Monday, March 1, 2010

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

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