Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Agenda for the Assembly of May 2



I Approval of the minutes of the meetings of February 7th and 28th , March 21st ,

and April 11th.

II Committee reports and responses from the floor.

III Resolution Motivated by the Agenda Committee

The Assembly congratulates and welcomes Edward Noonan as the fourteenth President of Shimer College, and offers its support and assistance to the President in the constitutional governance of the College.

IV State of the College Address President Edward Noonan

V Amendment of the Constitution Motivated by Eileen Buchanan

That the Speaker of the Assembly be a faculty or staff member who has worked for the college for at least four years.


Section IV:1

From: “The Assembly shall elect from among the members of the Agenda Committee (Section V) a Speaker, who will be responsible for publishing the agendas for all Assembly meetings, for convening and chairing the Assembly, and for chairing the Agenda Committee.”

To: “The Assembly shall elect a Speaker early in the fall term from among Faculty and administrative staff who have been employed on a fulltime basis by the College for at least the previous four years, including any formally approved leaves of absence. The Speaker will be responsible for publishing the agendas for all Assembly meetings, for convening and chairing the Assembly, and for chairing the Agenda Committee.


Section V:4

From: “The Committee shall be composed of four persons elected early in the fall term, at least one of whom must be a staff member.”

To: “The Committee shall be composed of the Speaker (Section IV:1) and three members elected early in the fall term.”


“A) The speaker needs to be someone with considerable experience at Shimer in order to sense when a matter of college ethos is surfacing and to bring it to the attention of the Agenda Committee and the community.

B) Although this saddens me, I believe that we are at a point in terms of the wider community at which a student speaker would not garner the respect necessary to underline the importance of Assembly concerns and motions.”

VI Discussion Motivated by Eileen Buchanan

Should the Assembly meet during the summer? How might summer meetings be arranged and conducted? Are the technical means available for participation and voting from a distance?

VII Motion Motivated by the Agenda Committee

The Assembly instructs the Speaker to address and disseminate the acts of this day to all the constituencies of Shimer College, including Trustees and alumni.

VIII Announcements

Monday, April 26, 2010

Shimer College Radio 4/27

The final broadcast of this incarnation of Shimer College Radio will occur from 4 to 6 PM, Chicago time, on Tuesday the 27th (today).

Please listen and call in. We have much to discuss. The call-in number will be (646) 716-4446.

You can still listen to the first broadcast (3/30) here, and the second broadcast (4/13) here.

Thanks to alumna Jacqueline Harris for making Shimer College Radio a reality.

Future broadcasts are being planned by Chris McGlynn, who also moderated the second broadcast. Stay tuned for details, but in the meantime please listen & call.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

How Patrick Parker Gets His Way

I would like to begin by thanking Patrick Parker for finally making the text of the 2007 agreement between Shimer College and the Aequus Foundation available to the community, shortly before the recent excitement. Granted, it was a few weeks late, but it's the thought that counts!

Trustee Patrick Parker played a key role in engineering both Thomas Lindsay's hiring in 2008 and the adoption of Lindsay's slipshod mission statement in 2010. We in the external community now have enough information about how these events unfolded to draw some general conclusions about how Patrick Parker gets his way.

Of course, in drawing these conclusions, there are only two data points to work from. Thus, it is likely that some parts of this pattern are illusory. But the similarities between these two events are striking. Here is how it seems to work:

1. Patrick Parker identifies some legitimate concern to which he just happens to have a privileged connection.

In 2008, this was the concern that the "anonymous donor" (Barre Seid) might reconsider his donations if a substandard president were chosen. It's not clear whether Barre Seid even knew that his identity was being invoked in this way. However, since Parker was the only conduit of information between Seid and the Board, nobody was in a position to contradict him.

In 2010, Parker's legitimate concern was that a contract existed between Shimer and Aequus that required certain changes to the mission statement. Although we do not know exactly what was said in the Board meeting, Parker certainly managed to convey the impression that both President Bill Rice and the Dean of the College had been signatories to this contract. We now know that this contract was a vague and probably unenforceable agreement to which a Development Office assistant had signed as the "authorized officer" of Shimer . However, since Parker didn't have a copy of the agreement handy (and neither did anyone else, as he hadn't happened to mention it until just before the meeting), no substantive questions about the agreement could be asked or answered.

2. Parker exploits the uncertainty of this concern so that he can present some specific action linked to his personal agenda as the only workable solution.

Did it make sense that a donor concerned about executive qualifications would prefer a candidate (Tom Lindsay) who had not been properly vetted and had never run a college before? Of course not. But since only Parker could know what the "anonymous donor's" exact concerns were, nobody was in a position to question how Parker presented them. Did it make sense that an agreement never mentioned before would require the sudden adoption of a poorly-written mission statement that placed extraordinary emphasis on a couple weeks' worth of Soc 2 readings? Of course not -- but once again, since only Parker knew what was in the contract, nobody was in a position to question its relevance.

3. The vote is held, reasonable people do the only reasonable thing based on the available information...

... and Parker gets exactly what he wants.

Patrick Parker is clearly a talented boardroom manipulator. We could all learn a lot from him. It is a great tribute to the sharp and observant intellects on the Shimer Board that, despite such skillful manipulation, the vast majority of swayable Trustees voted against the Lindsay mission statement in February. An even greater tribute, of course, is the outcome of the recent meeting in which Tom Lindsay was, at long last, relieved of his duties.

Friday, April 23, 2010

New Dawn A Success!


That's how much we have raised so far, a little more than halfway through the first ever Shimer "money bomb" fundraising drive!

I can barely believe my eyes. When Sam and I put together the event we were wondering if our little ChipIn chart counting up to $5,000 would be too big, and make it look like we barely raised any money. Yet here we are, halfway through with more than ten times that amount!

And it's all thanks to you and your unwavering support. Together we have weathered one hell of a storm--the likes of which have left Shimer's halls empty once before--and now, not only are we still here, but we're bouncing back with a vengeance!

You all deserve a serious pat on the back for all the work and support you have put in to bring Shimer back to it's full potential, and I love you all for it. Several of you have even gone above and beyond the call, working tirelessly to speak with every alumn, to write our history and to organize our leaders. I think we should take a moment to reflect on the people who made this possible, and tell them how much we appreciate their efforts. Today's money bomb, and the Alumni Alliance as a whole, could not have been possible without

Sam Henderson
Erik Badger
Sarah Delezen
Noah Kippley-Ogman
Beth Matthews
Dan Merchan

And I want to give special thanks to Dan Shiner, who has labored so hard to keep Shimer afloat and is currently working the phones and emails like a madman to secure alumni contributions to the New Dawn Money Bomb. There is no way this event would have been anywhere near as successful as it has been without his efforts.

This is only a very partial list, it doesn't even come close to recognizing all the efforts of people involved, like Allie Peluso and her amazing research, or Bill Arnold for keeping a level head and forming a bridge between two rival camps, or Erik Graf and Chris McGlynn for their muckraking, Jon Timm and Heath Iverson for their leadership, and all the others who have worked so hard to keep this going.

With that being said, we've got a ton of work left to do my friends, so let's not let the momentum slack even for a moment! We've got a new administration, but plenty of old problems yet to solve. Today we show ourselves and the world what kind of future Shimer has in store for it, and tomorrow we work together to see it done!

Don't forget to take a moment and show your support by joining the Shimer's New Dawn cause on Facebook, and making a contribution if you are able (see the link below). Thank you all sooooo much for your support!


Nate Lefebvre
, Class of '08

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Shimer President "Steps Down"

The following statement was released shortly before midnight on the 19th of April, and can be read in PDF at shimer.edu.

Lindsay's eagerly-awaited departure has also been noted by the
Chicago Tribune and the Chronicle of Higher Education.


Shimer College President Steps Down

Shimer College, the Great Books College of Chicago, has announced that its 13th president, Thomas K. Lindsay, will be stepping down effective immediately. Long-time trustee Edward Noonan, chairman of Chicago Associates Planners & Architects, has been named interim president until the college undertakes a search for a new president.

Mr. Lindsay accepted the Shimer presidency in June 2008 and assumed formal leadership of the college in January 2009. During his tenure, he brought fiscal responsibility to the college by insisting upon balanced annual budgets and eliminating the college’s trailing deficit. Chairman of the Board Christopher Nelson said, “We are grateful to Tom Lindsay for his financial leadership over the past year and a half and wish him well in his future endeavors.” When asked about the change in leadership, Mr. Nelson said “Shimer continues to face many challenges, but we are fortunate to have an experienced leader like Ed Noonan ready to step in and assist us through this transition.”

Former Chairman of the Board, Edward Noonan is a 20 year veteran of Shimer College and was named Trustee Emeritus in 2000. Said Mr. Nelson, “Ed Noonan is uniquely positioned both as someone who understands the long history of Shimer, but also as someone who understands the necessity of improving the administrative structures within the college. We look forward to Ed working with faculty & staff, alumni, students, and the Board of Trustees to continue the good efforts currently being undertaken by the college administration until we search for our next president.”

Through the years Mr. Noonan has been actively engaged in professional and civic activities at the University of Chicago and throughout the Chicago area. No stranger to the IIT campus, Edward Noonan conducted his graduate studies in architecture under Mies Van Der Rohe. Now a renowned Chicago architect, Mr. Noonan currently serves as Chairman of the Board of Chicago Associates Planners & Architects where he has most recently overseen innovative and eco-friendly development projects for Tryon Farm.

Mr. Noonan is now charged with continuing his recent efforts to strengthen internal structures, reach out to the Chicago community and college supporters, and respond to the new energy of Shimer alumni. “I’m grateful to once again have the opportunity to serve Shimer College. I am looking forward to helping an institution with such a unique and noble educational mission,” said Mr. Noonan.


Now is the time for all Shimerians to come to the aid of their college.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Historic vote

You can read the exact wording of the "no confidence" resolution unanimously approved Sunday night (4/18) by the Shimer College Assembly at both the Shimer Student Alliance blog and the Shimer Alumni Alliance blog . Since I've been scooped by Shimer new media-ites who must be younger and faster -- or at least closer to their computers -- I'll do some instant analysis of the vote and its meaning, like the pundit (did you know pundit derives from Sanskrit?) I once wanted to be.

The no confidence vote by an entity that speaks for Shimer is a loud statement. It follows similar/comparable statements from two major stakeholders in the institution that is Shimer: the college's faculty and alumni. There's an interesting distinction between the no confidence resolutions approved by both faculty and the Assembly, and the alumni association's call for the resignation of President Thomas Lindsay. For those of us who are alums, Lindsay is not our leader, so it's not appropriate for alums to vote no confidence, since we are not led, per se, by Shimer's president, unlike the voting members of the Assembly (students, faculty, trustees, admin staff). But it's as if there is a compound failure here; as a leader, Lindsay has not led. From the point of view of alums, the president has failed on his watch of the institution.

In the focused, non-protracted, non-wordsmithy, citizen-ly deliberations of Sunday's emergency Assembly, two things stood out from my perspective. First, Shimerians care about the faculty and are mindful of them. That means respects them, respects their words, respects their work, their sacrifices, their domain of curriculum. Shimerians will be protective should there be pretty good reason to fear that some faculty are going to be thrown away arbitrarily. One would think that a man with Tom Lindsay's intellectual interests would know dozens upon dozens of examples of historic usurpation of power and how those kinds of things always end badly for the usurper.

Second: unanimous. Since the balloting was secret, the 60-0 unanimity is remarkable. Nobody voted against no confidence. I guess that means positively nobody has confidence in the president's ability to lead the institution he is paid to lead; perhaps the three abstentions represent a kind of agnosticism about the question.

I was impressed by the efficiency of this Assembly. All democratic gatherings should have such informed and thoughtful citizens. The Assembly is Soc 2 homework.

Marcia Zdun Nelson '75

Acts of the Special Assembly of April 18th

This document is a redaction of the acts of the meeting. Complete minutes will be publicly available after they are approved by the Assembly.



I Motion:
The resolution of no confidence from the meeting of February 28, 2010, is taken from the table.

The motion carried, after a vote by secret ballot, by 57 votes in favor, 3 opposed, and 1 abstention.

The count of the ballots was witnessed by visitor Susanne Sklar.

II Resolution (as amended):
Whereas the Presidency of Thomas Lindsay has imperiled the very existence of the College, the Assembly declares that it has no confidence in the ability of President Lindsay to lead Shimer College.

The resolution was adopted, after a vote by secret ballot, by 60 votes in favor, none opposed, and 3 abstentions. The count of the ballots was witnessed by visitor Susanne Sklar.

III Motion:
The Assembly instructs the Speaker to address and disseminate resolutions and motions adopted or passed on this day to all the constituencies of Shimer College, including Trustees and alumni.

The motion was passed unanimously.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Letter to the Assembly by Owen Brugh

The following letter was addressed to the Shimer College Assembly of April 18th, 2010, by alumnus Owen Brugh (2006).

Dear Fellow Shimerians,

Unfortunately, the recent birth of my daughter prevents me from attending Sunday. Please know that I stand firmly with the faculty, staff, and current students in whatever course of action the Assembly chooses to pursue. I trust the Assembly.

I write to advocate that the Assembly unanimously adopt the tabled resolution expressing no confidence in the leadership of President Lindsay.

I will spare the Assembly the bill of particulars against President Lindsay. We are all too familiar with his unwavering quest to gut the very institutions that have given Shimer its strength during decades of adversity and poverty.

Fundamentally, the Assembly should take this step today because President Lindsay has shown himself to be un-Shimerian. His actions show he is unwilling to consider other points of view and unable to abide the consensus-building exercise that is the Assembly. Just as we would with a fellow student or new faculty member suffering a difficult adjustment to Shimer, countless community members have tried to help President Lindsay understand our beloved College and its ways. Unfortunately, such efforts have proved fruitless.

After such efforts, were President Lindsay a student, his grades would reflect his behavior, and he might be formally reprimanded. Were President Lindsey a faculty member, the Academic Planning Committee would not renew his contract. As college President, however, the Assembly has little choice but to repudiate his “leadership” and reprimand him in the strongest terms possible. President Lindsay’s complete and total failure to adhere to the policies, ethos, and folkways of Shimer represents a clear danger to the viability of the College.

Most of all, I urge that the Assembly take unanimous action on this issue for two reasons.

First, action of this magnitude calls for consensus. As I recall some said at the February 28 Assembly, this action could imperil the College’s continued existence. Because of the profound impact this resolution could have on every member of the Shimer community, I urge every member of the Assembly to consider the objections of any community member and do all that is practical to mitigate those concerns. From past experience, I trust this will occur.

Second, and more importantly, the Assembly is most powerful when it is most unified. Just as our faculty’s brave actions are amplified by the lack of abstention or opposition, so is the Assembly strongest when it speaks with one voice. (Conversely, I would argue that the Board of Trustees’ voice on the mission statement was weakened by the deep divisions evident from the vote total.) For this action to have the desired result, the Assembly must be at its strongest, and that requires unanimity.

I trust the Assembly to move forward wisely, and I will support whatever steps the Assembly takes. Despite the actions of the present administration, I remain forever proud to be Shimerian.


Owen Robert Brugh

Class of 2006

Friday, April 16, 2010

Agenda for the Special Assembly of April 18th

The next meeting of the Assembly will be held in the Cinderella Lounge at Shimer College, 3424 S State Street in Chicago, at 4 PM on Sunday April 18th. All constituencies of the College are welcome, including alumni, although alumni cannot vote.




I Procedural motion, motivated by the Agenda Committee:

The Assembly rule of open voting is suspended, so as to allow for secret ballots at the discretion of the Assembly, for the duration of the present meeting or until such time as the Assembly votes to end the suspension, whichever comes sooner.


This motion is not debatable and requires a 2/3 majority to pass.

II Motion, motivated by Bob Carpenter, Heath Iverson, and Katy Martin-Seaver:

The resolution of no confidence from the meeting of February 28, 2010, is taken from the table.


The resolution in question, originally motivated by the Agenda Committee, is as follows:

The Assembly declares that it has no confidence in the ability of President Thomas Lindsay to lead Shimer College.

If the motion carries, the Assembly will proceed to consideration of the resolution.

III Motion motivated by the Agenda Committee:

The Assembly instructs the Speaker to address and disseminate resolutions and motions adopted or passed on this day to all the constituencies of Shimer College, including Trustees and alumni.

IV Announcements


Sunday’s meeting of the Assembly will be webcast, at http://shimer.na5.acrobat.com/assembly418/ . A password is not required. Please bear in mind that, according to the Constitution of the Assembly, only members present may address the Assembly, vote, or introduce motions.

Unanimous Resolution of the Board of the Shimer College Alumni Association

The following resolution was adopted by the Board of the Shimer College Alumni Association with 9 votes in favor, none against, and no abstentions.

"The Shimer Alumni Association, acting through its Board, calls for the resignation of Thomas Lindsay as President of Shimer."

This follows on the heels of the unanimous faculty resolution to the same effect.

The community petition calling for Lindsay's resignation now has 618 signatures.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Unanimous Resolution of the Faculty of Shimer College

The following statement was adopted by the Shimer College faculty at their Tuesday meeting (4/13). The vote was unanimous with no abstentions.

Whereas Thomas Lindsay’s unilateral approach to the management of Shimer College has sapped morale and created a climate of fear and mistrust that now pervades the College;

Whereas he has consistently shown a lack of understanding of and respect for Shimer College’s history, traditions, culture, identity, and academic mission;

Whereas he has increasingly acted in opposition to structures of the College, including committees and procedures, written policies, and handbooks;

Whereas his inability or unwillingness to communicate and work with Shimer College’s constituencies is demonstrated by his making major decisions and attempting major changes in the face of overwhelming opposition;

And whereas he has given no credible indication that he will desist from the conduct described or cease attempting to transform the College according to his own plans and without broad support;

The Faculty declares that Thomas Lindsay has done grave harm to Shimer College and imperils its very existence; and, therefore,

The Faculty resolves that it has no confidence in Thomas Lindsay as President of Shimer College.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Special Assembly Scheduled for April 18

The Agenda Committee is convening a special meeting of the Assembly this Sunday, April 18, at 4 PM Central, in the Cinderella Lounge at Shimer (3424 S State, Chicago, IL).

The agenda is to be released shortly, and will include consideration of whether to untable and pass the no confidence motion that was tabled in the February assembly.

The full agenda will of course be posted here as soon as it is available.

It is not yet known whether the Assembly will be televised, but it will be tweeted over the usual accounts, @samuelhenderson and @saradevil .

Columbia Chronicle article

Thanks to Stephanie Saviola of the Columbia Chronicle for shedding a bit of public sunlight on the events at Shimer.

It's good to see Nate Lefebvre and Allie Peluso getting some well-deserved media coverage.

“[The mission statement] did need to evolve and the school and community acknowledged that, but we were worried because we weren’t getting the whole picture,” Lefebvre said. “They had this secret contract about the statement and we weren’t told the stipulations.”
Allie Peluso, a second-year student at Shimer, discovered the identity of the anonymous donor through her own research of public records.“I’ve done a lot of research and looked into donations and money the school has received,” Peluso said. “I identified this man as Barre Seid through 990s [a tax form].”

The unwillingness -- or inability -- of Lindsay and his ilk to defend their actions speaks volumes.

Numerous attempts were made by The Chronicle to get in touch with Lindsay, but he could not be reached for comment.
Several messages were left for Joe Bast, board of trustee member and president of Heartland Institute, 19 S. LaSalle St., but no calls were returned to The Chronicle.

Read the whole thing.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

After the Brawl is Over...

We may yet have a long and difficult fight ahead of us. We may lose. There was never any reason to believe that Tom Lindsay & Co. would leave quietly. On the other hand, if I were President Lindsay, I would have been thinking about alternative careers for a while now. So if he does suddenly depart, we need to be ready for the next step.

If Lindsay leaves us, there will be three needs that must be met as quickly and effectively as possible: more money, more students, and more secure governance.

More Money!
Altogether, approximately $175,000 has been pledged to support a post-Lindsay Shimer. The short-term goal is $250,000. This will help to ensure a financially smooth transition. You can make a pledge using the online form.

In the longer term, of course, even more will need to be raised. It is critical that we establish a broad base of support to replace the narrow base that has recently been provided, directly and indirectly, by the Seid and Aequus foundations. Also critical will be ensuring that the people providing this broad-based support are heard in future discussions of college governance and mission. The efforts we have put into alum outreach will need to be retooled to this end.

More Students!
Lindsay hasn't been able to meet the expectations he was hired under when it comes to enrollment. If we want there to be a post-Lindsay Shimer, we'll have to do a lot better than he has done.

To that end, thus far approximately 40 alumni have volunteered to donate time on a weekly basis to help recruit students for a post-Lindsay Shimer. You can add yourself to this number by using the online form.

It takes time to get up to speed for this sort of work. Therefore, I would encourage anyone who is not too deeply involved in the current mess to get in touch with the Admissions Office (admissions@shimer.edu) as soon as possible about volunteering.

The energy dedicated to online action will also need to be reoriented to identifying and recruiting potential Shimerians. The blogs that have been put up in reaction to the crisis, especially Shimer College Alumni Speak and its sister blogs, will need to be retooled to help get out the word about the real Shimer. Fresh content will be needed, there and elsewhere.

Better Governance!
If we are fortunate enough to be delivered from the current mess, it is critically important that we make it much more difficult for anything like this to ever happen again. To be sure, no system of governance can be completely impervious to hostile takeover. But certain things seem clear:
- It should not be possible for a majority of non-internal seats on the Board to be held by people with no prior connection to the school (as is now the case).
- It should not be easy for a hostile majority on the Board to refuse to seat representatives of the internal community (as would currently be the case).
- It should not be possible to simply dilute the student and faculty seats on the Board into irrelevance.
- The role of the Assembly and its Constitution and committees should be affirmed in the Bylaws in unmistakable, weasel-free language. Some work on this front may already be under way, thanks to the joint task force that has been set up to clarify the changes of 2008.

* * * * *

All of the above, of course, remains miserably hypothetical for the time being. None of it will ever be possible unless Shimer's absentee president adds a seventh day to his weekend. So please keep reaching out to alumni and friends. Please keep spreading the word, in whatever ways you can.

And please, if you haven't yet, sign the petition.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Shimer's Zipcode is Irrelevant

I appreciate Marcia's posting on the question Not my Shimer? I once held the belief that this Shimer is not my Shimer. And what a turnaround I've had in my realization that for me, the continuing quest for discovery and discourse that Shimer students faculty staff and alums hold, is the basis for what my Shimer is. I've come to realize that my Shimer is not geographically place based.

What is important to a Shimer College liberal arts education are the foundations grounded in the curriculum, the mission, and vision. In these, we then learn and embrace critical inquiry in all that we do. That we take this shared education everywhere we roam, that we may meet someday and have the same or similar readings or experiences in our psyche, is for me what binds us all together as Shimerites.

I have recently connected with a few current and former Shimerites through a listserv, Facebook, and blogs. I see Shimer students staff and faculty being interested in the very same type of fun or thoughtful discussions that we also experienced in years past. Topics I have seen mentioned or discussed include Spreading Life Throughout the Cosmos, notification for a showing of the Japanese film House, and a heads up for the celebration of International Pillow Fight Day on Chicago's Michigan Ave.

All of us who have stepped into the waters of a Shimer education have shared a journey I sometimes think as one of information gatherer, to knowledge seeker, and wisdom bearer. Wherever you are on your own journey now, I do believe that we come from the same place. That place is called Shimer College. Shimer's zipcode is irrelevant.

Ann Perbohner '76

Monday, April 05, 2010

Not my Shimer? Plus ca change, plus ca reste

Shimer College and the future … is also Shimer College and the past. I would like to address a sentiment I’ve heard often enough since Shimer moved in 1979 from its Mt. Carroll campus, an opinion that can now be shared by alums from Shimer’s Waukegan incarnation, since Shimer is now based in Chicago: that’s not my Shimer.

For those of you who have said and/or thought that, please consider: oh, yes, it is.

I have a singular perspective: Mt Carroll alum (1975) who was Shimer faculty when the college moved to Waukegan in 1979 and who now visits the “Great Books College in Chicago” because my daughter is a student. It’s true: the Mies van der Rohe urban campus at IIT, where Shimer now lives, is not rural-bucolic. An elevated train runs through it, noisily. And no, it’s not the small enclave of aging buildings (which had character and also nice rugs) that was Shimer in Waukegan. But: plus ca change, plus ca reste, as they said in Brigitte LaCombe’s French III class in Mt. Carroll.

I went to a class last year on James Joyce’s Ulysses (an unreadable but important member of the Western Canon), which I read in an independent study with Eileen Buchanan in 1974. I was therefore ready for the class and most delighted to (a) remember anything from the book after 30 plus years and (b) accept insights based on close and imaginative readings of the text. It was fun, true, and good. I also recently attended a meeting of Shimer’s governing Assembly, which is foreign to Mt. Carroll alums. To Mt. Carrollingians I say: it sounded like student government from back in the day, and it also put me in mind of The People Shall Judge from our social sciences curriculum. There were the people, judging, deliberating. Plus ca change, plus ca reste.

Shimer is now in trouble; fellow alumni, if it did something for you, please give back now. Become informed; spread the word; sign the petition http://www.petitiononline.com/FWS/petition.html requesting the resignation of a president who, with an ideological rather than educational agenda, is a bad match for the school; squeak the wheel.

Friday, April 02, 2010

The Week in Review, 4/2

I'd like to take this opportunity to remind everyone that we always need more voices here at Shimer College and the Future. If you'd like to post here, please send an email to the address at the top of the page. If you're already among the 50+ authors here, just start posting!

This week on this blog:

  • On Tuesday we had our first installment of "The Odd Lies of Joe Bast". Plenty more where those came from, but we'll try to space them out so nobody gets indigestion...
  • Also on Tuesday, a current student recounted an extremely troubling conversation between her, another student, and Thomas Lindsay in his capacity as President. Thomas Lindsay has been successful, for the time being, in "persuading" the author to withdraw that post. Lindsay has offered no actual rebuttal of the students' account, despite being asked to provide one. If Mr Lindsay is reading this, he should consider himself invited to send a response directly to the address at the top of the page.
  • By the time you read this, the "Week in Review" post will have been posted.

Elsewhere on the net:
  • Many more Shimerians signed the petition demanding Tom Lindsay's immediate resignation. (Here's why.) The count now stands at 426, including hundreds of alumni, many parents, and approximately half of the current student body. If you haven't signed yet, please consider doing so. The petition isn't going to save Shimer all by itself, but it has an important role to play.
  • Many more Shimerians also filled out the form pledging support during and/or after the crisis. (If you have filled out the form and haven't heard back from anyone, we apologize -- things have been just a bit hectic. Feel free to contact me directly, samueljhenderson@gmail.com.)
  • Jacqueline Harris hosted an excellent 2-hour online radio show about Shimer events. (Click the link to listen.) The next show is scheduled for April 13th at 4 PM.
  • On Shimer College Alumni Speak, we heard from Shimer alums Jason Blaesing (2000), Maria Sosa (1972), and Louis F. Linden (1969). We'd love to hear from you, too; email your reflections to shimerspeaksout@gmail.com.
  • At shimerians.com, the problem with registration emails has been solved. (Probably.) If you already signed up but did not receive an email, you have been manually confirmed and can now log in freely. The site is still under construction, and any help in finishing the job would be appreciated.

Elsewhere off the net:
  • At Shimer, reliable reports indicate that facilitators facilitated, students studied, staffers staffed, and administrators administered. We're not quite sure what the president did, but presumably he spent most of his time presiding ... over some place other than campus. If only Tom would extend his 6-day weekends by one more day, things would be so much simpler for everyone.
  • The students who had an extremely disturbing conversation with a trustee two weeks ago were intimidated into remaining silent. (There seems to be a bit of a pattern here...) We can scarcely fault anyone for not wanting to be on the receiving end of a frivolous but well-funded libel suit, but it must be said that the external community is not currently getting the full story about the threat to the faculty.
  • Neither the president nor his cronies on the Board made any effort at a meaningful demonstration of good faith. Guys, if you really aren't planning to gut the faculty and curriculum, why don't you just make a binding commitment to that effect? Sure would go a long way toward putting everyone's mind at ease...

A Shimerian Responds: "Shimer College in Power Struggle"

I recognize that the constraints of writing for a daily newspaper leave little room for scrupulous fact-checking. I believe that the errors and distortions in Ron Grossman's Chicago Tribune article entitled "Shimer College in Power Struggle" (1/27/2010) were almost certainly committed in good faith. But given the continued prominence of that article, I feel it is necessary to set the record straight.

On that positive note, then, let's start with a truth well stated.


"In all of American academics, it’s a good bet there’s no place quite like Chicago’s Shimer College."


Now then, let's have a look at that subtitle:

Board, president seek independence from partnership with students

This seems a peculiar way of stating things. It is, after all, the students and faculty who are Shimer College. The president and his razor-thin majority on the Board are free to go their own way -- and at this point, the sooner the better. Furthermore, the students have never attempted to interfere in the Board or president's internal affairs. It is, rather, the President and his lackeys on the Board who have eagerly thrust themselves into the internal affairs of the college. And even if one can somehow class that interference as "independence," it is a bit difficult to see how such an "independent" Board and president intend to go about running the college without any cooperation from the community. Unless, of course, they plan on reducing the college to a meaningless shell.

"[...] its mascot is the 'flaming smelt' [...]"

Shimer College does not have an official mascot. The flaming smelt, an unofficial symbol beloved of many Waukeganites, is no more or less a mascot than the phoenix or the squirrel.

"In some ways, the Shimer standoff is reminiscent of the left-versus-right campus melodramas of the 1960s."

It's hard to argue with a statement as vague as this, but it is clearly intended to mislead the reader into thinking of the current Shimer crisis as a continuation of the "culture wars".

"[...] some of the generally leftist students and faculty see a move to tip the power balance in favor of the administration. "

"Generally leftist"? Even with regard to the students, we've yet to see any documented evidence of this. And as for the faculty ... does anyone really think that teaching the Great Books year in and year out would appeal to your average "leftist"? Good grief.

"Many of the new trustees are political conservatives like the school’s new president, Thomas Lindsay."

All of the new non-alum trustees are political conservatives. Most also share undisclosed financial ties to Barre Seid. Seid's role as the "anonymous donor" was kept secret from the community for many years.

"The ’60s have echoed loudly in the feud [...]"

Sigh. What does this even mean?

"But both sides in the Shimer dispute are united in passionate enthusiasm for the 'Great Books' course of study -- an elitist curriculum holding that seminal ideas should be read in their authors’ own words rather than textbooks offering watered-down versions."

Shimer welcomes all applicants, including many who did not finish high school or dropped out of other institutions. Offering a high-quality education to all comers scarcely seems like "elitism."

"Shimer’s syllabus is the same as half a century ago, when it had its own campus in the small town of Mount Carroll in northwest Illinois."

Leaving aside the rather important distinction between syllabus and curriculum, this is simply untrue. While the core of the Core has held constant, as it should and must, the details of the reading lists and other requirements have changed enormously since 1960. The reading lists for some courses, such as Humanities 3 and 4, have been revised considerably in the past decade alone. In fact, it is a requirement of Shimer's accreditor, the Higher Learning Commission, that Shimer "[assess] the usefulness of its curricula to students who will live and work in a global, diverse, and technological society." If Shimer's curriculum were as static and unquestioned as Grossman suggests, that would surely cause significant problems with accreditation.

"The big issue dividing Shimer is what form of campus governance would best guarantee the survival of the classic curriculum. The communal democracy of which Marx dreamed, and of which Shimer students read in Social Sciences 1? Or the enlightened despotism that Hobbes advocated, which is discussed in Social Sciences 2?"

Yipes! It's hard to know where to start with this. So let's break it down.

"The big issue dividing Shimer is what form of campus governance would best guarantee the survival of the classic curriculum."

The big issue is whether the curriculum and faculty are to be free of political interference from President Lindsay and his cronies. If a binding guarantee of non-interference were provided, I'm sure we would all be happy to work through the remaining issues in a dialogical way.

"The communal democracy of which Marx dreamed?"

Presumably this is intended to be a reference to the Shimer College Assembly, but I have to say that the connection between the Assembly and Marx escapes me. The Shimer College Assembly is far more reminiscent of a New England town meeting -- but is actually significantly more removed from the particulars of governance than the average town meeting, inasmuch as the Assembly is restricted to deliberating on general issues of the ethos and mission of the College. The Assembly, which in 1980 replaced an earlier and significantly more radical institution known as the "House", was most directly inspired by the writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, according to an account by veteran Shimer professors Jack Wikse and David Shiner.

The delicate balance of power between administration, faculty, Assembly, and committees was aptly described, by 26-year Shimer College President Rev. Don P. Moon speaking at the February Assembly, as a "constitutional monarchy."

"Or the enlightened despotism that Hobbes advocated?"

The gist of Hobbes' Leviathan is that rulers can do what they want, to whom they want, when they want and how they want, and that this is right and proper. Whatever its philosophical merits, this is scarcely a recipe for responsible governance.

Enlightenment is perhaps in the eye of the beholder, but I cannot seem to find the phrase "enlightened despotism" in Hobbes' writings at all.

Philosophically, Shimer is unabashed leftist: Former ’60s radical William Ayers was a recent speaker.

Sigh. How many times must we address this zombie half-truth? Apart from the fact that William Ayers has spoken in a great number of places, and his right to speak at Shimer was defended by Lindsay himself, Shimer has always welcomed speakers from across the political spectrum.

And what is this about being "unabashed leftist"? Is it leftist to study Plato, Aristotle, and Aquinas? Are New England town meetings a "leftist" form of government? Should the Hayekian economist and Episcopalian reverend on the faculty be tossed out as not being "leftist" enough? This is fatuous.

A concerned student blog proclaimed Shimer “in mortal danger of being reduced to a meaningless shell.”

I, the author of that post, graduated from Shimer 12 years ago. This blog was founded by '99 alum Saradevil in 2005, when most current students were not so much as a gleam in an admissions worker's eye. To be sure, Shimer College and the Future welcomes students as both contributors and readers, but throughout its 6-year history, the vast majority of posts and comments on this blog have been from alumni.

He considers the Assembly a “historical accident,” and other trustees say it is a burden now when trying to persuade potential donors to write big-bucks checks to what is seen as a student-run college.

Perhaps these trustees should explain that the particulars of administrative matters are handled only by carefully-selected committees, as would be the case in any well-run institution. Indeed, why would any sensible donor want to contribute to an institution that had no internal oversight system? Clearly the problem is not with the Assembly or the committee system, but with how these are represented to donors.

At the same time, all sides are pulling for the college to surmount this latest crisis.

We would all rest easier if there were any assurance that this were true. It has not escaped anyone's attention that Patrick Parker, the ringleader of Lindsay's wrecking crew on the Board, also sat on the Shimer College Board of Trustees in 1974 when it voted to close Shimer down the first time. We would all prefer to overlook this unfortunate bit of history, except that in reliably reported conversations, Parker has expressed his belief that it would be no problem if the entire student body and faculty were to leave, and his fellow trustee Joe Bast has echoed this opinion.*

In short, the good faith of Thomas Lindsay's wrecking crew is not merely in doubt; it is almost certainly nonexistent. This was perhaps less apparent when Grossman's article first saw the light of day in late January, but it is now painfully clear to even a casual observer.


* Even assuming that Barre Seid comes through with a few hundred full-tuition scholarships, it's not clear how Lindsay, Parker & Co. plan to bypass the upcoming accreditation review. Perhaps they imagine they can bribe and dissemble their way through that process much as they wormed their way into power at Shimer.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Letter from Supporter Erik Graff

Dear Sirs:

My interest in Shimer College extends back to high school when one of my best friends, Trina VanTellingen, attended the original campus. Indeed, I considered going to Shimer myself, but ended up at Grinnell after receiving an attractive offer under their early decision plan.

My interest was renewed when I served as an academic dean at Loyola University Chicago. There I handled articulation agreements and the training and supervision of academic advisors in the university's part-time division of 3,000 students. This work led me to a pretty extensive knowledge of our competition.

Outstanding among regional liberal arts colleges was Shimer, then at its Waukegan campus. At the time you had one of the best catalogs on the market, a catalog which described a curriculum I personally approved of and an extraordinarily participatory and egalitarian polity. I kept a supply of these catalogs in my offices and, when it seemed appropriate, I directed the attention of prospective students to Shimer. Over the years I seem to have sent at least a dozen students to your school who actually matriculated there.

One of these students was my own stepbrother, Erik Badger, who, as you know, went on to graduate and, until recently, serve the college through a number of offices. Indeed, now he is a candidate for a trusteeship. Erik's involvement and deep concern for the college, as well as friendships and professional relationships with other members of the community, have resulted in my own abiding and rather well-informed care for the institution.

This concern was heightened by two major events. The first was the appointment of President Rice under whom the college began to radically change. Most remarkably, he spearheaded the move to Chicago. Most significantly, however, he began the process of destroying the uniqueness of the college by introducing pay inequities and increasing class distinctions between faculty, staff and administrators. Where once I would have gladly taken a pay cut to work at Shimer (and actually applied), Rice's presidency gave pause to such aspirations.

The second event was the firing of your successful admissions director and her replacement by a relatively inexperienced (except as a lobbyist for Right to Life) creature of current President Lindsay over the objections of the committee normally central to the hiring process. This seemed part of a pattern of presidential authoritarianism and disregard for the traditions and institutions of the college. I decided to check it out.

Doing so over the course of hundreds of hours, I have uncovered a covert, ideologically driven plan to take over Shimer College, a plan inaugurated by President Rice and continued by President Lindsay, a project well sketched out by the recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education. Personally, some of the ideology appeals to me. I'm in much agreement with some libertarian ideals, suspicious of big governments and have a valued classical education myself (indeed, I write for an academic journal in the field of ancient history and the classics). What I object to includes:
1. The covert nature of the take-over and the subversive nature of the executive administration of the college.
2. The packing of your board by persons whose only qualifications seem to be their political ideology and previous associations with Messrs Rice and Lindsay (or Seid et alia), persons with no background whatsoever with the college and its traditions--some of them, indeed, with little academic or educational experience at all. (What, for instance, qualifies Dennis Katz beyond the fact that he is financially dependent upon and associated with Barre Seid?)
3. The blatantly offensive hypocrisy of Messrs Rice and Lindsay and their creatures on the board. On the one hand, they espouse liberty and the democratic ideals and history of our republic. On the other hand, they work against just those principles as they practically apply to the Shimer community.
4. The recent appointment of an academically unqualified adjunct to push Objectivism, an adjunct who is broadcasting all over the web her intentions--and the college's supposed agreement--to create a school within in the school dedicated to the great books of Ayn Rand.
5. Trustee Bast's (an associate of Barre Seid and mouthpiece of the tobacco and oil industries) public boasting of this whole effort to take over the school, turn over its faculty and to change its curriculum to reflect his idealogy.
6. The increasing lack of balance on the board. A few neoconservatives and libertarians wouldn't be so objectionable were some liberals (in the current sense, not the mid-eighteenth century sense Mr. Lindsay endorses), social democrats and even apoliticals appointed as well--presuming, of course, their respect for the college and its commitment to rational dialog.
7. The increasing financial dependence of the college on ideologically driven, extremely right-wing foundations such as the Barbara and Barre Seid Foundation and Parker's hijacked Aequus Institute.
8. The increasing disregard for the community of shareholders who substantially and abidingly make up the college: the faculty and the present-and-future alumni.
9. The fact that these changes destroy the uniqueness of the college, a uniqueness both as regards polity and as regards curriculum. Whereas Shimer had been moving in the direction of a more catholic appropriation of human cultural traditions as a whole, now it appears to be headed back to the parochial confinement of the notion of the great books to those of the western--and U.S. political--culture almost exclusively.

The last point deserves emphasis. Shimer is not the only great books school in the United States. It certainly would not be the only extremely conservative school in the country. It has, however, long been unique among liberal arts institutions, primarily because of its polity. As such, it deserved support and even had a special market appeal. The abandonment of these traditions removes what may be the major justification for its continued existence.


Erik Graff