Sunday, August 25, 2013

Shimer College Assembly to meet August 28

The Assembly of Shimer College will meet at 3:15 PM this coming Wednesday, August 28, in the Cinderella Lounge at Shimer.  The agenda is as follows:

Meeting of the Shimer College Assembly

3:15 pm Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Cinderella Lounge

1. Welcome from the Speaker and review of Assembly protocol and procedures by the Parliamentarian.

2. Approval of Minutes from meeting of April 21st, 2013.

3. Questions on Committee and Director reports to the Assembly.

4. Motion from David Shiner (10 minutes):

To suspend until the Fall 2014 meeting of the Board of Trustees the clause in the description of the Institutional Goals and Assessment Committee in the Constitution of the Assembly that states "Trustees whose terms on the Board end during their term on the Committee cease to be members and are replaced by election."

5. Elections:

- Replacement(s) for Institutional Goals and Assessment Committee

- Secretary of the Assembly

- Admissions Committee

- Agenda Committee

- Quality of Life Committee

- Student Representative to IIT Student Government

6. David Shiner, Chair of the Institutional Goals and Assessment Committee, presentation on community participation in the committee's work.

7. Announcements from the community.

8. White Whale presentation on new Shimer College website.

9. Adjournment.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Help Shimer build a kick-ass website

Via trustee Chris Vaughan ('86) comes the following request:

HELP SHIMER BUILD A KICK-ASS WEBSITE. The dangerously new Shimer website will launch within weeks, and it will be kick-ass. But WE NEED YOUR HELP NOW.

We need you to RECORD A ONE TO TWO MINUTE VIDEO about your favorite book you read or discussed at Shimer and let us post it on the site. It can be a memory of a classroom moment, your own personal feeling about the book, or a fun story that's only partially connected to the book.

The only rules are (a) you should mention the book at some point; and (b) that you should try to look at the camera. Any HD camera will do (even an iPhone). Please email submissions to as soon as possible. We really do need your help.

Below is a sample from an honorary Shimerian, Jason Pontius, who heads up our web design firm. He did his thing. Now you do yours.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Shimer symposium at Growling Rabbit in Chicago, August 30

Update: RSVP to event on Facebook.

The Growling Rabbit Café presents:

Learning About Learning: 
The Tumultuous History of Great Books Education in America

Presented by Dr. David Shiner
Dr. Stuart Patterson
and Dr. Barbara Stone 
of Shimer College.

Friday, August 30th

7 pm 'til 9 pm

Dinner served until 7:45

Coffee and baked goods available until 9 pm

No Cover

6981 N. Sheridan Road (At Lunt)

Monday, August 05, 2013

IGAC to meet August 9

 The following missive was kindly passed along by a member of the internal community:

Fellow Shimerians,
The next meeting of the Institutional Goals and Assessment Committee (IGAC) is open to the community at large and will take place beginning at 1 PM next Friday, August 9. We'll meet in the Infinity Room. If you decide to join us please be prompt. We will be discussing our ongoing work with assessment and strategy at Shimer.
Thank You

(For more on IGAC, see David Shiner's letter.)

The tree that is not one

This photo, kindly furnished by Isabella Winkler, shows a nearby tree neatly reflected behind the new "Shimer College" lettering at the Admissions entrance:

The reflected tree reminds me of something I noticed when I was last walking around the outside of the Shimer building: that in summer, the Chicago campus is not such a gray and dreary place at all.  The flourishing greenery actually gives an almost human touch to the modernist angles of the old Institute of Gas Technology.

But the reflection also uncannily recalls the opening sequence of the recent Shimer video:

That tree, of course, is (or is intended to represent) the tree of the Shimer logo:

But whence comes the tree of the Shimer logo?  It first emerged in the early 1970s; here it is in the 1973 catalog:

There appears to be some dispute as to exactly which tree that is.  In shape it most resembles an oak, and it may have been modeled on a large oak [or maple] that grew on the Shimer golf course in Mount Carroll.  On the other hand, contemporary reports indicate that the Graduation Elm -- which was in the final throes of Dutch elm disease by 1971, when the logo first emerges -- had an unusually oak-like shape.

For my part, then, I prefer to think that it is the Graduation Elm: a noble tree that had the wisdom to leave Shimer before Shimer left it.

When I attended Shimer in Waukegan in the late 1990s, there were a number of delightful trees on the campus, which, by then, had grown into a real campus (or pretty close) with a quad and everything.  But there were many years in the Waukegan period when the "campus" consisted only of the 438 building.  And although the sideyard of 438 did boast a couple of respectable pines, it didn't have any that were anything like the tree of the logo, or even the sort of tree that you can hang out in the branches of, as we had by the 1990s.  Shimer had left all its trees behind.

What could the tree logo represent, then, but a reminder of everything that had been sacrificed to keep this school going?  As students, we sometimes called the Shimer tree "the Tree of Knowledge."  But perhaps a better label would be "the Tree of Loss."  And so it remains today: no real thing, but a stray image caught in the glass, a reflection seen through tears. 

Our comrades at Marlboro College have a mascot known as the "Fighting Dead Tree." Perhaps this is another case of convergent evolution between these two peculiar schools.  Our trees die, or are left behind, but we keep them as our symbol: either our shield against the madness of the world, or a marker of our shared insanity, whichever you prefer.

It is our losses that give us the strength to fight. 

Saturday, August 03, 2013

New article posted to

There are many things not to like about, from the odious politics of its owner to the general sleaziness of its operations and presentation. 

However, I've found that on balance the articles I've posted there seem to do better and reach further than any other efforts I've made at documenting Shimer events. 

I have thus resolved to reconcile myself to the luzerliness of playing campus reporter for a school I graduated from 15 years ago, and have posted my latest article here: Chicago's Shimer College to Shine with New State Grant.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Monsters University and the rigors of radical uniqueness

Susan Henking's recent post on ChicagoNow directs us to this masterful spoof of the standard university website, courtesy of the movie Monsters University.

Reading through that website's exquisitely unoriginal prose, I experienced a painful twinge of recognition with regard to the three points I suggested in my revised part 1 responding to David Shiner's questions.  Monsters U may not lean too heavily on the radical side of things, but it is full of unique rigor and rigorous uniqueness. If President Gross was up to date on the latest "disruptiveness" sociobabble, it would no doubt be full of uniquely rigorous radicalism too.  And just to belabor the point, it is full of those things because all universities and colleges are full of them, or at least imagine themselves to be.  Nothing, in short, is less unique than uniqueness.

Monsters University website

This isn't just a pleasant exercise in Hegelian logical maneuvering. It leads us to a specific problem: a lot of the things that are true and important about Shimer College sound exactly like the insincere blather mouthed by hundreds of other institutions -- most of which, in my humble and thoroughly biased opinion, are unique in only the most trivial sense, inasmuch as they are all unique in the same way.   (And many of which are no longer really educational or even nonprofit institutions, having become increasingly pure exercises in credentialist rent-seeking.  But they still talk like such institutions, and with their funds rerouted from academics to marketing, they can make the case for what they aren't more convincingly than ever.)

"How to think, not what to think"? Been there, heard that. "Small classes and a real commitment to teaching"?  Well, that's original.  "Close-knit and supportive community"? C'mon, pull the other one, it's got bells on.   Heck, even Shimer's motto isn't exactly one-of-a-kind.  (Note: the aspersions cast in the previous paragraph do not necessarily apply to the specific institutions linked.)

When Shimer's own brand signal is so weak and the truth about Shimer sounds so much like the lies and half-truths that other schools tell, it's no wonder our recruitment efforts end up relying heavily on word of mouth and serendipity.

Thinking about it this way, it becomes clearer why Shimer has gravitated so much toward the "Great Books" aspect of its identity, even though Shimer's version of the Great Books isn't quite what most people would expect.  Being a Great Books college is far from the only (or even most significant) way in which Shimer presents a radical alternative in higher education, but it is one that's relatively easy to make the case for. It's a particular aspect of rigor that is hard to fake (and unlikely to be faked).

This also helps to explain the fetishistic focus on the Oxford program in the current Shimer video and viewbook: for all its value, the Oxford program wouldn't naturally suggest itself as a major selling point, but at least it is a concrete distinguishing characteristic (and a photogenic one too).

I'm not sure how we can extricate ourselves from this particular trap, but thinking about this does make me increasingly convinced that we need better and more specific ways of making the case for what Shimer does.