Friday, March 12, 2010

Shimer College Fact Check: Wall Street Journal article

Here at SC&TF, we try not to give undue prominence to political hit pieces called in by Lindsay and his cronies. However, when a publication as prominent as The Wall Street Journal publishes a misleading, tendentious screed about the current events at Shimer, we believe it is necessary to respond. In what follows we address the more obviously false and misleading statements in the article. If you read that article, you will realize that the following list is far from complete. Please feel free to adapt, expand, and repost.

False: "The school's embattled president, Tom Lindsay, is facing ideological opposition from faculty and students. "
The opposition to Lindsay's mismanagement and abuse of power runs across the spectrum, including staff, students, and alumni of all political persuasions. Shimer's intellectually diverse faculty have been unanimous in condemning Lindsay's actions, which have included firing and threatening to fire anyone who stands in the path of his premeditated hostile takeover. [President Lindsay Threatens Faculty, They Firmly Declare Stance]

Opponents of Lindsay's actions also include many current and former Trustees, notably the distinguished former Chairman of the Board, Young Kim, who urged the community to support a vote of no confidence in Lindsay.

Misleading: 'The "family dispute" is over how to govern this great-books school.'
The problem is less the governance structure than what Lindsay and his cronies intend to do with it. Lindsay & Co. have already vandalized the school’s mission statement and threatened the jobs of staff and faculty. An analysis of Lindsay's speeches and writings indicates strongly that he, and presumably his backers, are also bent on reshaping the Shimer core curriculum according to their own political inclinations, trimming the diversity of ideas currently found there. The contempt that Lindsay & Company have demonstrated for dialogue and participation further suggests that Shimer's unique dialogical classes are also at risk. If we had any reason to believe that Lindsay and his cronies support the core ideals of Shimer, his arrogation of power would be less troubling -- but, unfortunately, there is absolutely no reason to believe this.

False: "Is Shimer a Greek-style polis, as many Shimerians believe?"
Shimer has not operated this way in many years. If there are any Shimerians who think otherwise – and perhaps there are – they are seriously confused. Shimer has operated for decades as a nonprofit corporation with a chief executive whose power is tempered by community and Board oversight. Unfortunately, Thomas Lindsay and his cronies on the board have been working to gut that oversight, eliminating the College’s long-standing tradition of accountability. This is bad management and an abuse of the public trust, and has been decried as such by Rev. Don Moon, who served as president of Shimer for 26 years and arguably deserves the greatest credit for keeping the school alive.

Misleading: "At the time, Shimer faculty, staff and students were eager for Mr. Lindsay to join their tiny school, which enrolls about 100 students, and lead it to happier times."

No doubt, hope springs eternal at Shimer, and we in the alum community dearly hoped that Lindsay's appointment would work out. But the very manner by which he became president raised very serious issues. Lindsay had actually been rejected in the first round of the presidential search process, in favor of other candidates with more pertinent experience. Although the finalists had been narrowed to two excellent candidates in May 2008, Lindsay was suddenly pushed forward by his backer Patrick Parker, who successfully intimidated other trustees with the threat that “anonymous” donor Barre Seid would not approve of these nominees – even though the finalists had real experience at the helm of small colleges, while Lindsay had no experience as a No. 1 executive at all. [May 2008 board minutes]

Misleading: “Enter Mr. Lindsay, charged by Shimer's board—which includes faculty and students—with securing the college's future. “
Unbeknownst to the community, a majority had already been secured on the board by proxies for wealthy industrialist Barre Seid. This fact was only discovered in December 2009, thanks to the diligence of a concerned alumnus. Thus, Tom Lindsay was selected by a board that was already out of the school’s control. [Who’s Buying Shimer?] Confirming the reality of a hostile takeover, this covertly-assembled majority, led by operative Patrick Parker, has maneuvered to maintain its control by blocking the nominations of reputable alumni. [Promulgates 2/2010, page 4]

Misleading: " Less than two years later,"
Actually, objections to Lindsay's abuse of power became widespread less than eight months into his tenure. [Promulgates 2/2010, page 8] Even now he has been in office for only slightly more than a year (he was installed in late January 2009). It is certainly true, however, that 8 months is less than 2 years.

False: 'many of the same people who once cheered Mr. Lindsay's arrival now denounce him as a "conservative menace,"'
"The Conservative Menace" is the sensationalistic title of a Chicago Reader exposé. Newspapers like the Reader do what they must. However, no member of the Shimer community has been heard to use this term. Shimer's problem is not with Lindsay's political leanings, whatever they may be, but with his evident contempt for the unique ethos and mission of the college. Lindsay is definitely a menace, but his political inclinations are only incidental to this.

Misleading: "He fired the director of admissions, without consulting the assembly."
It would have been very unusual for Tom to consult the Assembly, which has not deliberated on specific personnel issues for decades. His responsibility, however, was to consult with the Administrative Committee. This responsibility is specified in the Board bylaws. Not only did Lindsay refuse to discuss his firing of the skilled, successful, and recently-hired Director of Admissions, but both the Admissions Director’s firing and Lindsay's subsequent hiring of a political crony to replace her were done over the express objections of the Administrative Committee and the college faculty. [Promulgates 2/2010]

So yes, Lindsay didn’t consult the Assembly, nor would anyone have expected him to; the breach of procedure was much more profound.

False: "As for the claim that the president ignored the tradition of self-governance at Shimer, in 2008 the college's board itself determined that matters of personnel, among others, would rest with the president."
The Board's own bylaws, as amended in 2008, require that the president consult with the Administrative Committee. This cannot be said to have occurred in any meaningful sense. The Board's bylaws also specify that the Board has the power to overturn any personnel decision by the president. However, the Board, which has been covertly packed with people owing their allegiance and funding to Lindsay's backer Barre Seid, has consistently failed to exercise this oversight. [Board bylaws]

Misleading: "What seems to be irking faculty and students are the president's classically liberal politics, which are out of tune on a campus that invited ex-Weatherman Bill Ayers to be a speaker in 2008."
Shimer has always welcomed speakers from across the political spectrum. This tradition dates back at least to the early 1960s, when the president of the American Nazi Party was invited to speak on campus. [Big Ideas] I fear that Ms Smith’s latching onto this point speaks more about what she and other members of Lindsay's circle imagine “liberty” to be. In this regard it is worth noting that even Tom Lindsay defended Ayers' right to speak on campus.

False: "When Mr. Lindsay shared the statement with students and faculty as part of an intended consultation process, the words "liberty" and "liberal" exploded like a bomb."
In fact, the actual statement drafted by Lindsay was never shared with the community, and was not even disclosed to the Board until a few days before it was voted on. Instead, Lindsay disclosed what he claimed were "guideposts", and rejected any specific criticism on the grounds that these guideposts were not, in fact, a mission statement proposal. The problems with the so-called “mission statement” and the manner of its adopting are detailed in the resolution passed by the February 28th Assembly.

In closing, we believe it is prudent to mention that the WSJ appropriately classified the above-quoted piece as "Opinion," and that Emily Smith, who authored the piece, is not a
Wall Street Journal reporter. Ms Smith is instead a "fellow" at the "Collegiate Network" operated by the Weekly Standard. The Collegiate Network, like approximately half of Shimer's current Board, has benefited from the generosity of Barre Seid, the "anonymous donor". Much like the members of the Board, Ms Smith apparently did not consider it necessary to disclose this information.


Anonymous said...
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KevinKillion said...

The blog refers to "Shimer's intellectually diverse faculty."

I'm sure that you all are aware of the concerns many have about the lack of intellectual diversity in many colleges. You could go a long way to defuse the politicization of the Lindsay issue simply by demonstrating that Shimer's current faculty and outlook truly is intellectually diverse. For example, you could list all of the outside speakers, or tabulate political party registrations by faculty members (it's public).

Then we could be certain that the issue is not about politics and bias, but rather truly is about Mr. Lindsay's management.

Unknown said...

@Kevin, that's a good point. It's a bit tricky: not only is Shimer's faculty very small (about 10), but due to the crushingly heavy teaching load, they don't publish much. Also, the specific political opinions of most of our professors are among the few well-kept secrets at Shimer. That said, the people from whom I took natural science courses included the pastor of an Episcopalian church, a Mennonite deacon, and a man who left Shimer to work as a Christian missionary in Mozambique. In addition, I believe that at least two members of the faculty are very friendly with the Strausian community, and another professor is a follower of Friedrich Hayek. During my time at Shimer in the 1990s, and it seems today as well, the faculty as a group were culturally and intellectually well to the right of the student body. Finding public documentation of all of this may be a challenge, however... I'll see what I can do.