Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Letters From the Board Read at Assembly

The following messages were sent to Albert Fernandez, Speaker of the Assembly, in advance of last Sunday's Assembly with requests that they be read at the meeting.

NB: As one Trustee present at the meeting made clear: these emails do not represent the Board's opinion; they are the opinions of the named individual Trustees.


Dear Albert,

I understand that the Shimer Assembly will meet tomorrow afternoon to consider the Collegeís governance. Because it will not be possible for me to attend the meeting, I would be most grateful if you would read aloud the brief remarks on the subject that Iíve written below, at the earliest appropriate point in the discussion, so that they may become a formal part of the Assemblyís record. Thank you very much.


Michael McDonald

Dear Colleagues,

I write as a member of the Shimer Board of Trustees to express my dismay that the Shimer Assembly is meeting today apparently to re-open--yet again--the matter of the Collegeís governance. Indeed, I understand that certain members of the Assembly may even plan to introduce measures to reinstitute the participatory model of decision-making that is no longer in effect and that the Board rightly discarded eighteen months ago because of its deleterious effect upon the Collegeís academic, administrative and financial management. I would hope this is not the case; but if it is, I am genuinely amazed.

As you are well aware, Board of Trustee voted overwhelmingly one month ago to reaffirm the May 2008 changes to the By-Laws that ended the previous, dysfunctional mode of governance at Shimer. That should have settled the matter. And yet some among the faculty and staff seem bent on willfully misunderstanding, and obscuring to the Shimer community, what occurred at those meetings. Their obstinate refusal to accept those decisions will only result in continuing student confusion and demoralization. The Collegeís survival depended on enacting the May 2008 By-law changes and the Board acted wisely in making them. It is time to move on.


Michael McDonald

From: Franck, Matthew J
Sent: Saturday, November 14, 2009 8:46 PM

Dear Albert,

I so wish that I could be there tomorrow for the College Assembly with Shimer's faculty and students, but I'm afraid it's impossible. This is an important moment in the College's history. As you'll recall, at the October board meeting, an important resolution was passed, clarifying the respective roles of the Assembly and the College's President in making certain pivotal decisions that set the College's direction. While equivocal and ambiguous language remains in the Bylaws regarding "consultation" by the President with the Assembly in making personnel decisions, those same Bylaws since the spring of 2008 have unequivocally and unambiguously affirmed the "authority" of the President to make those decisions according to his own untrammeled judgment. Since you are one of the College board members representing the faculty, I trust you will convey the message of the board's confirmation of these internal governance principles to the Assembly tomorrow in your capacity as Speaker. It is never pleasant to be the bearer of a decision that went otherwise than we could have wished (as I know all too well as a faculty member and department chairman myself), but sometimes it is our duty to speak for an authoritative institutional decision even though it would not have been our choice had it been our own decision to make. I know that you will dutifully comport yourself as the Speaker of the Assembly tomorrow in clarifying this matter, as the board majority decided it, at tomorrow's Assembly meeting. I would be very much in your debt if you could read this message to our colleagues and students in the Assembly, and carry my warm greetings to them all. Many thanks.

Matt Franck

From: Carson L Holloway
Sent: Saturday, November 14, 2009 9:39 PM
Subject: Shimer Assembly

Professor Albert Fernandez
Speaker of the Assembly
Shimer College

Dear Professor Fernandez,

I regret that I am unable to attend the meeting of the Shimer Assembly scheduled for November 15. I would be most grateful, however, if you could read the following remarks to the Assembly during its meeting:

I understand that there are continued efforts among some Shimer faculty and staff to contend for, and to propagate among the students, an understanding of College governance that is contrary to the plain meaning of the By-Laws, as revised in May of 2008, and to the Board of Trustees resolution of October 15, 2009. I understand the strong commitment that some may hold for a mode of self-governance to which they were long accustomed. Nevertheless, I think it must be admitted that if Shimer College had long operated under such governance, it is equally true that it had also only barely survived under such governance, and that its continued existence under such governance was gravely questionable. The proven dysfunctionality of the old governance structure was precisely why the Board of Trustees voted in 2008 to amend the By-Laws.

I think that further agitation of this question by faculty and staff is not only useless but a positive detriment to the institution. Quite apart from the fact that an institution so continually roiled by such political skirmishing will have a difficult time attracting students and therefore will imperil its own future survival, such behavior harms the College at its heart right now. Shimer's core mission is to provide students with a liberal education through the study of the great books. The fulfillment of this mission is the greatest good that Shimer can offer to its students and, through them, to the community at large. The pursuit of this education is not only the faculty and students' primary responsibility, it is also the most humane and enriching use of their time and energy, which they should jealously guard for this purpose above all. Time for study and thought is short and therefore precious, and it should not be wasted in meddling with the efforts of the College administration, whose only aim is to preserve and enhance the environment in which such study can take place.

I myself learn about and teach the great books at an institution of higher learning, and I try to resist all administrative impositions on my time, because they take me away from my primary work. I willingly consent to particpate in governance, however, when I see that such service can enable others to pursue the kind of studies to which I want to dedicate most of my own time. That is precisely why I agreed to be on the Shimer Board of Trustees. Shimer is almost unique in its commitment to great books education. For that reason it deserves to be saved and to prosper. Further political action on the part of faculty and staff does not help to support the extension of Shimer's mission into the future, and it in fact distracts from that mission in the present. Accordingly, I urge everyone to accept the governance structure that the Board of Trustees has adopted, to pursue their intellectual endeavors will all possible vigor, and to support President Lindsay in his efforts to build up the College.

Thank you for your attention and for your commitment to Shimer.

Carson Holloway

Carson Holloway
Associate Professor of Political Science
275 Arts and Sciences Hall
University of Nebraska at Omaha


From: Bob Chitester
Sent: Sunday, November 15, 2009 11:38 AM
To: 'Albert Fernandez'
Subject: November 15 Assembly meeting


I'm still trying to get acquainted with how Shimer is organized, but if I'm correct as Speaker of the Assembly, you will "chair" tomorrow's meeting. I also understand the Assembly will consider a "resolution(s)" with regard to Shimer College Governance.

Since I cannot attend, but feel students and faculty should know the position of Trustees, would you please be so kind as to read this statement into the record of the meeting.

"It was my understanding when I agreed to serve as a Trustee, that I was being asked to help restore Shimer College to its standing as an exemplar of the "Great Books" model of higher education. At the last Trustees' meeting questions were raised about the respective role of the Trustees, the President, the Faculty and the Students. I was surprised to learn that despite the recent By-Laws change there was still a perception that governance of the College was a communal and consensual process. That is not what I understand, that is not what the Trustees affirmed at our last meeting and that is not how any great institution of higher learning that I am aware of is organized. If Shimer College is to rise to prominence as a Great Books college such concepts must to set aside and the Trustees have so voted."


Bob Chitester

Advocating personal, economic, and political freedom through state-of-the-art media.

Dear Albert,
I am in the uncharacteristic position of having to register a concern about something with which I am only recently acquainted. But after receiving the Assembly agenda for this afternoon the other day, I feel I must so I send this hurried comment to you now with the request that in my regrettable but unavoidable absence from the Assembly today, you will read this note to the Assembly in my stead.

It seems clear to me that faculty and students at Shimer are still intent on challenging the changes to the by-laws made by the board last year and affirmed in our October 2009 meeting. It is disheartening to see from todayís Assembly agenda that the issue is still considered, by some, to be a matter of discussion and, furthermore, to see that this ìdiscussionî continues to foster a culture of dissension at the college.

The value of the way that the Shimer community felt called upon to support and govern itself those years ago when the college was at risk of closing is not in question. Noble sacrifices kept the college from extinction; like a monastery in the middle ages, it was preserved for the future. But in spite of the high regard with which some still hold this manner of governing, the self-governance that developed then was a response to a crisis and was not a re-founding of the nature of the institution. The college needs to move out of what amounts now to an unnecessary mode of self-defense if it is to recall its true founding as a Great Books, liberal arts college. No organism or institution of any kind can thrive if it remains in one stage of being, and Shimer must grow into its future by growing beyond this form of governance which has clearly become a dysfunction of the community rather than a function of the college.

I urge the Shimer community to work together to grow into this future. Although familiar ways and notions must be altered nowóand this is always painful to doóthe changes that have been made by the board are going to secure the true future of the college, not cause its demise.

It may seem disingenuous, here, for me to say thank you for your dedication to Shimer, but I do so, nonetheless. It was your diligent oversight that kept Shimer safe for a future. I ask you all now to let that future begin.

With sincere regard,

Claudia Allums, Ph.D.
Associate Director
The Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture
2719 Routh Street
Dallas, Texas 75201

Dear Albert,

I have received the agenda for tomorrowís Assembly meeting and am deeply disturbed by it.

The lengthy deliberations last year which resulted in serious revisions of the Shimer bylaws, left no room for ambiguity as to the implications of the revisions.

Without these changes I do not believe that Shimer would be alive today. They were aimed at making a dysfunctional and wasteful management scheme more effective. They were necessary to raise the funds that are still keeping Shimer alive. The main appeal of Shimer to donors is the Great Books curriculum and the obvious excellence of the Shimer classroom experience. It is not the Shimer governance that evolved in Waukeegan.

The Assembly agenda clearly indicates that the changes in the bylaws were not accepted by some of the faculty and are being misrepresented to the rest of the Shimer community. Fifty years ago I watched Shimer self-destruct over a similar, and to my mind totally unnecessary, upheaval.

As a Shimer alumnus and lover of the Great Books ideal, and also as Shimerís second largest financial supporter, I think that the obvious disaffection of some members of the community is imperiling Shimerís future and our ability to raise the funds necessary to keep the doors open. Like me, Shimerís largest supporter is a graduate of the Hutchins Great Books curriculum. We and other supporters do what we do to advance the educational ideal for which Shimer uniquely stands, and to see Shimer survive and prosper. We expect, in return for our support, that the rest of the community will do its job, i.e. for the teachers to teach, the students to learn, and the managers to manage.

If the Shimer community is going to waste its time and resources on unproductive, wasteful, and destructive internal bickering, you have a duty to let us know. Please read this to the Assembly.
With highest personal regard for you and for all you have done and continue to do for Shimer.

Patrick Parker

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