Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Shimer College Fact Check: The Odd Lies of Joe Bast, Volume I

Heartland Institute president Joe Bast is among the many trustees with no prior ties to Shimer College who recently joined the Shimer board while enjoying the undisclosed backing of Barre Seid. Since joining the Board, Mr Bast has become an ardent member of absentee president Thomas Lindsay's political wrecking crew. As one friend of the college recently said, "He runs a zombie think tank; why not a zombie college?"

In addition to his fondness for zombie philanthropy, it seems that somewhere in his rise to wealth, fame and Trusteeship, Mr Bast lost the ability to tell the truth.
Today we begin what we fear will have to be a very long-running feature on Mr Bast's peculiar Shimer-related lies and distortions. Our first text is "Size Matters" by Jay Schalin, a Pope Center article published in October 2009 that cites Mr Bast as its sole source for information about Shimer College. The only falsehood not directly linked to Bast's name is also the most innocent:

Almost Harmlessly False: "It was founded as a women’s college in Mount Carroll, Illinois, during the 19th century. "

As even a casual student of Shimer history knows, Shimer was founded as a coeducational seminary in 1853. It became a women's seminary only 13 years later, under space constraints. For a reasonably accurate portrayal of the school's first 135 years, the interested reader is referred to the classic article "Big Ideas" by Harold Henderson. As noted above, it is possible that this error is simply a mistake on Mr Schalin's part, and not directly attributable to Mr Bast.

Just False: "At one point, Bast said enrollment dropped to less than 50 students. However, a subsequent move to the campus of Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago appears to have stabilized the school, and enrollment is now back up to 106. "

Enrollment was well over 100 in the late 1990s, when Shimer was still in Waukegan. Whatever the other merits of the move to IIT, it cannot be said to have had much positive impact on enrollment thus far.

Stupefyingly False: "Bast said the Board of Trustees hope to get it back up to 300 to 400 students, which they consider optimal size for a Great Books college (he added that the faculty and students would rather to keep it at its present size)."

This insult alone should be enough to wipe out any possibility that this man is operating in good faith. It boggles the mind that Bast could even imagine that anyone in the community, let alone a majority, does not want Shimer to grow to a healthy and sustainable size. There have been plans for a swift return to 300-500 students since at least the early 1980s. Thus far, every such plan has fallen maddeningly short. And thus far, there is little reason to believe that the absentee efforts of Thomas Lindsay will fare any better. Early indications are that recruiting for the
coming year is flat or down. It would seem that putting our school's curriculum and faculty to the torch may not have been the best recruiting tool after all. Who could have foreseen that?

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