Sunday, November 12, 2006
The college that went away to school
Shimer College's move from Waukegan to IIT brings about unique blend of
By Jeff Long
Tribune staff reporter
Students from a small liberal arts college in the far north suburbs have been mixing quietly for the past
month in their new home on the Chicago main campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology, where
students delve chiefly into things such as science and engineering.
Socrates likely would have been fascinated by the culture clash.
Shimer College has been in Waukegan for a quarter century, a haven for lively intellectual debate. Its
"Great Books" curriculum goes directly to the source of learning: the works of Plato, Newton, and Darwin,
But as much as anything else, the move to IIT's campus on Chicago's South Side is a practical one,
Shimer's president told faculty, alumni and students at the college's convocation Sunday in the new IIT
President William Craig Rice said more prospective students are contacting Shimer now that it is in
Chicago, and fundraising is ahead of schedule.
With enrollment at about 80 students, he said there have been 570 inquiries from prospective students
since August. Usually, there are about 400 inquiries by this time of year, he said.
Meanwhile, students from Shimer can take technical courses from IIT and IIT students can take courses
Although classes have been under way for a month, the convocation officially marked IIT's welcome of
Shimer College to its campus.
After the convocation, Rice said Shimer's enrollment has been stagnant for 15 years, and he hopes the
move will end that. He expects Shimer to remain Shimer, however.
"You sit down with the books and the conversation begins again," he said. "You could convene a Shimer
class on a mountaintop in North Carolina and the conversation begins again."
Students attending Sunday's ceremony agreed.
Noah Kippley-Ogman, 20, is taking a differential equations class and calculus 3 from the IIT curriculum.
Because he wants to be a math teacher, the move means he'll be able to stay with Shimer by taking the
Otherwise, he'd have attended another college for those classes.
"I really like living in Chicago," he added. "It's a lot better than living in Waukegan."
That helped tip the balance for Nicolette Stosur-Bassett, 17, who is in her first year at Shimer.
"It made it a lot more appealing to me, because I wanted to go to school in the city," she said.
Stosur-Bassett, who is from Glen Ellyn, said city life gives her easy access to the museums and theaters
Liz Todd, 17, is a second-year student. To some extent, she's sorry to leave the Waukegan campus. "It's
really exciting in some ways, because you get to be in Chicago," she said. "But it's hard to leave behind a
place you called home."
She already has been to the symphony, the Goodman Theatre and the Art Institute. "Living in Chicago is
great," she said.
Shimer students also will have access to IIT student facilities and services under the long-term lease
Shimer signed, Rice said, adding that he's looking forward to seeing how the two sets of students and
"It's the interchange between scientists and humanists," he said.
Thursday, November 09, 2006
Tiny Shimer College completes move to Chicago campus
CHICAGO - Shimer College, a liberal arts school with a student body of only about 100, has moved its campus for the second time in its 153-year history.
After spending the past 28 years in suburban Waukegan, Shimer this month completed a move to leased space on the South Side campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology.
Shimer president William Craig Rice said he hopes the move will make the school more attractive to students and enable it to boost its enrollment to 300 or 400.
But not all of the students appear happy with the change. One senior, Kyra Keuben, said the new surroundings were a bit bleak.
"Before, we had classes in homes with fireplaces," Keuben said. "Now we have the second floor of a business office. It's not as cozy."
Shimer is one of the nation's few Great Books colleges, which is a curriculum that eliminates textbooks and focuses on reading original texts by writers who have shaped Western culture.
Most of Shimer's students major in philosophy, but Rice said the new arrangement will allow them to take science and engineering classes at Illinois Institute of Technology. Students at the technology institute will be able to take liberal arts at Shimer.
Shimer was founded as a women's seminary in 1853 by two upstate New York educators, Frances Wood and Cinderella Gregory, on a small campus in Mount Carroll.
Enrollment at the Mount Carroll campus peaked at about 600 in the middle 1960s. Then in 1979, the Mount Carroll campus was sold and the remaining students and faculty moved to Waukegan.
Thursday, July 13, 2006
I was wondering if anybody reading this is a recent Shimer grad and a high school English teacher.
I'm asking because I've hit a wall in my application process for this one-year post-bacc teaching certification program (through my local community college.) My stumbling block is due to the new No Child Left Behind laws, which state that teachers must be "highly specialized" in the subject they wish to teach. Basically, I'd need 24 credit hours (plus to pass a test, which I'm sure I will breeze through) in English.
My advisor glanced briefly at the very very outdated sheet of paper the registrar sends along with official transcripts, which describe the equivalent subject matter of courses from 1960-1978, most of which say that Humanities classes are "literature" classes. Hum 1 is 2.5 art credits and 2.5 music, Hum 2 is 4 Lit credits and 1 Composition credit, Hum 3 is broken up amongst philosophy, theology and literature credits, Hum 4 is literature, history, philosophy, art, and IS classes aren't even listed.
Perhaps this is wishful thinking, but I had hoped that such a reading and writing heavy Great Books curriculum would translate to more than just one measly Composition credit for Hum 2. (Unfortunately, I'm supposed to have "English" or "Composition" classes, not "Literature.") Or maybe I am wrong and this is just my futile attempt to avoid spending an extra year and several thousand dollars to take English and Composition classes that I doubt will teach me anything that I don't already know.
I was just wondering if anybody else has gone through this debaucle and how you navigated through it.
Thanks in advance!!
P.S. I met a girl at the gym late late last night who saw my Shimer t-shirt and told me that's where she really wanted to go. She then followed me around the free weight room peppering me with questions about which political magazines she should subscribe to and how to become more educated. I finally relented and gave her my e-mail address and told her she could come over and look at all my books.
P.P.S. I met a Philosophy graduate student who shares my obsession with Plato, and I'm sure that our discussion of Lysis (once we are both done rereading) will be reminiscent of those lovely octagonal tables... though nothing beats discussing Marx by candelight during a power outage... but he does know Greek... Hmmm!
P.P.S. I'm gonna make high school kids read Shakespeare!
Thursday, July 06, 2006
For those who couldn't attend, you'll likely be interested to read the words of Eileen, Don, David and a few others as they were delivered that afternoon.
Commencement Speech Website - Shimer Graduation 2006
Sunday, May 21, 2006
On a completely different note ... Congrats to the soon-to-be graduates! (If you're interested in working in Korea, please contact me or the SaraDevil.)
PS I apologize for having left Shimerhenge.com down for so long -- I hope to have it back up soon.
Wednesday, April 26, 2006
Friday, April 21, 2006
Thanks to Sara Davilla for the invitation to post some updates for those of you who follow this blog. I’ll try to be brief but informative – and certainly invite those with additional questions to ask away. The Faculty and Administrative Staff have made a commitment (to ourselves and to the greater Shimer community) to strive for transparency throughout the process. One would certainly be forgiven for thinking otherwise given the poor communications at the outset - but it was tough and we didn't handle if very well, partly because we had no experience in such matters. Aside from missteps at the original annoucement I think you’ll find we’ve been pretty successful.
As soon as the Board voted to expand Shimer’s Weekday Program to Chicago, our community began to create a carefully structured project plan. We collected granular concerns from students, faculty, staff, alums, and notes from firesides, Assembly meetings, and general brainstorming sessions. The resulting several hundred pieces of information were consolidated into a project plan designed to facilitate Shimer’s meeting deadlines, addressing concerns, and balancing the workload amongst ourselves in a fashion that would prevent as much disruption as possible to our spring semester academic schedule.
What sort of tasks would be part of such a plan? Items as complex as how to be certain our architect really understands Shimer’s community before she begins her designs to things as mundane as how to define “smoking areas” in the exterior spaces. Items as critical to maintaining the Shimer experience as how to preserve community dining, firesides, theatre, and Assembly to less weighty issues like “how will we keep the coffee flowing?” Each of these hundreds of tasks has a staff member assigned to it. While we may not be responsible for doing the work, we’re absolutely responsible for making sure it gets done. Essentially we’re attempting nothing more extraordinary than the type of cooperation and group achievement that we do so well at Shimer. We work together, deal with problems head on, share responsibility and work as a group towards a satisfactory outcome.
In terms of items completed, the lease and student services agreement was signed on Friday April 7th. These documents outline the framework of our physical presence on the Chicago campus. We’ve also provided that the same kinds of services that are already available to IIT students will be extended to Shimer students such as health care, gymnasium, library, u-pass CTA access, campus-wide computer labs, wireless networks, printing, etc. Negotiations are always energetic – Shimer won some points and conceded some points. In the end we’ve a good workable understanding of our mutual obligations and freedoms over the term of the lease.
Construction crews have been working pretty much non-stop since March (it was one of IIT’s good-faith gestures that they began building to Shimer’s specifications long before the lease was signed or any construction dollars changed hands). All windows are being removed and replaced, sprinklers installed, and the entire site prepared for decorating in mid-June. Barring any unforeseen delays it would seem we are on track for an August 1st move-in date. Final color samples for paint and carpeting should be available for community comment next week. We can make a copy of the floor-plan available on request. Some of the Shimer-specific details we’ve designed include removal of most of the West side interior walls to create a large open free-form lounge, removing walls to create “double-wide” classroom spaces, and consolidating several large rooms into a single multi-purpose enclosed space on the East side which will serve for film screenings, Assembly, lectures and some performances.
Exterior planning is less able to be customized, but we’ve been given some leeway in this regard. Stuart Patterson will work with some students on this outside space. There seems to be some misconception of the campus as a concrete urban strip – but as we hope you’ll find when you visit, Mies worked directly with famous Chicago landscape architect Alfred Caldwell (The Lily Pool in Lincoln Park, The Peace Garden at Irving Park Rd.) to create vast green areas surrounded by open-plan buildings. We’ll do our best to bring the Shimer touch!
Shimer Faculty and Staff continue to build relationships with our counterparts at IIT. These contacts have been overwhelmingly positive: not just from the standpoint of being cooperative with one another, but we sense a real excitement and enthusiasm about Shimer’s presence this fall. This was especially evident at an IIT – Shimer summit meeting held in March and hosted by IIT when almost 35 staff from both institutions had a working lunch to focus goals and clarify open issues.
Wes and Noah have created a computer kiosk in Admissions with a virtual tour of the IIT campus and the new Shimer space.
Noah and Lance are developing programs to build and maintain Shimer community in Chicago. There’s some talk of a joint social event sometime this spring and we’re still planning to organize a larger field-trip event to include a tour of the campus, the space under construction, a meal in the commons, and a cultural event of some type in Chicago before returning to Waukegan.
Don Moon has been working his way through the weekday student body with individually scheduled meetings to assess student feelings, assist in planning, and generally be a sounding board for community sentiment. He’s found great excitement, occasional trepidation, but only one student who has reported she won’t be returning next year – her reason being non-IIT related. Students and staff are all singularly focused on maintaining community and intimacy as well as academic integrity.
APC, the Faculty, and Dean Barbara Stone have worked out a new weekly class schedule grid that embeds a Tuesday community lunch which segues into a completely class-free Tuesday afternoon. This is set aside as community time for activities, performances, lectures, or (perhaps most important) just hanging around together before heading outside for Frisbee. The rearrangement of the week did require the sacrifice of “no-class-Wednesday” but most students seem to feel that we’ve gained more than we’ve lost in that regard.
Now that our lease is signed and more specifics have become clear, you should be seeing a fresh copy of Symposium in your mail in the next few weeks and increasing communication from the Development Office. Until then, please continue to show the amazing support and care for Shimer’s future that you’ve exhibited on this website and when you’ve concerns, we’ll do our best to answer them.
There have been questions here regarding final celebrations and “farewells” to Waukegan.
The date for Solidarity Day has been erroneously reported here and should be corrected to Saturday May 13th. As always, everyone is encouraged to attend the events…the only restriction is with regard to Solidarity Night at the North Avenue Dormitory, the Dean of Students asks that”any non-student must be with a specific host who is responsible for the guest's behavior”.
Shimer’s final Waukegan Commencement is Saturday May 20th. Watch the website for more information.
Sunday, April 16, 2006
Lifted Post: This letter, posted in February, from xflickerflyx is a little saddening:
When I first heard the news about Shimer moving to Chicago, I was both surprised and jealous. My surprise stemmed from the fact that the idea of moving seemed to come very unexpectedly. I was jealous because when I first came to Shimer, my friends and I would always talk about how amazing it would be if Shimer could be somewhere in the city. I wanted to have a Shimer-in-Chicago experience. My feelings soon shifted to a general uncaring attitude because as a Senior, no matter what happens next year, I won't be around to experience it. So I said fuck it -- I decided not to participate in any of the meetings about IIT or the vote -- the whole process seemed beyond my control anyway.As I started to hear more information about IIT, the less exciting it sounded. In my visions of a Chicago campus, I always thought it would be wonderful if Shimer had its own dedicated campus somewhere closer to the city, but this IIT situation was nothing of the sort. First of all, it's on the south end of downtown in an area that really isn't all too appealing for a plethora of reasons. Secondly it's a technical college. While I feel like the fact that it is a technical college says enough, I will elaborate on how ridiculous it is that a liberal arts college is moving into a building that is much more appropriate for scenes from the movie "2001: a space odyssey". The space and people we will be surrounding ourselves with are not inspiring for delicious conversations about art and philosophy.Okay, so none of this really even mattered to me until I went to the "fireside with Bill Rice" yesterday. I was ready to dismiss Shimer and bid it good riddance and good luck (which I actually did in my online blog). But last night's discussion made me realize that this school will not survive at IIT. By "this school", I mean the community and environment that is held in high regard by nearly all the students that attend and have attended this college on this campus (I cannot speak for the mt. carroll campus, as I have no frame of reference). Listening to Mr. Rice discuss forcing a community in a place where it is EXTREMELY obvious that little to no community will exist was disheartening at best. You cannot force a community to happen. The suggestions for "keeping the community together" included: requiring students to live in on-campus housing (the dorms at IIT are tiny and require that students who live in them buy a meal plan at a significant increase in cost) and eating together, along with having classes together.The IIT campus is quite large and obviously does not belong exclusively to Shimer College. There is no off-campus housing that is nearby (ie: many houses within walking distance like there are here in Waukegan), forcing students and faculty to live quite spread out from one another. I don't know how one can force students to eat together when they're at a place that gives them a myriad of decisions about where and when they want to eat (cafeterias, outdoor "parks", etc).The reason why the weekday students have a very tight-knit community in Waukegan is because we must, because there aren't a whole lot of other options to be had here. Nearly all of us live within walking distance from the school. We see each other at our best and at our worst. It's incestuous and complicated and beautiful.I can see how weekend students and others that do not live on campus (some faculty and staff, etc) feel like this move won't affect the community all that much. I am sure I'll get hell for saying this, but I don't think you can really be part of the true Shimer spirit unless you live here or take great effort to be around. I speak from experience in that I have been an on-campus weekday student, an off-campus weekend student, a commuter weekday student and an off-campus (in Waukegan) weekday student. I have seen nearly every aspect of community involvement at Shimer College. I can say very assuredly that the only times I have ever felt like I was truly a part of Shimer College was when I've lived in Waukegan. When I commuted back and forth, I rarely stayed around to hang out and just be with fellow students, even though I had several good friends who lived in Waukegan and often invited me to stick around. It was a hassle to travel and to not be near my "home base". Perhaps this can be critiqued as part of my personality and social issues, but I would venture to guess that most people tend to like to be nearish to their homes, especially when they need to study or they're out drinking or staying out late and getting home 40 minutes to an hour away isn't an appealing process. This will be an issue at IIT. There is no way that this sense of community that I equate with Shimer College can be recreated at a place that we will be so diluted in.And so here we are, thank you Bill Rice. It's really too bad you never got to experience Shimer College, and now you never will. I think it might even be appropriate to change the name, because this place, as it exists will never be the same. And sure, the world is always changing and it's inevitable that it will, I for one don't want to sit idly by and just watch all this disappear. I hope that the gold that "the college" hopes to fill its pockets with by this move will be worth the death of our school.And please, stop calling it an "expansion", it's just offensive.Amanda StilwellShimer Student 2002-2006 (accepted 1997, but delayed entry)
I just wanted to encapsulate some of the last comments. We who are not on campus are really hoping to be able to understand what is going on with the move. So I have a few questions:
- Can we get a link to this blog on the Shimer College website?
- Is there a person or persons on campus who can keep us up to date by posting?
- Can someone please post the letter Dave Koukal is inquiring about?
- What is the date of Solidarity Night?
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
It has been tough to think about what might happen to Shimer in the future. I know, on a conscious level that the move it not going to be the end of Shimer, but that does not mean I’m falling all over myself about the move.
I’m curious, though, about the preparations. What is going on over there? It’s been a while since anything has been said one way or another. Has the building redesign been finished? When will students officially move? Is there some sort of last hurrah? Will there be a maypole one last time at Shimer? What will happen to reunions?
I know it’s a lot of questions, but I’m frustrated, worried, disconnected, and far away. Like all things, this place I miss and call home is changing, and I can’t be a part of it, so I wonder what is going on?
Anyone, and everyone, feel free to help those of us who are feeling either disaffected or disconnected know what is going on.
Friday, March 03, 2006
So, welcome IIT bloggers!
Wednesday, March 01, 2006
I'd like to first start up by extending a welcome to our campus. I know many of you were against the move and I don't find it strange that your loyalty to your college is so strong. I only think it shows that the Shimer spirit won't be lost even while at IIT. But since you're all moving, I think we should make the best of it.
Anyways, I'd like to clear up some misconceptions about IIT. First, I know the area isn't the greatest but it's getting better and to be honest, in my four years at IIT, never once was I mugged or assulted. Its not nearly as bad as people initially think and really, common sense will keep you safe. Strangely, I have a unique perspective since I happen to be in North Chicago right now, merely a few miles from Waukegan so I know how it is to live on the far north side :)
Also some people seem to view IIT as a giant behemoth that attempts to swallow Shimer whole and possibly, if it dislikes its taste, spit it back out. To be honest, among universities, IIT isn't that large either, undergraduate at least. I come from California where a typical public university has in excess of 20,000 undergrad students. When I came to IIT, I found the undergraduate population fairly small and even somewhat tight knit. (particularily if you live in the dorms) You'll come to see that IIT is very fragmented. It has five campuses, each of which is like a seperate universe, the law school, institute of design, are of so little concern when I was attending that I entirely forgot they existed sometimes. IIT really has its own spirit as well and much like you, we have a sort of understanding what sort of student IIT will attract.
Many of my friends from IIT were amazingly well rounded people. Intelligent, quite aware of world events, and just in general, open to new ideas. Some of them were more brillant than I had anticipated a school like IIT having. Seriously, there were quite a few students who could have gone elsewhere to big name, well respected schools, but many had good reasons to come to IIT (namely scholarship, just about everyone at IIT has some sort of scholarship due to the fact that the university gives out many of them as their "hook" to attract bright students) Now that you are moving, I hope the Shimer community can try to open up and get to know some of us. I think both Shimer and IIT can gain and learn an enormous amount from each other. There are many IIT students who have an appreciation for the arts and literature. While at IIT, I myself took a Shakespeare course because I had an interest in Shakespeare in high school. I was also required to read Origin of the Species by Charles Darwin as part of a class. My girlfriend who graduated with a political science degree from IIT and came as an exchange student from Moscow is a lover of Dovstoyevsky and Russian literature. On the flipside, can Shimer students honestly say that taking a few very stoic, hardcore science courses will hurt them? I think maybe it might just help people bridge a gap in understanding different professions.
I know that many of you believe this move will not benefit Shimer in the end and I won't try to argue that. You have the best intentions for your college and certainly, you know it far better than I ever will. But really, I think there is much to gain on both sides. IIT's humanities are quite flimsy. I knew a girl who wanted to minor in literature/classics and she had to create her own program simply because she had taken all the classes at IIT in humanities but they still weren't enough for a minor!
Anyways, if anything, you'll find IIT has a strong appreciation for the arts. Architecture is revered at IIT. The campus is one of most important works of architecture in the US and you'll find creativity is well praised. Not all of us are pocket protector, slide rule, graph paper wielding engineers who only believe in data :)
Lastly, it can work. Shimer can keep its identity and still remain a part of the IIT community. I present, as an example, the Claremont Colleges. An institution of five seperate colleges. Each has its own flavor, uniqueness and manages to keep it without having to be stuck under the umbrella of a giant university. Students can take classes in any of the colleges but they all manage to maintain their unique spirits. The colleges consist of institutions that could not be farther from each other in terms of philosophy, an woman's college specializing in humanities, a very well known and tough engineering school and others. But they all get along and seem to enjoy the relationship they have developed.
Please, give it a chance and please get to know us. Set up a booth in MTCC with signs like "get to know Shimer, we're here finally!". You have come from afar to begin life anew so please, sit, eat and tell us about your college, spirit and people.
Sunday, February 26, 2006
I was checking the links that we have for the Shimer Blogs. I am not able to find all of them and post. Do you have time to do this??? I feel like we need to solidify the online community by making it easier to bounce back and forth between the various blogs…
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
What about Shimer College and the Future? Really, much more than semantic, I think. It is an admission. The most notable aspect of the dialogue is the powerful influence of money. Not monies that may or may not have moved Shimer but the influence of a global economy on the most powerful nation in the world. The admission is that this new world is about educating people that help other people get rich. That is what the society “needs”. The future of Shimer is surely about the needs of the society. Society wants employees with a less ethereal focus. Employees focused on a very old Protestant view of success and wealth and the wealthy.
What does Shimer serve now? Is it still about a better education? Is it still about a more holistic approach to education? As I may have mentioned before, I am a CPS teacher. My school most definitely reflects the economics of the surrounding area. The neighborhood is poor, the school is poor. Waukegan is poor. Shimer’s move was about making sure that school was financially sound—not about loftier goals of say: Putting power in the hands of the people.
If we are going to discuss Shimer’s Future I feel we must talk about the paradigm shift that is fast making good public education a thing of the past and any good education something for rich people. Let’s talk about preparing students to do battle in a society where only the wealthy can run for or hold high political office.
I know that someone mentioned earlier in this blog that corporate America had integrity in regards to its stand on good writing skills et al. If I had had time that day I would have pointed out that my experience in corporate America revealed it to be the home of whispering religious conservatives. I heard the disparaging remarks about homosexuals, African Americans, and cursing about political correctness as an Albatross around the necks of plain talking people. Certainly, it is only my experience and even worse my perspective on my experience. But the experience was sadly disheartening. I lost faith in the ability of people to make healthy decisions in the spirit and tradition of Rousseau.
How can you condemn all women to the boundaries of a faith they may not even share?
Why can’t CEO’s be held accountable for screwing up and what sense does it make to pay millions to executives of a failing company and blame the failure on the pension and insurance benefits or 500 or so $50-70,000.00 a year employees?
At the rate of regentrification in Chicago, IIT, in a very short period of time will be serving a very affluent community. I know because I have lived through several waves of regentrification.
Shimer was more than an education to me. It was a cause. Yeah, I’d like to know. Exactly what is the great plan for Shimer in Chicago?
P.S. It was Sara devil’s idea to change the name. I thought “What’s in a name?” Then I thought about you Chris. Really what is the future of Shimer College? What can we expect the school to maintain in regards to its integrity? What about the leadership?
What the hell does the school stand for now anyway?
Fight the Power!
Please forward the following letter to David Shiner. Tell him it is a question about baseball. Here is the question in two parts:
Given the “Hoop Dreams” like focus of young ball players in the Dominican Republic, the expansion of the internet into third world countries, new concepts of the global economy as being “flat”, (meaning that the internet has made the third world a serious competitor in the world market place) what has been the influence of the exploding global economy on Major League baseball?
Will Shimer have a baseball team in Chicago?
Sunday, February 19, 2006
Thanks for posting. Sara, I thnk you are right. The blog has to stay up. My opinion though is that it should stay of an activist nature. We need to keep an eye on what is happening with Shimer. As I have said before I want Shimer to succeed. That success was not contingent on it's location but on it's integrity. So much integrity has been lost in the worlds of art and academics that it makes me weary. This blog allows me to be active without losing myself to it.
Sonia, I can't say that I will make the Plato discussion-- although he is my favorite but I will make some of the dialogues definately...okay so now i am really considering the Plato thingy...
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
I have some news which I am hoping to use you as a tool to publicize. You even, I hear, have a virtual Shimer group.
The news: on Wednesday, March 15 at 7:00pm at the Uptown Border's on Lawrence, there will take place a discussion on Plato's The Republic, the topic: the role of the church in the state. This will be the first meeting of a new great books discussion group facilitated, at least in the beginning - I expect anarchy no later than the 2nd meeting - by me. Anyone who has done the reading recently is welcome to participate.
For further details (there aren't any but people do so like to think that there is always more), I can be emailed at Uptowngreatbooks@yahoo.com.
Thanks and let's have coffee sometime.
Sunday, February 05, 2006
Saturday, January 28, 2006
Great Books and City Lights
What do you get when you cross a tiny, independent Great Books institution, with a big city technology institute? An ingenious idea.
Shimer College, in Waukegan, Ill., is working on an answer to that question. The liberal arts college is picking up its 100 undergraduates and moving 40 miles south to the campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology, in Chicago.
Initially, the agreement is simply a leasing arrangement, and the two private institutions will maintain their own faculties and boards. Shimer will lease 17,000 square feet on the IIT campus. Some Shimer students will live in IIT dorms, and may soon enjoy some of the benefits of the larger institution.
"We've been discussing having their students use our library services, and maybe moving their [20,000 book] collection to our library," said John Collins, vice president for business and administration at IIT. Shimer students may soon have access to other amenities at IIT, like the athletic and dining facilities.
As far as Shimer is concerned the Windy City real estate is the main attraction. Shimer spokesman Christopher Hawkins-Long said the college is looking to expand and "we can reach a broader audience in Chicago." Hawkins-Long said that Shimer wasn't shopping around for a new venue, but that the plan grew out of personal conversations between Shimer and IIT administrators. Eventually, cross-registration opportunities might be available for IIT and Shimer students. Shimer's curriculum is centered on a broad set of core requirements in the humanities and sciences, and small discussion classes where students read major texts of Western civilization.
George Dehne, an enrollment consultant who has worked with both Shimer and IIT, said in an e-mail that the urban setting is a bit tough, and that "there could not be two more different groups of students then artsy, intellectual and sort of outside the mainstream as the Shimer students and the career-driven, technology oriented IIT students." But Dehne said that Shimer will never reach capacity in Waukegan, and called the move "an ingenious idea."
Dehne said that IIT, which has just over 2,000 undergraduates, is also under enrolled, so the relationship will be symbiotic. Administrators from both Shimer and IIT said that collaboration beyond space-sharing may be in the offing. Shimer president William Craig Rice said that "Shimer will strengthen the liberal arts on the [IIT's] campus, reinvigorate the Great Books tradition with deep roots in Chicago, and Shimer students will benefit from IIT's strengths in science and technology."
IIT has already seen a relationship grow with another tenant, the VanderCook College of Music. "Over time it's evolved where our students take some of their classes," Collins said. "Initially, that didn't happen, but now it does, and it's mutually beneficial."
Still, Dehne said, the Shimer-IIT understanding isn't likely to open the floodgates for similar college partnerships. "Institutional egos are very, very large," he said. "I worked with a consortium of small, relatively desperate, Christian colleges within about 30 miles of each other," Dehne said. "I recommended some kind of consolidation, similar to IIT and Shimer, but none would budge because each did not think the others were Christian enough."
Dehne added that the cultural attractions of the city will be a great complement to the Great Books curriculum, and the kind of round-the-clock activity that Dehne said his firm's research shows "the Millenials crave…. In our current student surveys more than 8 of 10 students say they go to bed at 1 a.m. or later. Obviously, small town or rural colleges have a hard time competing."
Stuart Patterson, who teaches natural sciences at Shimer, said that he's excited about the move because it will help further diversify the student body. "We'll get a great mix of student experiences," he said. "[The move] expresses a certain realism about where we'll do best." He added that there is some "trepidation among students," simply because they're used to the Waukegan setting.
Shimer won't be completely packing up and leaving for the big city. Shimer's graduate teacher education programs, which serves about a dozen students, and its science labs for home schooled middle and high school kids, which serves 40-50 students, will stay in Waukegan.
Richard H. Hyde, the mayor of Waukegan, a diverse city with about 90,000 residents, is sad to see the college go. Hyde said the city "understood their space problem … so we offered them one of our hotels that's been out of commission for 15 years." Hyde said the hotel is a beautiful old building, but that Shimer would have had to renovate it, and, obviously, it isn't in Chicago.
Hyde said he understands, but that "we hate to see them go. They were a real asset to the community."
— David Epstein
Thursday, January 26, 2006
For myself I intend to continue asking questions and posting. A mistake I made early was not staying touch and keeping track of things. From here on out I will keep an eye toward Shimer College.
I will need help to do that. This blog has told me more about what has happened to Shimer since my leaving than any other communication.
Sunday, January 22, 2006
It seems that once again the ability to make a cogent argument that has nothing to do with facts outweighs common sense. We are ignoring the unorthodox manner in which this proposal was presented and ignoring the "haste makes waste" irony. That seems to be a theme in our nation today. Administrative shenanigans are ignored in the spirit of unity.
I seem to remember some arguments in my education that painstakingly warned against leaders who opposed their detractors by challenging their loyalty to the nation. Shimer is giving up its unique place in the world of academia to stand in the ranks of colleges and universities who sole purpose in teaching the works of great authors, logicians and theologists is to come up with a slick advertising campaign to lure consumers. We are shoring up the battlements of an economic machine whose greatest accomplishment in the past hundred years has been the financial disenfranchisement of millions. The business paradigm they serve operates on the premise that one should make more than they made last year. So, very similar to the rhetoric that believes a war on terrorism can be successful. How can war end war? How can greed end greed?
I know for a fact that Shimer’s board gave only a cursory ear to the proposal that the board made. I know for a fact that they gave the city of Waukegan barely more than two months to make a proposal. How very aloof! How very arrogant of us!
Sarcasm: Yes, let us move forward. Let's take higher education, of the quality that Shimer offers, into the city where there are true intellects that can appreciates and can afford the quality of what Shimer offers.
I thought the words under the tree were "to serve". Amend that to "to serve when a profit can be made." I don't want Shimer’s Faculty and staff to be poor and starving but something really stinks about the way this went down.
Correct me if I am wrong but isn't consensus what George Bush asked for when he found out that people disagreed with and mistrusted him? Am I a traitor now?
Thursday, January 19, 2006
It’s been a hard couple of days for me, as I’m sure it has been for all of us. A decision by the Board and the Assembly to relocate to IIT’s campus is not something we should take lightly. I’m not certain that we’ve made the right decision, but I’m certain that I’d be equally uncertain if we had made a different decision. I was honored to be able to speak to my concerns at both the Assembly meeting and the Board meeting.
I am certain, however, that the only right decision now is to fully support the relocation and not drag our heels. It’s now time to find creative solutions.
Shimer at IIT would lack community, many of us have said. Now is the time to figure out how to make community happen at IIT.
Shimer at IIT would place an undue burden on students because of the need to sign up for a meal plan if living in housing, many of us have said. Now is the time to advocate for and work for a creative solution that satisfies the needs of all Shimer students for the Shimer-at-IIT housing experience.
Shimer at IIT would remove the possibility of self-governance, many of us worry. Now is the time to create strong democratic institutions that will prosper on IIT’s campus, to make that self-governance fit to survive relocation.
I promise that whatever my feelings about the proposed relocation were up through Tuesday, from now forward I will work to make the best of the situation in which Shimer is.
Not all of the board members voted to relocate, but we’ve all committed to work for the College in its new home. All of the members of the faculty have likewise committed to work for the College in its new home. As a student and a member of the Assembly, I urge my fellow students and members of the Assembly to join the Board and the faculty in openly declaring that wherever Shimer may be, we’ll work to support it.
We’ve had our say in the democratic decision-making process, and we must stand by it. If we believe, as I hope we do, in the democratic governance structure of the College, we can’t bail out if the Assembly and Board don’t agree with us individually.
I can’t stress this enough. However much we may want to complain bitterly, there isn’t time. All of us must band together in order to make Shimer stay the Shimer we know and love in our new home. If we don’t come together, we’ll lose Shimer.
Thursday, January 19, 2006
SHIMER BOLTS COUNTY
College to move: Operations to IIT campus in Chicago
By Dan Moran
WAUKEGAN — The opportunity to set up shop on the Illinois Institute of Technology campus proved to be too strong a pull for Shimer College to stay in Waukegan, as the school's Board of Trustees announced Wednesday that Shimer will move to Chicago for the fall 2006 semester.
The news was announced late Wednesday afternoon, nearly 24 hours after the board first sat down to debate the IIT proposal. While declining to reveal the final vote from the 17-member panel, Shimer President William Rice said late Wednesday the meeting went on for more than five hours.
"It was a very long and very thorough discussion, and I think everyone had a chance to be heard," Rice said, adding that the final decision reflected what the board felt is best "in the long-term interest of the college."
Specifically, Shimer officials pointed to the access to a wider pool of students and benefactors that would come with a Chicago location, and also the opportunity to partner with IIT in academic programs.
"IIT's invitation to Shimer proved attractive because the two institutions have much to offer each other academically and intellectually," Rice said in a statement announcing the move. "Shimer will strengthen the liberal arts on the university's campus, reinvigorate the Great Books tradition with deep roots in Chicago, and Shimer students will benefit from IIT's strengths in science and technology."
Along with the Chicago address and the partnership with IIT, Shimer officials said the factors in favor of the move included student access to expanded facilities and student services, such as athletic facilities, health services and library, and residential and dining options.
The decision to move south came despite an offer forwarded by Waukegan officials late last week to arrange either a move to the Karcher Hotel, which is scheduled for a multimillion-dollar redevelopment, or a deal with local trade unions to renovate buildings on Shimer's Sheridan Road campus.
After hearing news of the move around 4 p.m. Wednesday, Mayor Richard Hyde said he realized Shimer "needed more than we could offer them" when it came to marketing the college.
"I think they weighed what we offered them, but the bottom line was money. They need students, and they need students badly," Hyde said. "Right from the get-go, I figured that if IIT wanted them, it would boost their student population.
"It'll be a plus for them," added Hyde, "and Waukegan will be sorry to see them go."
According to a statement from school officials, Shimer "expects to continue to offer certain programs at its current location in Waukegan," including graduate teacher programs through its Hutchins Institute, and a laboratory science program for home-schooled students from kindergarten through high school age.
Waukegan Main Street Executive Director Theodora Anderson said the decision was "sad to hear" after the local business community had joined in lobbying Shimer to remain in Waukegan. But at the same time, Anderson expressed understanding for Shimer's position.
"I guess there were two reasons given for their decision, and they are sort of overwhelmingly in favor of Chicago," she said. "They feel they will be able to better recruit new students, which has been a major concern for them, and they will have more access to (financial donors).
"Those are two fairly compelling reasons, although I'm told they really like the proposals from Waukegan," Anderson added. "I can accept (the decision). I'm just sad to see them leaving Waukegan. Having a four-year college here was an asset for our quality of life."
Both Hyde and Anderson said they will monitor the future of the buildings owned by Shimer along the 400 block of Sheridan Road and the square block to the west.
Some of the 10-plus buildings have historic significance, including Shimer's original Waukegan headquarters at 438 Sheridan, which dates back to the 1840s and is one of the county's oldest brick structures.
Rice said it is "too early to say" how many of the buildings will be kept under the Shimer banner for the remaining K-12 and graduate programs.
"We may also maintain more programs, but that will be determined (later)," Rice said, adding that "certainly not all our buildings" will be vacated.
The email follows:
Hi Katie. Sorry I did not respond earlier to your email. I appreciate your kind comments.
I have received other messages (I have never blogged before!) and thought it interesting that so many of you share the feelings about Waukegan.......if only the new Board and new President had bothered to survey the students and alumni when they took control this would never have happened. Sad that the leaders of an instituion like Shimer - who espouses open communication and discussion - went "back door" in doing this deal. Shame on them.
You have followed the story. Unfortunately, we received the official word yesterday that they were taking the college to the south side of Chicago. The offer we put together of moving the facilites to the historic Karcher Hotel was a fantastic one and would have kept the "community" of Shimer intact. It is our feeling that some donor probably dangled a bunch of money for Kim and Rice to endorse this move. Again, if that is the case, it flies in the face of what Shimer is about....Waukegan did appreciate your presence and I personally feel that the kids who come to Shimer will be poorer for the experience in not being able to freely (and safely) walk and live in Waukegan. The IIT location is in a pretty shabby part of Chicago (as you well know). We will miss the kids presence and contributions made to Waukegan.
I would be interested to know - if anyone from the Board will actually admit it - if a single donor had the power to make Shimer pull up stakes. Hope that you and your fellow alumni can find out. We will never hear from Rice or Kim directly, that I know. Take care!
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
The data that follows has been collated from a survey sent to Shimer Alums,
Friends, Former Faculty, Former Staff, Parents and Friends by Bill Rice and Jim
Donovan, asking them for feedback on the College’s proposed expansion to IIT’s
main campus on
The following numbers represent the respondents from each specific group
involved in the survey:
1. Alumni: 377
2. Former faculty: 9
3. Former staff: 4
4. Parents: 16
5. Friends: 40
Below, the alumni responses are separated by decade. The numbers don’t add up to
the alumni total, as some alums did not mention the decade in which they
attended the school.
Responses to the Questions on the Survey
(not every respondent replied to every question)
1. Do you believe that the proposed move to IIT will help improve Shimer’s
Yes: 328; No: 83
2. Do you believe that the proposed move to IIT will help attract donors to the
Yes: 262; No: 134
3. Do you believe that Shimer will be able to maintain its institutional
independence if it relocates to the IIT campus?
Yes: 250; No: 150
4. Do you believe that Shimer will be able to maintain its identity and sense of
mission if it relocates to the IIT campus?
Yes: 252; No: 141
5. What is your overall opinion of the proposed move to IIT?
Strongly in favor: 185 (42%); Somewhat in favor: 124 (29%); Somewhat opposed: 53
(12%); Strongly opposed: 73 (17%)
6. Main Factors that concern you about the move:
The most-often mentioned area of concern was loss of Shimer’s uniqueness and/or
identity. Second was the south side of
, especially with respect to Chicago
student safety. Next most often cited were three factors: loss of community,
loss of isolation needed for a college like Shimer, and concern about the
preservation of the academic program, especially the core curriculum. Also
receiving several mentions were institutional independence and autonomy, the
benefits Shimer offers
Waukeganand , and concern about the College Lake County
being swallowed up by a larger institution.
7. Main factors that please you about the move:
The most often mentioned areas of optimism were expectation of increased
enrollment, additional course options for Shimer students, and the amenities
and activities available in
. (The first two of those were often Chicago
mentioned together.) Next most often cited were facilities improvements
(including lack of need for maintaining the current campus) and the expectation
of a better financial situation (including both improved fundraising
opportunities and reduced costs). Also receiving several mentions were better
amenities and resources for students, diversity of interpersonal interactions,
and benefits to IIT of Shimer’s presence.
Last night (January 17) the Shimer College Board of Trustees resolved to move most of the College's operations to the campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. Today we learned that IIT's Board of Trustees has accepted the proposal to host Shimer on its Chicago campus.
As a faculty member of Shimer's Board, and as a reader of this blogsite who has previously posted here, I realize that this decision will disappoint some or many of you. I can assure you that the Board's decision was not easily reached and that the Trustees did not by any means regard it as a slam-dunk. It came after much dicussion over the past several months and after almost five hours of deliberation last night. During these deliberations concerns that have been posted on this site, including the effect of relocation on Shimer as a community, were discussed. Strong arguments were made against the IIT proposal and in favor of alternative proposals. All three of the student Trustees attended the meeting and contributed vigorously.
Before the vote was taken, all the members of the Board vowed to continue to support the College regardless of the outcome of the vote. I ask all alums and friends of Shimer College, who have lately demonstrated their devotion to Shimer on this blogsite and elsewhere, to take the same attitude.
I believe that the vote was essentially a response to mounting evidence that maintaining the status quo in Waukegan would amount to unacceptable jeopardy of the College's future. Although all of us on the Board are well aware that the planned relocation is also fraught with risk, the majority's judgment is that Chicago and IIT are the better option in terms of both risk and opportunity. As for the concerns about the future of Shimer as a community mentioned above, speaking for myself, I repeat one of the points I tried to make in my December 17 posting ("The Case for Moving to Chicago"). Shimer has all along resisted potent pressures, mostly financial, to compromise its mission and character. If we were to remain in Waukegan, it seems likely that in time presures to increase class size, offer more marketable courses, and become a more vertical and less communitarian sort of place, would be at least as strong as they might be in Chicago, and to be resisted only on pain of having to shut down.
In response to recent postings by Bill Brickee and others, yes, the City of Waukegan did offer to provide us with a renovated building, the former Karcher Hotel, or, as another option, very substantial help in sprucing up the current campus. Much could be said, and was said, for the City's offers. But the Karcher Hotel option would not have reduced our costs, the long-term effect on enrollment would have been minor, in my judgment and the judgment of others, and it might have compelled the College to go into the leasing business. Both options, dependent on future approval and funding by various organizations and city departments, might never have materialized at all.
More information on the Board's decision and future plans can be found in David Shiner's internal announcement--already posted on this site, I notice--and on the College's website (linked to this post). We also expect considerable press coverage of this news.
My personal appreciation to all those of you who have posted on this site and shown so much concern for the future of Shimer College.
Albert B. Fernandez
Shimer Faculty and Faculty Trustee
From David Shiner:
Following a meeting that lasted for four and one-half hours, the Shimer College Board of Trustees voted to expand its operations to IIT’s Main Campus in Chicago.
Technically, the agreement commits Shimer to an expansion, not a move out of Waukegan. We expect to continue to hold some programs in Waukegan, including the lab science program for home-schooled students of middle and high school age and the Hutchins Institute, featuring graduate programs for teachers, as well as perhaps others. However, it is anticipated that many of the buildings on the Waukegan campus will be put up for sale and that the Weekday Program will operate only on the IIT campus beginning in the Fall 2006 semester.
Many details regarding the expansion have yet to be determined. They will be decided within the Shimer community in the coming months. Most Assembly committees, the faculty, and other bodies will hold more meetings than usual for these purposes. Next week's Staff Retreat will also be dedicated to this.
Wednesday, January 04, 2006
In what follows I have drawn extensively on David Shiner's document of 8 December 2005, "Choosing Our Future." But I have also surely been influenced by the many letters, comments and essays posted here. This requires an expression of gratitude.
Working my way through this online forum has reminded me of how much I love and miss Shimer. The thoughts and passions expressed here on a very difficult issue have for the most part lived up to the very best in Shimerian dialogue--clear and measured expression, attention to argumentative detail, rhetorical playfulness, and most importantly, genuine attempts to listen to and understand what the other is saying. Thank you all for your love of our school, and for manifesting this love in this discourse. This is who we are.
There were two main resolutions passed by the Assembly on 18 December. One, by an overwhelming vote, instructed the Board to pursue offers from the city of Waukegan concurrently with its negotiations with IIT. The other, passed by a vote of 46-29, gave the Board full authority to enter into a lease agreement with that school if the Board judges such an agreement to be in the best interests of the College.
In these two resolutions we can see the ambivalence of the Assembly toward the proposed move. I would be surprised if the "Waukegan resolution" was not proposed and passed in an attempt to preserve the unity of the Shimer community at this difficult time.
Hopefully the Board will take the "Waukegan resolution" seriously, especially since the city has strongly signaled its desire to sit down with the College, in a News Sun article published on 20 December. Like most cities in the nation, Waukegan is confronted with its own struggles and challenges, so it could well be that any "offer" from Waukegan would not be substantial enough to adequately address Shimer's needs. Nevertheless, the Board is bound to seriously consider any such offers, as per the second (Waukegan) resolution overwhelmingly passed by the Assembly.
However, I am bothered by the fact that all of the subsequent resolutions passed on 18 December assumed the move to IIT. Furthermore, the language of the "IIT resolution," in giving the Board full authority to enter into the lease agreement without further consultation with the Assembly, indicates to me that the College is moving in that direction.
And if this is so, I fear that the attempt to mollify opponents through the "Waukegan resolution" will prove very short-term, re-exposing a dangerous rift that surfaced when talk of the move became public knowledge.
There seems to be wide agreement that the manner in which this issue surfaced could have been handled in a better way. But my sense is that the issue itself is inherently divisive, and would have remained so even if it had been introduced into the community with the utmost sensitivity. Stay or go, I think it very conceivable that the College will lose students and perhaps donations over this matter. If I am correct, the Board needs to plan accordingly no matter what it decides.
Nevertheless, from this point on, I am assuming that the College is moving toward a lease agreement with IIT. This makes me sad for Waukegan. I think the city needs us more than Chicago does. But that's not an argument I'm prepared to make, colored as it would be by the mysterious (but still very real!) spatial poetics of the College in Waukegan and a genuine affection for my place of birth. Besides, the issue is the future of the College, irregardless of place.
Proponents of the move say the future of the College will be better secured in Chicago, alongside of IIT. Our first duty, as I see it now, is to examine the merits of this claim as presented by Dave Shiner in "Choosing Our Future." As far as I know, this is the most detailed account of the proposal that has been made available to the general community. By Dave's own admission this document leaves many questions unaddressed. I would go further here: I think the document actually raises more questions than it answers. There are many troubling "ifs," omissions, weak premises and doubtful assumptions. I understand that Dave is not responsible for the document's content, and his efforts in collecting and collating this mass of material and presenting it in intelligible form on such short notice should be applauded. All page references will refer to this document.
Our second duty, in the present circumstances, is to address our comments on this document to the Board--since the future of the College now lays exclusively in its hands.
II. What I Find Convincing and Comforting about the Proposal
The following points are arranged in no particular order or priority.
a. This is not a proposal to merge or formally affiliate with IIT, but a business arrangement. Unlike the Roosevelt affair in the 1980s, the proposed relationship with IIT comes with no money flowing into Shimer's coffers, which would undoubtedly have strings attached. Shimer's core, its faculty and pedagogy, its governance structure, administration and board will remain firmly under the control of the College (p. 2).
b. The proposal allows the College to relieve itself of the costs of maintaining an aging campus. History repeats itself.
c. The proposal will allow access to resources Shimer students have not enjoyed in Waukegan. More dining options, better information technology, health services, gymnasium, library, student organizations, discounted CTA and Metra passes, etc. (p. 2).
d. The proposal allows closer proximity to the cultural assets of a large city. Though Chicago is a short and affordable train ride from Waukegan, this simple fact remains: Waukegan is no Chicago. Point granted.
e. The proposal includes steps to ease the transition to IIT. Tuition reductions, extra funds for amenities for faculty and administrators in the short term, etc. (p. 2).
f. The proposal allows for an expanded choice of electives. Through cross-registration, Shimer students will be able to take classes at IIT and VanderCook College of Music (p. 11).
g. The proposal allows for centralized Shimer housing. Shimer students will be able to live together in a leased dormitory in IIT's campus (p.13).
h. The proposal allows for more on-campus safety and security for Shimer students, faculty, etc. IIT has a campus police force (p. 16).
III. What I Find Unconvincing and Discomforting about the Proposal
These are issues that still need to be addressed by the Board, in my view:
a. This is not a proposal to merge or formally affiliate with IIT, but a business arrangement. As noted under II.a, we retain independence from IIT, but this independence extends to fiscal matters as well. IIT's attitude toward Shimer is unsentimental. It's looking for a tenant, and nothing more (p. 7). It won't be paying for our presence; we'll be paying IIT.
b. The proposal says nothing about the health of our landlord, IIT. Though this is no merger or formal affiliation, there would still be a sense in which Shimer would be tying its fortunes to IIT--just as in any landlord-tenant relationship. How healthy is IIT? Why, for instance, does it have empty buildings that it needs to lease out? What if IIT were to sell our building in the future? These questions are vitally important, since the proposal calls for the sale of most of the College's physical assets in Waukegan.
c. It is not clear that the move would have a beneficial effect on fundraising. The proposal asserts that the move would have "a very beneficial effect on fundraising" because there are many more funding agencies in Chicago than in Lake County (p. 4). Maybe so, but there are also many more institutions applying for funding from these agencies, and many of these institutions have a much longer history in Chicago than Shimer. Secondly, Bill Rice claims that a number of possible benefactors would offer substantial support should the College move to Chicago (ibid.). I'd like more details: Who are these benefactors? Just how substantial would this support be? Where have these possible benefactors been during Shimer's struggles for the past fifteen years? And why is this possible beneficence tied to the move? Why is the mission of the College worth supporting in Chicago, but not Waukegan? More to the point, why would these possible benefactors be willing to fund a school with a larger deficit created by the move itself (see III.d below)?
d. It is far from clear how the College would pay for its relocation to IIT. This is a major concern. I'm far from a financial wizard, but as far as I can tell from this part of the proposal the move would cost the College over $500,000 (p. 8) and increase its deficit from $300,000 to $830,000 (p. 9). Savings on maintenance, technology and business costs would, at least in the short run, be cancelled out by payments to IIT for service to students (pp. 8-9). Shimer would also pay IIT $250,000-$300,000 for its annual lease, as opposed to $85,000 per year on its mortgages for the Waukegan properties (not including maintenance). The transitional costs mentioned on p. 2 (tuition reductions, extra funds for amenities for faculty and administrators in the short term, etc.) must also be figured in. Finally, it is projected that a move to Chicago could result in a higher student attrition rate next year--90 FTE if the College remains in Waukegan, 75 if it moves (ibid.). These are alarming figures.
It has been proposed that the move would be funded in two ways: (i) through foundation funding and Bill Rice's potential benefactors (see III.c above), none of whom have offered firm written pledges; and (ii) the sale of most of the Waukegan campus (p. 9).
Several questions must be asked here: When will grant writing commence to fund this move? Can these funds be secured in time for a summer 2006 move? When will Bill Rice receive firm written pledges from his potential benefactors? Will these benefactors step up if adequate foundation funding does not materialize (in time), the sale of the Waukegan campus does not fetch the price Shimer needs to fund its move, or if this sale takes longer than expected? Will they step up if Shimer suffers the higher-than-average attrition rate mentioned above?
e. There is no compelling evidence that the move will significantly increase enrollment. This, to me, is the question. Barring an endowment from Bill Rice's potential benefactors that will fully underwrite the operating expenses of the College in perpetuity, better enrollment is the good from which all other goods flow: a higher profile for the school, more fundraising opportunities, stability, pensions and salary increases for faculty, etc. As it stands, the proposal admits the move will increase the College's deficit and could well decrease the number of students. Assuming the College survives the move, what is the evidence that the move--by itself--will in time increase enrollment?
The honest answer to this question, and an answer given by many of those supporting the move, is that there is no evidence that the move will grow the school. Some have said that there may be evidence, but that it will by its nature be incomplete. Some have said that even if the College could afford professional risk and/or market analyses, these would not help because, after all, we'd be attempting to predict the future. I even recall one community member saying something to the effect that a prolonged decision-making process doesn't necessarily yield good choices.
These are remarkable statements, coming from a community that exists in large part to promote careful and critical thought. Though it's true that good choices do not always follow from prudent deliberation, surely this is not to say that rash decisions should be embraced. Yes, risk and market analyses are attempts to see into the future--that is the point. And just because the College can't afford them does not mean it would not benefit from them. To deny this would be to deny the place of sound inductive reasoning in the social sciences, all evidence to the contrary. As long as we're being honest, let's be completely honest with ourselves--especially with the future of the College at stake.
The only evidence that the College's enrollment might benefit from the move is that students will be able to take electives at IIT that they could not take at Shimer. Given that the College's curriculum is frankly generalist and humanist, and IIT's is plainly professional and technological, I would expect these numbers to be minimal, though I think cross-registration with VanderCook is potentially more fruitful. In either case, however, and assuming that each school will receive all of the tuition monies per credit hour for each student enrolled in its classes, it would seem that IIT and VanderCook would benefit from this arrangement far more than Shimer would.
What is interesting about the proposal is that it actually spends more time discussing the possible place of IIT students in Shimer classrooms than it does discussing how the move will attract more Shimer students (pp. 11-12). There has been further talk on this blog of the possibility of "converting" IIT students. If the move happens, we should of course maximize cross-registration opportunities. And yes, there may well be some potential Shimer students in the IIT student population. However, I think this would be the rare exception and not the rule.
Why? First, because those attracted to Shimer are rare exceptions, almost by definition. Second, because as a group IIT students have identified themselves with a professional and technological curriculum, not a generalist and humanist curriculum. Third, many Shimer recruits, who we may suppose are attracted to the generalist and humanistic curriculum of the College, end up leaving in short order; why would we expect IIT students to do better? Finally, IIT already has its own humanities division; given this fact, why should we expect IIT advisors to send their students to Shimer? In fact, from an economic point of view, they have every reason not to.
f. It is not clear that the area surrounding IIT's campus will significantly enhance recruitment. The numbers regarding the relative safety and security of each campus are ambiguous at best (pp. 16-17). IIT has the standard security force that patrols its campus and environs. But the neighborhood itself is not a self-contained enclave like Hyde Park, and the area has been characterized (though not uniformly) in negative terms. If this neighborhood presents no better than does the neighborhood surrounding the Waukegan campus, there is no reason to think a move to IIT will significantly enhance Shimer's recruitment prospects. In fact, due to the notorious reputation of certain areas of Chicago, such a move may well hinder rather than help the College attract students. (This is a problem we constantly face at the University of Detroit Mercy, where I teach.)
g. Questions concerning faculty relocation. Will safety concerns, and the higher costs of housing and living prevent underpaid Shimer faculty from relocating to an area close to a Chicago campus? If so, would a commuting faculty significantly undermine the informal accessibility that Shimer students have typically had to faculty?
h. Moral issues. Because the Board's primary responsibilities to the College are fiduciary in nature I doubt it will concern itself with these, but I think it should--if only as a practical matter. For example, Jack Sigel claims that IIT receives millions in Defense Department contracts, and asks whether Shimer should associate itself with a school doing such research. He also raises the possibility of Shimer students picketing IIT on these grounds--a scenario not at all hard to imagine, and one I would personally applaud. How would our new landlord react?
i. Minor and more ephemeral issues. (i) It's good that Shimer students will finally have access to an academic library. But given IIT's technical-professional orientation, just how much use will this library be to the typical Shimer student? (ii) As far as I can tell IIT offers no language classes, which would be a significant benefit to the typical Shimer student. (iii) Dorm life at IIT seems a bit regimented by Shimer standards (p. 13). I also have a hard time picturing Shimer students sitting at a designated "Shimer space" in the dining hall, next to all of the designated "Greek spaces," etc. It seems contrary to our ethos of inclusion. (iv) The poetics of place at a Shimer-at-IIT.
IV. Conclusion: Let's Return to the Essential Question
Some advocates of the proposal have cited the fact of Shimer's stagnancy over the past fifteen years as demanding some kind of "move" (meant figuratively). But as any amateur chess player can tell you, some moves are manifestly better than others--and conversely, some are worse than others. One bad move can cost you the game. My considerations above have lead me to conclude that the proposal under consideration would be a bad move. Yes, our position on the board is weak, but this demands that we think even more carefully about our next move. I think that advocates of the proposal have been blinded by the illusion of a quick fix to the College's problems, and they have lost sight of the whole board. I think a move to IIT would be a waste of resources we don't have, and given that the situation is very worrisome but not desperate (p. 3), unnecessary at this time. To shift metaphors, this feels like throwing a Hail Mary on first down from our own twenty with ten minutes left. Shimer did throw a Hail Mary once, in 1977. It was the right thing to do given the situation, and it worked. But Hail Marys rarely succeed. Let's try it only when we have to.
I am not advocating doing nothing. I am suggesting that we return to the essential question for Shimer, one that has been phrased many ways and pondered over by many imaginative and smart people for decades now. I prefer to start to phrase it this way: "Is it really the case that in any given year there are only 100-some people in a nation of some 270 million interested in a Shimer education?" The answer to this, it seems to me, has got to be "no." And if this is correct, then the essential question remains: "How can we find those people, get them to Shimer (wherever this may be), and get them to stay?"
We have tried lots of ways of accomplishing these goals over the last fifteen years. Some have met with more success than others, but on balance, we've not yet solved the problem. My point is that in light of the proposal presented by David Shiner, and all other things being equal, I cannot see how a move to IIT--by itself--will accomplish these goals. Perhaps there are other proposal details that speak to the essential question which have not been made available. If so, advocates of the move should present them.
Perhaps it is no accident that I am finishing this essay in the town where Francis Wood Shimer died. I sincerely hope that this new year does not portend the beginning of the end of the dream to which she devoted her entire professional life--her, and so many others. Perhaps this plan will succeed in securing Shimer's future, despite the dearth of evidence that it will. If that were to be the case, then the proposal's advocates would be hailed as geniuses and I would be mocked as a short-sighted naysayer--a burden I would cheerfully bear. But if the College's fragile future is squandered away on such slim evidence . . . this would be far too much to bear, and not very easily forgiven.
January 4, 2006