Sunday, May 2, 2010

A Little College Scores a Big Victory - Ken Knabb ('66)

Shimer College, the “Great Books College of Chicago,” has just thwarted a hostile takeover attempt and fired its president.

The small liberal arts school has weathered numerous crises since its founding in 1853, but it has never come as close to destruction as during the last few months, when newly hired president Thomas Lindsay packed the Board of Trustees with 13 additional members who had a different agenda in mind for the college. With the support of his narrow majority on the augmented Board, Lindsay initiated an increasingly dictatorial administration, contemptuously challenging Shimer’s tradition of shared governance and intimating that faculty and staff who did not go along with his program would soon be obliged to seek employment elsewhere. Investigation by concerned students and alums revealed the extreme right-wing background of all the new Board members and of Lindsay himself, as well as the fact that most of them were closely tied to a very wealthy anonymous donor. Suspicions of a hostile takeover were reinforced in January 2010 when an attempt to balance the 13 Lindsay appointees (none of whom had had any previous connection with Shimer) by adding five highly qualified Shimer alums to the Board was blocked by a committee dominated by the Lindsayites — a tacit admission that the new majority was determined to maintain its control. In February Lindsay composed a new mission statement for the school, removing the previous emphasis on student participation as an integral part of education leading toward “informed, responsible action” and adding some gratuitous puffs for American values (a slap in the face to Shimer’s traditional spirit of independent inquiry without prejudging conclusions to be reached). Despite widespread objections and protests, he managed to get this new mission statement passed by a Board vote of 18-16. The Shimer Assembly — a body comprising all students, faculty and administrative staff as equal voting members (alums may participate as nonvoting members) — overwhelmingly rejected Lindsay’s new mission statement and unanimously approved a different statement. By this time the crisis had begun to receive national press coverage (including a particularly mendacious article in the Wall Street Journal) and had united virtually everyone in the Shimer community. Hundreds of alums signed an online petition calling for Lindsay’s resignation and on April 18 the Assembly passed a unanimous resolution of no confidence in him (with three abstentions). This virtually unanimous opposition, combined with behind-the-scenes arguments and negotiations, succeeded in winning over two crucial swing votes on the Board of Trustees, which at a secret meeting on April 19 voted 18-16 to fire Lindsay, effective immediately.

***For the full article, click here.***

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Shimer Assembly unanimously votes "no-confidence" in President Lindsay

At tonight's special meeting, the Shimer College Assembly unanimously passed the following resolution:

"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 vote passed with 60 in favor, none against, and 3 abstentions.

Read the acts of the Assembly here.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Shimer Alumni Association Board unanimously calls for Lindsay's resignation

Ed Walbridge, President of the Shimer College Alumni Association, announced today that the Board of the Association unanimously adopted the following resolution:

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

The resolution was adopted with 9 votes in favor, none against, and no abstentions.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Shimer faculty unanimously votes "no-confidence" in President Lindsay

The following resolution was unanimously approved, with no abstentions, by the faculty of Shimer College on April 13th:

"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."

Friday, March 26, 2010

Shimer Updates 3/26

This is the first of what will hopefully be a regular series of updates.

Things everyone should know:
- At the last Assembly, a new mission statement was affirmed unanimously.*
- The threat to the faculty is very real. Further details on this will hopefully be made public shortly.
- Shimer is facing what is likely to be a very challenging accreditation review next year (2011). This will absolutely require the united and dedicated efforts of the faculty in the current year. For even a single senior faculty member to be fired, or for the faculty to be distracted by month after month of ongoing turmoil, will place the school's continued accreditation -- and survival -- in grave peril.
- The composition of the Board will change in June. This will be to the advantage of the wrecking crew unless their less-attached members can be persuaded to resign or drop their support for Lindsay.

How you can help:
- Sign the petition calling for Thomas Lindsay's immediate resignation. Please use your real name. Over 200 Shimerians have already signed, including prominent alumni such as Young Kim and Dr. Sydney Spiesel. This petition makes an important and public statement about the position of the community.
- Know the facts, and share them. Here is a summary of events in Lindsay's tenure at Shimer that has been widely vetted.
- If you are willing to help in any capacity, please fill out this form.

More than anything, we desperately need people who are able to make at least a semi-daily commitment of time to help organize and direct the broader effort. This can even be done from the comfort of your own home... Please contact if you might be able to help.

*However, pending the formal adoption of that statement by the Board, the only legitimate mission statement of Shimer College remains the one that has been in effect for many years:
The mission of Shimer College is education —education for active citizenship in the world. Education is more than the acquisition of factual knowledge or the mastery of vocational skills. It is the process leading away from passivity, beyond either unquestioning acceptance of authority or its automatic mistrust, and towards informed, responsible action.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Response to Emily Smith's opinion piece in the WSJ from alumnus Matthew MacDevitt ('06)

Wall Street Journal-

I subscribed nearly a year ago hoping to get a better understanding of the corporate mindset, and to have a basis for understanding my main sources, leftist corrections of mainstream news. At times I have been pleased, enjoying your pro-business spin while still feeling that I was getting most of the important facts of the story. But I've noticed in your coverage of foreign policy, especially of Honduras, Costa Rica, and Haiti, that important facts are often omitted or spun so badly as to seem unimportant. The news section seemed like opinion, and the opinion was propaganda. I was strongly considering ending my subscription. In light of Smith's recent opinion piece on Shimer, I will definitely end it. An attack on Shimer is personal.

All points of view are welcome at Shimer. Many good friends of mine from Shimer have political standpoints vastly different from my own, and I enjoy discussing politics with them. I believe most Shimer students are to the left of say, The New York Times, but they are also proud to be at a college that has been referred to as good school for conservative students. Facilitators do not dominate classes with their own views, which is why they are not called 'professors'. Grades are not based on ideology, neither are friendships nor election to committees of the assembly.

Tom Lindsay's affront to the college was not in holding generally unpopular political views. Such views are welcomed by most students and staff. His affront was in disrespecting the academic and governance culture that has made it possible for Shimerians to hold unpopular views while remaining integral to the community. If someone who shared my ideas exactly became president of the college, placed like-minded people on the board, and began disregarding by-laws and precedents, pushing through a mission statement opposed by the entire community, I would rail against them. Conversely, if Lindsay had broad support for his mission statement, I would support the change, though it sickens me. My opinions are shared by most members of the community.

This is Shimer college. Emily Smith knows nothing of it.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Letter from Mt. Carroll alumnus Russell Davis to Shimer trustee Joe Bast

Dear Mr. Bast,

I'm writing to you in your capacity as a trustee on the board of Shimer College. I appreciate your efforts on behalf of Shimer "to attempt to grow the college and improve the educational experience for its students," as you put it in your March 11th comment to the Chicago Reader. I feel sure that both you and President Lindsay are acting in good faith, with the best interests of the college at heart. I don't buy the conspiracy theory intimated by the Reader; rather there is simply a disagreement between reasonable persons. I might also add that I wholeheartedly agree that "political correctness" is not now nor ever has been a proper substitute for critical thinking about social issues.

In my experience with current Shimer students, on the other hand, I find they are inclined to reason cogently about issues rather than to take shelter behind slogans, whether fashionable or otherwise. I attribute this in equal measure to their own efforts at self-improvement, and to the skill with which the faculty at Shimer facilitate the process of dialogue and open inquiry in the classroom. Students are certainly not being taught to blindly imbibe any particular ideology, whether "left" or "right", statist or libertarian. Rather they are routinely encouraged to learn how to think independently, and to listen carefully to other viewpoints. Of course, the foundational insights embodied in the Great Books of western civilization are especially suited to further this process. Yet even the more modern original sources are used in exactly the same way: to stimulate free ranging discussion, never with any intent to advocate for particular ideas or values.

It is this inherently nourishing experience of rational dialogue and open inquiry that Shimer students are most anxious, indeed at times fervent, to safeguard and futher develop as they pursue their studies. It may well be that the current "crisis" over the mission statement has served to catalyze both students and faculty to think deeply about what they value most, what is most indispensible, in their educational experience. Surely this is all to the good. None of us want to see a student body that would "roll over and play dead" if they have acute misgivings about the direction President Lindsay would lead Shimer College. Do we?

If the issue at stake is the very nature of what constitutes a quality higher education - of its guiding purpose and the means that have been found practical to achieve this - then the most considered and careful deliberation is called for at this juncture. It seems to me that we all of us, President Lindsay, faculty, students, and trustees, have inherited a golden opportunity here to find our way out from the fire of contentiousness into the light of mutual understanding, in order to define a common purpose together. (While I happen to be an alumnus, I still consider myself a Shimer student.)

In order to effectively improve any situation, we must begin with due consideration for the full scope and essential nature of the activity defining that situation at present. For this reason alone, the recent dissent of students and faculty deserves to be taken seriously. Aren't they, the active participants in the academic process, well qualified to choose a description of their primary purpose and the means they use toward that end every day?

In conclusion, let me just suggest that if the board were to "untable" consideration of the nomination of new trustees at your next meeting in May, such action would go a long way toward eliminating spurious rumors about a "conspiracy" to confine study at Shimer within a narrow ideological agenda.


Russell Davis
Mt. Carroll alumnus