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

Monday, March 8, 2010

Are We Willing to Fight Like Animals? Open letter from David Koukal, Class of '90

Dear Fellow Shimerians,

I am a 1990 Waukegan alumnus who discovered Shimer College by complete happenstance. Shimer is where I met one of my best friends (Bill Paterson ’89) and my wife of eighteen years (Sharon Vlahovich ’89). My chance encounter with the College also led me to go on to graduate school, and I have been a teacher of philosophy for almost twenty years. It is neither an overstatement nor a cliché to say that Shimer changed and immeasurably enriched my life.

I presently teach at the University of Detroit Mercy, where I also direct the honors program. Over the ten years I have been at Detroit, I have been very active on campus, serving on several committees, including a union negotiating committee, a college mission statement committee, as well as a core revision committee and the faculty assembly.

Despite these qualifications, and the thousands of dollars my wife and I have donated to Shimer over the years, I am one of the six nominees to the board of trustees whose nominations were tabled in January 2010. Because recent events at the College have convinced me that my nomination has virtually no hope of coming before the full board for a vote any time in the near future, I want to speak frankly and openly about the situation in which the College currently finds itself.

I once spoke with Mr. Lindsay on the phone, not long after he assumed the presidency of the College. I can report that we spoke for 20-30 minutes, and that I found him to be collegial, personable and reasonable. I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation, and after hanging up, I felt reassured that the College was in good hands. Given this conversation, I cannot square the president’s recent actions with the person I spoke with on the phone some while back. But as Aristotle intimates, it is more prudent to judge someone by their actions than by their words.

Putting aside for the moment the ideology with which the president and his supporters seem to want to align the College, let me focus on the genesis of the new mission statement and the immediate aftermath of its adoption by a narrow majority vote of the board of trustees.

The revision or replacement of a mission statement is a serious undertaking, no matter the educational institution. Typically, this is given over to a task force or self-study committee populated by the major stakeholders across the institution—faculty, students, administrators, alumni, trustees and staff—who *collectively* begin a deliberative process that is fraught with difficulty because it goes to refining or re-defining the very identity of the institution. It is not unusual for this process to take a year or more, especially in older, established schools. This task must be undertaken with great care, because the mission serves to unify the institution. In short, if there is a situation within academia where one wants to foster as much consensus as is humanly possible, this is it.

Unfortunately, this did not at happen at Shimer. The president offered a series of “guideposts” for revising the mission in October 2009, but did not offer his own draft of the mission until February 2010. Even then, he submitted this draft not to the relevant stakeholders but only to the board of trustees, who—three months ahead of schedule, according to the timetable Lindsay set down in his own “Overview of the Strategic Planning Process”—voted to adopt this draft by a narrow vote of 18-16, despite the manifest opposition of the vast majority of the College’s stakeholders.

Such unilateral re-definitions of a school’s mission statement simply do not happen in academia. To put it bluntly, in this instance the president failed to subscribe to standard academic good practice. Instead of engaging in a good faith dialogue with all of the College’s constituencies that would have allowed him to better acquaint himself with the community he is charged with leading, he relied solely on his narrow support among the trustees to foist his mission on the College, thereby passing up an opportunity to unify the community behind his vision for the College. Some might consider the president’s action an act of strength, but to my mind it testifies to his weakness as a leader, and suggests that he wants to establish a monopoly in the marketplace of ideas that is Shimer College.

Then, compounding his error in judgment, apparently the president intimated that if individual faculty did not confirm their allegiance to his new mission statement, they could seek employment elsewhere.

Set aside, for the moment, the glaring contradiction between this infringement on academic freedom and the following sentence from the president’s own mission statement: “The Shimer community recognizes that the intellectual liberty it pursues depends on its being situated in a system of political liberty.” Set aside how offensive a loyalty oath is to freedom of conscience. Set aside the conceit of a college president who mistakes himself for the college. Focus instead on the breathtaking audacity it must take to question the loyalty of these faculty—*these* faculty—who have achieved so much more than what most college faculty achieve in their careers. Focus on the great personal and professional sacrifices these faculty have made to shepherd the College through countless crises over a period of decades. Focus on what these faculty have given up in order to sustain an ideal exceedingly rare in higher education. These are truly noble people. To threaten them with the loss of their calling is the deepest cut, and profoundly indecent.

These actions have created a great deal of disharmony within the College, but on another level, they have had a unifying effect—they have unified opposition to the president’s leadership. The faculty, courageously and unanimously, rejected the president’s loyalty oath. The Assembly has overwhelmingly rejected the president’s mission statement, and demanded that the board vote on the tabled nominations to that body. I have special praise for the Shimer student body: you have been magnificent, and conducted yourselves with integrity, dignity, reason and—all the more remarkable under the circumstances—good humor. You have exemplified the democratic responsibilities that the president only talks about in his mission statement. Chief among these responsibilities is assuming a state of perpetual vigilance over those in power, in order to assure that this power is not abused. I admire you deeply, and I pray that your vigilance doesn’t waver.

Viewing this alarming situation from a distance, I wouldn’t dare second-guess the strategies the Assembly and faculty have adopted in resisting the president’s abuse of power, as they are closer to the conflict. So what I offer here should be construed only as another perspective on this situation, as possible food for thought.

To the extent that Shimer has embraced his pedagogical method for decades, it would perhaps be permissible to say that Socrates is the de facto patron saint of the College. And throughout the present conflict, the larger Shimer community has repeatedly manifested the Socratic devotion to rational discourse, though, it seems to me, the same cannot be said of the president and his allies on the board. This small faction has made it clear it has no use for the Assembly, and routinely ignores its resolutions. This begs the question of whether there is a duty to dialogue with the willfully deaf. We may valorize Socrates’ way of life, but remember how it ended. In my eyes it would be no consolation at all if the College was to martyr itself in a similar fashion.

It seems to me that Thucydides’ account of the Melian dialogue has something useful to contribute here. On this account, the neutral Melians offered every good faith argument to avoid war with the Athenians, only to be forced, in the end, to fight for their independence. After a long siege the Athenians prevailed. They then executed every adult Melian man, sold every Melian woman and child into slavery, and colonized the depopulated island.

This episode is instructive because it more starkly portrays the confrontation between reason and naked power. More specifically, I take the Melians to represent the discursive Shimer community, and the ruthless Athenians to represent the president and his allies. Is this comparison born of overwrought hyperbole? I would remind the reader of the president’s threat toward the College’s faculty. What is this but an attempt to depopulate the College of a significant source of opposition? Once the faculty are gone, I suspect that many if not most current Shimer students would understandably continue their education elsewhere, in schools that actually respect freedom of inquiry, leaving the College to be “colonized” as the president and his allies see fit. But I think the main lesson to be drawn from the actions of the Melians is that once dialogue failed, they fought.

Let me be quick to add that I understand that dialogue is a form of opposition. But its efficacy is negated if one’s opponents reject reasoned discourse as a means of settling a conflict. Where dialogue fails, other forms of resistance must be adopted. Here the playbook is *The Prince*, not Plato’s dialogues, and despite his nods toward liberty and virtue, the president’s leadership style seems to owe far more to Machiavelli than to Aristotle.

*The Prince* is devoted to the pursuit of power, not wisdom. Chapter 18 is especially noteworthy, where Machiavelli praises the ruler who knows how to employ cunning to confuse and disorient and overcome those who place store in integrity. Here Machiavelli stresses the importance of being a “clever counterfeit and hypocrite” who only needs to *appear* to have the qualities of reliability, sympathy and honesty. But most important to my present point, Machiavelli plainly states that there are two ways to fight: by the rules, like a man, or no holds barred, like an animal. In this connection, he says that a ruler must know how to be both a man and an animal, but even more importantly, to know *when* to act like a man and when like an animal.

It is growing increasingly clear to me that the president and his allies are not fighting by the rules—at least not by the principles of shared governance embraced by the rest of academia, and certainly not by the rules that have governed the College for the past forty-some years. Can there be any doubt, after the threat to our faculty, that the president and his allies are fighting like animals? Can there be any doubt that they are antagonistic toward the College’s traditions and ethos? And can there by any doubt, after our faculty have been menaced with loss of livelihood, that unless we too start fighting like animals, the College will be savaged and mauled beyond recognition?

About the president’s mission statement I will only say that any move to privilege some texts over others is contrary to Shimer’s long pedagogical tradition, and flirts with the establishment of an orthodoxy. For quite a long time now, Shimer’s mission has been about the pursuit of wisdom in the broadest sense. This pursuit cannot be bounded by any dogma; it must be allowed to wander freely. In the article that recently appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Shimer was described as “fiercely independent.” If we understand this to denote intellectual independence, then I think this is a quality worth preserving because it fosters an education (to paraphrase Plato) that begins and is sustained in wonder. This wonder nurtures a healthy questioning of the endoxic that allows for the emergence of truly independent and liberated thinkers.

By way of contrast, orthodoxy, according to Orwell, is “the absence of thought . . . it is unconsciousness.” The orthodox do not to need to think because they think they already have the truth, and Orwell’s *1984* vividly illustrates the terror that can result from those who have sworn blind allegiance to a dogma. History is awash with cases of cruelty and absurdity in the service of a dogma or orthodoxy—the mutual slaughter of Catholics and Protestants during the Thirty Years War, the denial of heliocentrism by the Church hierarchy, the Holocaust, the imposition of historical materialism onto Soviet science, the killing fields of Pol Pot—the list is endless. Behind every indecency is a dogma waiting to be exposed by truly liberated minds, including the indecency of a college president who threatens his faculty over a matter of conscience, which by itself disqualifies Mr. Lindsay from holding the presidency of Shimer College, or any other institution of higher learning for that matter. *Contra totus dogmata*--against all dogmas—and against all dogmatists!

In the end, I think the main question we have to confront is this: are we willing to fight like animals to save this school? How far are we willing to go to save Shimer College? I feel sure we have enough fertile and devoted minds to take up the whys and hows of these questions, but I think we must move quickly because time is not on our side.

I will help in any way I can.

Most Sincerely,
David Koukal

D. R. Koukal
Associate Professor of Philosophy
Director, The Honors Program at UDM
University of Detroit Mercy
4001 W. McNichols Road
Detroit, MI 48221-3038
phone: 313.993.1138 |
personal web:
honors web:

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Letter to the Assembly from alum trustee Peter Schroth

Of course, we all know it isn't primarily about the mission statement.

Yesterday, Trustee Joseph Bast sent an e-mail to the Board (and a few other people), including this sentence: "Many of the newer trustees believe they were brought on board to rescue a failing institution; some of the older trustees believe things were going fine until Tom and the anonymous donor came on the scene."

I think the first part of this sentence is true and goes a long way toward explaining our current difficulties. I think the second part is empty rhetoric and nonsensical, in that it conflates the roles (and
dates) of President Lindsay and the anonymous donor.

In recent decades, Shimer College has never been a "failing institution" in any sense other than financial. It has been splendidly successful in its curriculum, learning environment and internal governance.

In the last years in Waukegan, the college was slowly failing financially. It was hoped that the move to Chicago would solve that problem, but the costs turned out to be more than we could sustain and "slowly failing financially" turned into "rapidly failing financially."

The anonymous donor stepped in and rescued the college. Thanks in large part to him, but also to the faculty, students, trustees, alumni and Ron Champagne and others who helped in various way, by about 2008, we could have survived without his further help.

By the time Tom Lindsay and the new trustees joined us, Shimer College was not a failing institution in any sense. Enrollment was rising and we had a sound plan for the financial future of the college.

We hired Tom to help us continue the plan. We welcomed the new trustees to help us continue the plan.

We did not ask for and do not need business or -- especially -- academic advice from either Tom or the new trustees. The faculty and the long-time trustees know a great deal more about how to make this particular college work than Tom or the new trustees do. They proved it by what they accomplished before the latter group arrived.

Please help us continue to be Shimer College, with its long and rich traditions. However old-fashioned you think we are, please don't try to make us into anything else.

Shimer College does not need to be rescued, because it has been rescued already. Now and in the future, Shimer College needs to be preserved.

Above all, Shimer College must not be changed into something else. If it becomes something else, then all the hard work and love that went into rescuing and preserving it will have been for nothing.

Peter W. Schroth
February 28, 2010

Monday, March 1, 2010

Response to Holloway, Franck and Vesta's letter to the Assembly

This letter [see post below] troubles me. I find it deeply hypocritical.

Holloway and Franck were two of the trustees who sent letters to the Nov. 15 Assembly repeating President Lindsay's talking points that the Assembly is dysfunctional and has no authority. They wrote these letters with less than a year of association with Shimer, at best a couple visits to campus, never having sat in on a class and never having even seen an Assembly in action. It seems to me this would be like someone walking into either Holloway or Franck's classrooms - they're both teachers - and, based on opinions of their new Dean, telling them that they don't know how to teach, their classrooms are and have been failures, and that they have no authority to continue teaching. Then, when it becomes clear that this sort of behavior risks killing the institution, the visitor returns urging Holloway, Franck and their students that what is needed now is "unity" and an ongoing commitment to "rational, respectful dialogue."

Mr. Franck, Mr. Holloway and Mr. Vesta: There is already unity at Shimer. It was expressed through overwhelming Assembly support, unanimous faculty support, widespread alumni support, and the support of 16 trustees for the mission of active citizenship. You knew this when you voted in favor of Mr. Lindsay's "mission statement", you knew it when you penned this letter, and you continue to ignore it.

How dare you ask the Shimer community for "unity" when you knowingly are responsible for its division? How dare you, with your glaring ignorance of our community, history and traditions, urge us to remain committed to "rational, respectful dialogue" after talking to us like troublesome children?

The Shimer community seeks nothing more than rational, respectful dialogue. Unfortunately, letters like this only further demonstrate Mr. Lindsay and his small group of trustees' unwillingness to participate in it. Instead, they engage in subterfuge, misrepresentation of the facts, and a blind commitment to their ideological prejudices. These facts demonstrate just how deeply these these people misunderstand Shimer College.

I entreat this core group that threatens to destroy Shimer to put aside their preconceptions and prejudices and try listening, really listening, to our community. Unfortunately, my experience tells me that this won't likely happen. If this is true, then I encourage Holloway, Franck, Vesta and Lindsay to resign, the sooner the better.

Letter to the Assembly from recent Lindsay trustees

To the Assembly:

We hope that everyone in the Shimer community can unite to move the College forward. Such unity should be possible if we reflect that, while (like any community) we have disagreements, the things on which we disagree are not as fundamental as the things on which we agree. To put it another way, we all agree on the end we are pursuing: the preservation and advancement of Shimer College as a home of the serious, Socratic study of the great books. At the moment, we disagree on the mission statement, which, as important as it is, is only a means to the end of promoting Shimer College.

For our own part, we supported the new mission statement not because we wanted it to change the character of the education Shimer offers, but because we thought it explained that education in such a way as to win much-needed support for the College. We think the new mission statement much better for this purpose than the old one because the new one is so much more specific about just what the College does and why it is so valuable.

We understand that many members of the community are dissatisfied with the new mission statement because they think it omits important aspects of Shimer’s identity. This is a perfectly reasonable criticism (although we should add that some such imperfections are unavoidable, since no mission statement can be so long as to capture everything an institution does). We think it would be constructive and useful for the coming meeting of the Assembly to provide an opportunity for people on all sides of this issue to explain their positions, and for those who are dissatisfied with the new mission statement to suggest positive ways of improving it.

We do not, however, think it would be a constructive step for the Assembly to vote to approve the resolutions brought forward by the Agenda committee, and we urge the members of the Assembly not to do so. Shimer is committed to rational, respectful dialogue, and continued rational, respectful dialogue can only strengthen us. But to express no confidence in the president (who is and must be an essential partner in advancing the College) and to reject the authority of the new mission statement (and therefore by extension of the Board of Trustees itself) is to cut off dialogue rather than to extend it. Moreover, any effort to force an immediate change in leadership or the mission statement can only hurt Shimer by making it appear unstable and uncertain to the larger community whose support it so sorely needs.

Finally, we would observe that there is a certain tendentiousness in part of the resolutions that is inappropriate in itself and unjust to a member of the Shimer Community. The resolutions say that the Board’s vote was made under the threat of a major donor to withhold funding if the new mission statement was not approved. This is not the whole truth, and it is not a fair rendering even of the part of the truth that it represents. The relevant concern was raised because Shimer College had committed itself three years ago to revise its mission statement as a condition of receiving foundation support. Moreover, the board member who raised this concern did not threaten to withhold funding, but expressed the fear that a failure of the College to fulfill its commitment would cripple its future fundraising efforts. Real dialogue, of course, demands that we not misrepresent each other’s words or uncharitably characterize each other’s intentions.

Carson Holloway, Matthew Franck, V.A. Vesta
Members of the Board of Trustees