Shimer’s such an odd duck that it’s unlikely the Registry’s candidates would have had experience anyplace comparable. Shimer’s history, recounted in a 1988 Reader story by Harold Henderson, goes like this: Founded in 1853 as the Mount Carroll Seminary, it was purchased two years later by its head, Frances Wood. It changed to a women’s school in 1866, then 30 years later became the Frances Wood Shimer Academy of the University of Chicago—a traditional prep school and junior college for women, under the supervision of the U. of C. The biggest change came in 1950, when it was transformed into a true U. of C. outpost: a four-year coed college devoted to Robert Maynard Hutchins’s Great Books curriculum. The formal U. of C. connection was dropped just eight years later, but Shimer hung on to both the Great Books curriculum and an enhanced academic reputation. By the mid-1960s, with enrollment at more than 500, the school had taken on debt to expand its physical plant. Then—at the school’s apex—the faculty went to war with one another over issues too obscure to recall even 20 years later, when Henderson wrote. Enrollment began a long decline, and by the late 70s Shimer was bankrupt. In 1979 the Mount Carroll buildings were sold, and the small remaining faculty moved the school to Waukegan.

Money’s always been scarce. Henderson recounts how Wood allegedly handled a sizable school debt back in 1857: she married the creditor, Henry Shimer. Over the years the employees have made numerous sacrifices to keep the place going. For two decades, beginning at the time of the bankruptcy, the school had a single salary policy whereby the janitor—if there’d been one—would have been paid as much as the president. That policy began to erode when they brought in a CFO in 2001, but even today new teachers, no matter what their experience, start at the same salary, and almost all of the dozen faculty members also perform administrative functions. Professors also jump the usual boundaries to teach across the core curriculum of humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. The physical anchors for the program are the specially designed octagonal tables that were moved from Waukegan, where students in classes of no more than 12 gather to consider the primary documents of Western civilization starting with Plato. Shimer claims that by having students engage directly with the sources rather than predigested textbooks, it teaches not what to think but how to think.

It’s not surprising, then, that when Rice proposed the move a couple years ago, students and former students thought deeply about it. On a Shimer blog they debated whether the school would be able to keep its identity and sense of community when students were no longer living together on their own turf. They worried at length about what it would be like to be tenants on a big campus that some perceived as alien—cold and technocratic, in a possibly dangerous neighborhood. Shimer grad Sarah Kimmel, a corporate training consultant, says the worst fears haven’t materialized: “The community seems to be retaining its identity,” and “many of the people who had doubts are now hopeful” about the school’s future. She adds, however, that Rice’s departure is an unexpected disappointment: “We thought his commitment to the school was greater than that.” Rice was hired in 2004; previous president Don Moon, who’s still on the faculty, served 26 years.

Rice says he wasn’t “out looking for a job” when the NEH offered one he couldn’t refuse: he’ll be heading up its education division, overseeing grants to schools, colleges, and universities. (He says he’d have to recuse himself in regard to Shimer, but others surmise his new gig can’t be bad for the school.) All but one of the dozen Waukegan buildings have been sold (for a total of about $2 million); when the last one goes, the school will be free of long-term debt. Meanwhile, though a planned all-years reunion this month was canceled largely because of a disappointing response, fund-raising is booming, relatively speaking.

Rice says Shimer raised $1.2 million last year—a 400 percent increase over the average of the three preceding years. (According to other sources, the boost in donations was imperative because it’s more expensive to operate at IIT than it was in Waukegan.) The current budget is about $2.75 million. Rice says the move has also given Shimer a leg up on recruiting: its students now get access to IIT’s facilities and services and the option of registering for IIT classes, making it “the best of both” a Great Books school and a great technical institution. Even if they’re not yet storming the place, he says inquiries from prospective students have jumped. A Shimer spokesman says the school got an average of 500 inquiries a year in Waukegan, and has gotten about 2,000 already for 2008-’09. Rice is convinced that “the move is being vindicated.” He just won’t be around when the real evidence comes in.