Friday, May 28, 2010

Let's Respond to Joe Bast's Article Positively

Shimer Trustee and President Lindsay supporter Joe Bast recently raised his voice, once again, to misrepresent and disrespect Shimer College and its people. As usual, his narrative paints Lindsay as Shimer's savior and Shimer's people as hotheaded, politically-homogenous idiots. Bast's understanding is that Lindsay was unquestionably successful in his large-scale "reforms" of Shimer College and that his opposition was nothing but simple-minded stubbornness. Following down the path he started after his infamous meeting with students, Bast reaches new lows in attacking the academic credibility and general character of Shimer's supporters -- those who, unlike Bast, are contributing positively and productively to Shimer College in sentimental, tangible, and financial ways.

Bast's article isn't worthy of any thorough critique. His positions are illegitimate and unsubstantiated, marked by the same lethal combination of ignorance and arrogance that has fueled the attack on our beloved and dynamic school. Perhaps most striking is his contention that Shimer lacks academic credibility, something that runs completely contrary to any Accreditation Report of which I am aware, or any report on the success of our graduates. Most offensive among the insults to Shimer's strong academics may be the fact that at the Board Meeting, not only did Dean Shiner have to sit through Bast's completely false allegation that Shiner received his Doctorate from a "Diploma-Mill," but seven trustees also voted (unsuccessfully) to revoke the Class of 2010's degrees on the grounds that the "campaign against Tom Lindsay" was "an attempt to hide the deficiencies in the quality of education being delivered by Shimer." A tragically ironic jab is Bast's allegation of Trustee and Alumnus Daniel Shiner's conflict of interest, simply by virtue of his kinship to Dean David Shiner. The irony of this is apparent to anyone who has studied the undisclosed fiscal connections between several destructive Trustees, including Bast, and the Anonymous Donor.

Bast's words are deplorable and do a disservice to the many people who work so hard to make Shimer the amazing place that it is. It is understandable for us to respond to his insults with frustration and anger. But are we really surprised by Bast's depiction of our school and its current situation? Do we expect from him, given his record, anything other than slander and insult to the people that work so hard to preserve the College that we know and love? Bast's article, let's not forget, contains the most laughable lie since the supposed free pizza that lured us salivating dogs to vote "No Confidence": that all classes were supposedly cancelled for a day in celebration of Lindsay's resignation. Bast does not know or understand Shimer College, nor the people he targets. Attacks directed at both our academic credibility and strong supporters of our school just illustrate his ignorance.

Instead of expressing hatred towards Bast, let's direct that energy towards reaffirming our appreciation for those who are under his crosshairs and those working so hard to repair the damage that he and his cohorts have caused. Joe Bast isn't going to dialogue with any of us students, nor will he contribute positively to our experience at Shimer. Let's allow his words to be forgotten and instead concentrate on people who make tremendous sacrifices to make Shimer thrive. Personally, my support for our Faculty, staff, and hard-working Trustees is not "blind," as Bast claims. I support Trustee Daniel Shiner for spearheading a frantic and challenging search that yielded 6 highly qualified nominees to the Board -- and his words of support and humor when things looked their worst. I support Dean David Shiner not (solely) for his (legitimate) Doctoral Diploma, but for the extra hours he has dedicated to our school during this time of crisis, trudging through adversities I couldn't imagine shouldering in his position -- and for the fact that he treated me with respect and knew my name before I had attended my first class. I support Marc Hoffman, whose arm I had to twist for two hours today just to take a break from preparing the College's defense and eat something. I support our second-longest-working Faculty Member, Eileen Buchanan, who, while battling cancer and after undergoing chemotherapy, is enthusiastically planning her return to Shimer classrooms this Fall and gives me a joyful hug every time I see her.

Joe Bast hasn't taken the time to get to know these people and the many others who keep Shimer's doors open, or ever come close to fathoming the amount of blood, sweat, and tears they've poured into this organization. He hasn't even taken the time to learn enough of Shimer's history to construct a mildly legitimate argument concerning the issues facing our little College, or an understanding of what makes it so special to us. And that's his loss.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Just When You Thought It Was Coming to a Close...

...ideologues force you to think again!

Once again drawing from unofficial sources, I have this news to report from today's meeting of Shimer's Board of Trustees:

  • Lawyers representing former President Thomas Lindsay and former trustee Patrick Parker filed suit against Shimer College, its Board of Trustees, today-reelected Chair Christopher Nelson, Faculty Trustees Albert Fernandez and Steven Werlin, Trustee and Alumnus Daniel Shiner, and Interim President Edward Noonan. The suit calls for the reinstatement of Thomas Lindsay as President of Shimer College.
  • While Christopher Nelson was reelected as Chair of the Board, Trustees Barry Carroll, Mary-Lou Kennedy, and Patrick Parker were not reelected.
  • Marc Hoffman, Shimer's CFO and Adjunct Faculty member was seated on the Board by virtue of his position as Assistant Treasurer.
  • Seven Trustees voted against awarding degrees to the entire class of 2010.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Three Cronies Resign

Unofficial reports indicate that 3 trustees of the so-called "Executive Party" -- the party that voted to change the Mission statement, as opposed to the so-called "Constitutional Party," who vote in support of Shimer's people and Constitution -- have resigned from Shimer's Board of Trustees. The identities have yet to be confirmed, but there is strong likelihood that Carson Holloway, Matt Franck, and Frank Buckley could be the three.

All three trustees, if resigned, would be remembered for their willful ignorance of Shimer's identity and history as well as their disrespect for Shimer's Assembly and students. Their blind support for President Lindsay and his agenda stalled genuine dialog and cooperation, contributing to an atmosphere of uncertainty and fear. I wish them the best of luck pursuing their interests elsewhere, but hope that unlike at Shimer, their doing so does not trample on the productivity and livelihood of others.

UPDATE 5/28/10: Contrary to previous speculation, Frank Buckley remains on the Board of Trustees, but Matt Franck and Carson Holloway did indeed resign. The third member who resigned was Claudia Allums -- another supporter of President Lindsay. An updated list of Shimer's Board of Trustees can be viewed here.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Coverage of Our Victory

Keep us posted as you see more media attention pop up!

Monday, April 19, 2010


Today, in the most significant moment of Shimer's history since its relocation to Chicago, Shimer College's Board of Trustees 'ousted' President Thomas Lindsay, the Chronicle of Higher Education reports.

The announcement was first released by the National Association of Scholars (NAS), best known by the Shimer community for its glowing defense of Lindsay. They posted a brief report shortly after the Board of Trustees held an unannounced meeting this afternoon.

Chronicle writer Don Troop wrote that the board "fired" Lindsay and the NAS wrote that the Board "voted to dismiss" Lindsay. In contrast, Shimer's Office of Advancement issued a press release reporting that Lindsay "stepped down" from his position. So far, the details on the meeting to answer this ambiguity remain undisclosed.

The vote followed months of bitter conflict between Shimer's community and President Lindsay and his supporters. During the past week, following a growing petition demonstrating a widespread desire for Lindsay to resign, the Shimer community promulgated its lack of support for Lindsay loud and clear with votes of no confidence from both the Faculty and Shimer's Assembly and a call for resignation from the directors of Shimer's Alumni Association.

Trustee Emeritus Ed Noonan, long-time Shimer supporter, will serve as interim President for the time being. Noonan is widely supported by the Shimer community.

For those of you that know your Shimer folklore: Ding, dong. Ding, dong.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Assembly Votes No Confidence

And finally, Shimer College's Assembly (made up of students, faculty, staff, and trustees if they choose to vote) removed from the table the resolution of no confidence in President Lindsay and it passed. Voted by secret ballot, with 60 votes for, 0 votes against, and 3 abstentions, here is the resolution (as amended):

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.
Let's all take a deep breath and cross our fingers.

Shimer College Alumni Association Calls for Lindsay's Resignation

From the Alumni Association of Shimer College's Board followed the Faculty by calling for Thomas Lindsay's resignation:

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

Faculty Votes No Confidence in President Lindsay

A lot has happened lately, though much of it kept silent. I've been awful about posting updates here, but this one has to go up. This is the faculty's recent resolution, unanimous, with no abstentions:

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.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Wall Street Journal Smears Shimer Student Alliance

So far, the only "journalism" that has come out in clear support of President Tom Lindsay's action at Shimer College came from the National Association of Scholars (NAS), a right-wing organization whose Board once seated Lindsay himself. The two NAS articles were rife with ignorance of both Shimer's history and the current issues and both articles painted Lindsay’s opponents -- at this point, roughly the entire Shimer community -- as stubborn children.

Unfortunately, freelance journalist Emily Smith followed in the NAS’ footsteps with an op-ed article in the Wall Street Journal. Smith’s article both misrepresents the situation and comes out in clear support of Lindsay and his supporters' hostile takeover of our college.
Like the NAS, Lindsay himself, and some of Lindsay’s followers, Smith depicts Shimer's political conflict as a simple debate over management:
The "family dispute" is over how to govern this great-books school. Should a community of scholars call the shots, as it has done over the past 30 years? Or should the school be run by a chief executive, as the college's president thinks? Is Shimer a Greek-style polis, as many Shimerians believe? Or does it need to function more like a corporation, as the president contends?

This is a sorely inaccurate characterization of the conflict. A wealth of information is available at numerous blogs, Shimer’s student newspaper, several non-Shimer publications, and from representatives of our college that very clearly indicate that this conflict is not solely centered on college governance. Indeed, one of many charges against Lindsay is that he has unjustly transgressed his authority. But the issue runs far deeper than that. The conflict is also over the fact that Lindsay is attempting a profound re-branding of the school, empowered by a Board who is beholden to a single donor. As one might expect, the students and long-standing faculty are trying to defend the College's traditions and its politically neutral image and atmosphere. To the contrary of Smith's implication, the Shimer community is not pushing an ideological agenda on Shimer College or President Lindsay. The reality is that Lindsay faces opposition to his attempt at unilaterally seizing control of our College and radically transforming it.

Smith continues this effort to falsely depict Shimer's stance later in the article, when she writes, “What seems to be irking faculty and students are the President's classically liberal politics, which are out of tune at a campus that invited ex-Weatherman Bill Ayers to be a speaker in 2008.” Ayers, of course, was one of many guest lecturers that were invited to speak at Shimer. His lecture was on education and, as stated in a press release issued by Shimer shortly after Ayers' visit, "hearing and scrutinizing the competing views of others on important topics such as education is essential to Shimer's core mission." Smith's attempt to characterize the attitudes of the student body with the mention of Ayers' talk is an instance of irresponsible generalization and poor, propagandist journalism.

Had Smith been genuinely interested what's "irking” the students, her investigation might have incorporated the views of students. Students could have shown Smith the handbills that they distributed at the latest board meeting, which read, in part:
We strongly protest the poor management, intimidation, and disrespect offered to both the employees and the body of the College at large. This mismanagement has resulted in a general malaise within the College that affects the atmosphere that makes genuine discussion with the administration unlikely.

If Smith were interested in what's irking the faculty, she could have read the faculty's collectively penned letter to the Board, which made no reference to the President's “classically liberal politics.” Rather, the faculty took issue with, for one, Linday's presumed entitlement to define the College's mission:
The Faculty and Assembly together, rather than President Lindsay by himself, have the standing to define the College's mission. [....] President Lindsay has maintained that he wants only to clarify the College's mission, not to change it. An unsympathetic redrafting of the entire mission statement is not a clarification. Further, his intransigent insistence on the rightness of his views on education, even in the face of considerate attempts to qualify them and to offer alternatives, only betrays how little he understands or adheres to the College's principles for cooperative dialogue.

And in reference to Lindsay's conduct, the faculty wrote:
President Lindsay presumes to use his mission statement as a test of the Faculty's continuing commitment to the college. He has indicated to us that if the Board adopts his statement, he would ask us individually to confirm our support of it. The implied alternative was to seek employment elsewhere. Let us be clear: we reject with one voice such tests of our loyalty to Shimer College or to President Lindsay.

While some of us do disagree with Lindsay's personal politics, our chief concern lies in his forceful imposition of his politics on our school and the consequences of that imposition. An honest look at the situation quickly reveals that students and faculty are dismayed by President Lindsay's disrespect for the College's long-standing traditions, mismanagement of the College, and his hostile treatment of the College community. (Smith makes no mention of overwhelming alumni opposition, something worth considering since the President's primary responsibility is to cultivate donors.)

Smith's article, along with misrepresenting the current struggle, misrepresents history. After an inaccurate summary of the Assembly's inception, Smith misrepresents recent history when she claims that:
At the time [when Lindsay was hired], Shimer faculty, staff and students were eager for Mr. Lindsay to join their tiny school, which enrolls about 100 students, and lead it to happier times. Less than two years later, many of the same people who once cheered Mr. Lindsay's arrival now denounce him as a "conservative menace," calling him "authoritarian" and "autocratic."

Smith neglects to point out that after the entire Shimer community chose and evaluated three final Presidential candidates, trustee Patrick Parker slid Lindsay in for an interview during the Summer, when the majority of students and faculty weren't able to meet him. We weren’t “eager” for Lindsay to join us; in fact, we already had three capable candidates and most of us had never heard of Thomas Lindsay. Nevertheless, Smith depicts Shimer's community as indecisive and accusatory ideologues who flip-flopped – in “less than two years” – from “cheering Mr. Lindsay's arrival” to condemning his character.

It's telling that in a discussion of the Assembly-supported mission statement, Smith deems the term "responsible action" a "1960s buzzword," as it is apparent that Smith is unconcerned with responsible journalism. Smith leads the reader to believe that our criticisms of Lindsay lack substance by omitting our actual criticisms and fabricating others. Despite irrelevance, Smith quotes President Lindsay at length discussing his opinion on the ideal views of “liberals,” while our criticisms of Lindsay's action are summarized in two-word sentences or sentence fragments.

Smith’s journalistic dishonesty, however, shouldn't be a surprise, considering that in writing this article, she faced a serious conflict of interest. Though this particular article was published by the Wall Street Journal, the organization that employs Smith is partially funded by Barre Seid, Shimer’s formerly anonymous donor, a businessperson and philanthropist who funds all of the newly-appointed board members that support Lindsay. It's clear that Smith's article was no attempt at journalism but propaganda, characterized by the same dangerous combination of ignorance and arrogance that fuel President Lindsay and his supporters. Nevertheless, we can remain hopeful, for their dishonesty will lead to their loss.

Comments Published in the Reader

On Thursday, March 11th, 2010, the Chicago Reader published two of the comments that followed the Reader's last article on Shimer, one by trustee Joe Bast, and another by a Shimer alum. Here they are in full, starting with Joe Bast:

I'm Joe Bast, the person who came up with the "Tired of Political Correctness?" slogan for the Shimer ads, one of the newer trustees on the Shimer board, and a person who urged Marsha Enright to offer a class on capitalism at Shimer. At the risk of causing some heads to explode, I'd like to respond to some of the statements made by others in earlier comments.

I'll start by thanking Deanna Isaacs for correctly quoting me in her article. But as others pointed out, in this article and her previous one on Shimer, she is mis-framing the conflict at the school. There is no "conspiracy" to take over the college, only an infusion of new trustees and new funding to attempt to grow the college and improve the educational experience for its students.

New trustees were elected by current trustees and are well qualified. President Lindsay is a highly qualified administrator and a scholar in his own right. Shimer's donor base is healthy and growing.

Current students and faculty obviously do not like what is taking place, but the president has devoted many hours to talking with them and their opinions have influenced his decisions, including the wording of the mission statement. Sometimes, dialogue doesn't result in your getting everything you want from the other party.

The "political correctness" ad that the Reader chose to reprint has been running for free in one of the Heartland Institute's five public policy newspapers, "School Reform News," for the past three years or so, before President Lindsay came on the scene. I picked the title, the text came from a Shimer flyer, and a graphic designer picked the photo of students.

Outside the hothouses of college campuses, political correctness is generally recognized as short-hand for the cult of victimization and attempts to rewrite history as a series of class, race, and gender power struggles. William Lind called it "cultural Marxism" and traced its roots back to the early 1900s in an interesting 2000 essay, [quoting] Marxist theorist George Lukas saying in 1919, "Who will save us from Western Civilization?" Lukas, according to Lind, "theorized that the great obstacle to the creation of a Marxist paradise was the culture: Western civilization itself." Which suggests to me that political correctness is an ideology at odds with what the Great Books College of Chicago should be teaching.

If current students don't recognize the difference between political correctness and Western Civilization, then there is some basis for worrying about what is being taught at Shimer. The fierce opposition to the new mission statement, apparently because it identifies individual liberty as one of the most important themes of Western Civilization and the American founding as an important event in history, is further evidence of a problem.

President Lindsay and many of the trustees have considerable knowledge about the texts that belong in a Great Books curriculum, more indeed than students who have just begun what will be a life-long learning process. To label their considered opinions and suggestions as some sort of plot to add, rather than remove, politics from Shimer classrooms is clever rhetoric, perhaps, but untrue.

A comment asked for the readings assigned for Marsha Enright's "Morality of Capitalism" class. It's a long list of authors that includes Plato, Aristotle, Plutarch, Locke, Voltaire, Adam Smith, Mill, Marx, Engels, Carl Menger, Max Weber, Herbert Croly, Veblen, Schumpeter, Hazlitt, Mises, Rand, Rawls, and Nozick. As survey courses go, this one may try to cover too much too fast. But nobody can say the list is stacked in favor of one perspective.

Student opposition to Enright's course is just one more piece of evidence that something is amiss at Shimer, and it's not to be found in the office of the president.

The Shimer alum's response:

Mr. Bast: Your organization, the Heartland Institute, has received over $1 million from the Barre Seid foundation, Shimer's former anonymous donor. Apparently, he's your largest all-time donor. He's also a major donor to many of Lindsay's recent trustees, as well as the employer of two. If connections like these don't compel your imagination that there's a conspiracy, perhaps we should talk instead about "conflict of interest." Did you, perchance, acknowledge this conflict when you filled out your disclosure forms for becoming a trustee at Shimer College? Are you capable of independent judgment while so powerfully beholden to to such an interest?

I'm not interested in your arguments on the subject of political correctness. To me they are simply a smoke screen for the real issue Shimer faces: Tom Lindsay and his radical trustee cronies' attempt to remake Shimer to suit their particular ideological image with no concern for the character, history, traditions, and community which have defined Shimer until now. Lindsay can have as many open meetings as he'd like, but until he learns to listen to the community rather than his pre-established ideological vision of higher education, he will fail as Shimer's president.

As a Shimer alum I've had classes with people like Lindsay: people who thought so highly of their own opinions that they were unable to hear what others were saying; people who couldn't help but reinterpret everything anyone said through their own narrow ideological lens. If they were too stubborn, they would eventually quit the college as it became increasingly clear that they were boring their classmates and nobody was interested in hearing their repetitive, predictable comments. Many times, typically by the second or third year, they'd learn to question their own opinions and presuppositions, and thus open the door to a more substantial and authentic understanding of what it means to dialogue. They'd cultivate a sense—dare I say like Socrates?—of humility and, therewith, the ability to really learn.

The reason Lindsay has failed as Shimer's president is because he doesn't understand this. He has and continues to arrogantly disregard the opinions of the faculty, students, and alumni, making it impossible for him to manage the institution effectively. This might not matter somewhere else. But at Shimer it does, and it should.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Are We Willing to Fight Like Animals?

The following is an open letter to the Shimer Community from David Koukal. David is a 1990 Shimer alumnus, long-time Shimer financial and moral supporter, Associate Professor of Philosophy at University of Detroit Mercy, Director of UDM's Honors Program, and most recently, was one of the 6 "tabled" alumni candidates to our Board of Trustees. Our dear thanks go to David for contributing this encouraging and inspiring letter.

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 that of 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

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Category of the Legal

The following is another guest post from former faculty member Jack Sigel. Thanks again to Jack for this powerful piece.

"Shimer must craft a charter to establish the mission and practice of the College as an institution that embraces the great books of western civilization, uses the Socratic method of open dialogue, and continues its adherence to the Hutchins plan."

Thus reads the key statement from the agreement made between Shimer College, Patrick Parker, and the Aequus Institute, an agreement which has the status of a legal contract. This agreement was fundamental to the deliberations at the Special Assembly on Sunday 28 February. Although a copy of the agreement was not available, former president Bill Rice is said to have accepted a contribution from the Aequus Institute and agreed to the stipulations as stated.

Having served as a major gifts fundraiser since leaving Shimer in 2000, let me first point out that a cardinal rule of fundraising is not to accept money that comes with strings attached. Since it was stated at the Assembly that this agreement exists and that it was signed by Rice, his action in doing so is both regretable and censurable. His Shimer legacy will include his major responsibility for the college’s current plight.

But since it is unlikely that the $190,000 can be returned and the agreement renounced, Shimer is in fact contractually obligated to meet its terms.

Reports from the Board of Trustees meeting on Saturday 20 February indicate that Parker disclosed this agreement for the first time, three years after it was made. That this was done in order to compel passage by the trustees of Lindsay’s proposed mission statement constituted legalized blackmail (whether or not Lindsay’s mission statement itself satisfies the contract).

The principle point I want to present here is that such a move on Parker’s part is both reprehensible and part of the zeitgeist. Our current national politics are dominated by a widening chasm between what is moral or ethical and what is legal. The corporate state, under the nominal control of the dysfunctional two-party system, determines the major initiatives of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. As Gore Vidal has pointed out, without much exaggeration, what the US and England have in common is one political party with two right wings.

Since the corporatists are a minority, central to their system of control is the need to legalize their own depredations while criminalizing those who oppose them. Here is a short list by way of illustration:

  • Bush and many in his administration plunge us into war in Iraq and Afghanistan based on lies. They are war criminals, but the war is legal.
  • Clinton passes NAFTA, legalizing the systematic immiseration of Mexico’s peasant farmers by American agribusiness and then declares that those who come to the US seeking their basic human rights to food, shelter, and work are illegal immigrants.
  • Banks and financial institutions arrange for the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, thereby making legal our present economic debacle. The consequent suffering, degradation, and misery visited on our country and worldwide will result, we may assume, in none of those responsible being incarcerated. Bernie Madoff serves as a scapegoat. Those who cannot pay their mortgages or become homeless are criminalized.
  • The long-pursued objective of the right wing to repeal Roosevelt’s New Deal is being implemented as state legislatures from Springfield to Sacramento are forced to make draconian cuts due to the legal requirment to balance their budgets. (Recommended reading: Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.)
  • Health care companies and insurers are permitted legally to deprive millions of citizens of the basic right to healthcare, cause suffering and death, and enjoy their profits.
Unfortunately, the possible examples are all too pervasive. That Parker and his foundation and the Lindsay 18 are utilizing their money and their resultant power to engineer a takeover of Shimer College is simply an outgrowth of this larger process of legalizing malefaction.

Here at Shimer the countervailing strategies need to include initiatives such as that articulated by Don Moon to hold the Board of Trustees accountable for their fiduciary responsibilities. We also need to know whether, should the Lindsay 18 provoke a crisis, the IIT administration will keep hands off and regard the situation as a dispute internal to Shimer, or will they allow campus security to intervene. The corporate forces in our country have a long history of employing the police (as well as military) to do their bidding. In the end, will the Shimer faculty, students, and members of the administration be criminalized? Will the Lindsay 18 continue to be part of the Category of the Legal?

Monday, March 1, 2010

Sunday's Emergency Assembly

As previously posted, the Assembly held an emergency meeting this past Sunday, February 28th in response to the results of the last board meeting. Here are the resolutions that were passed:

Motivated by the Agenda Committee:


Whereas the Board of Trustees adopted a statement called a “mission statement,” written by President Thomas Lindsay, on February 19, 2010;

Whereas this statement is without the expressed support of the faculty, the students, the administrative staff, or the vast majority of alumni who have addressed it, and is upheld only by 18 out of 34 Trustees;

Whereas the Assembly by overwhelming majority and the Faculty unanimously have voted to retain the current mission statement at least for the time being;

Whereas the statement approved by the Board is not consistent with the criteria of the College’s academic accreditor, the Higher Learning Commission, that “Understanding of and support of the mission pervade the organization” (Accreditation Criterion 1c);

Whereas the statement, unlike all other mission statement proposals, was never submitted to the Self-Study Group, or brought to the Assembly, but was sent exclusively to Trustees, and only five days before they were to vote on it, in evident disregard of more than 30 years of Shimer’s traditions and procedures;

Whereas the statement was approved by the Board after a major donor said, one day before the Board plenary, that funding would cease if a new mission statement were not adopted;

Whereas shortly before the Board plenary President Lindsay urged the Trustees on the Executive Committee to resign if they would not vote for his statement, and told another Trustee that he would “have to go” or words to that effect if he did not vote for his statement; and,

Whereas the statement was voted on by the Board without the customary notification of a vote in the meeting agenda, after only 75 minutes of consideration, and without observance of equal time for those opposed;


The Assembly of Shimer College does not recognize the legitimacy or authority of this so-called “mission statement."

Motivated by David Shiner, Erik Badger, Barry Carroll:
The Assembly will endeavor to provide a mission statement enjoying broad support from the community, including the board, staff, faculty, students and alumni of Shimer College by March 21, 2010.

The vote of no confidence was tabled indefinitely.

I am pleased with the results of the Assembly. The first resolution accurately conveys and formalizes our grievances against Tom. Its specificity helps to more effectively convey the position of the Assembly. The second resolution illustrates that, though the Assembly supports our current mission statement, we are in favor of revising it -- as long as it has wide-scale support.

Previously, I was in favor of passing the vote of no confidence in Tom. But the more I discussed that option with people, the more I was convinced otherwise, and I voted in favor of tabling the option. There are two reasons for my change in position: first, after speaking with more than one member of the faculty, I learned that officials from the HLC and AAUP both, along with most everyone outside the community who has knowledge of the common repercussions of no confidence votes, strongly advised that we abstain from the vote. Often, it was reported to us, votes of no confidence result in the death of schools. It usually takes more than one vote of no confidence and similar gestures to get a board to respond, and by that point we would have gone beyond the point of no return.

More importantly, I have yet to hear a single argument in favor of the no confidence vote that carries any weight. The fact that all of us at Shimer have no confidence in Tom is already known. The question that has yet to be answered convincingly, in my view, is how a no confidence vote would have helped us. Though we have more than enough reason to vote no confidence, we would probably just turn more trustees against us -- and give more ammunition to the people who are steadfastly against us.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Report from Weekend Student Trustee

The following is an open letter from Robert Carpenter ('11), weekend student and trustee, to his constituency, the weekend students. Thanks to Bob for contributing this letter.

Weekend community-

I thought it would be prudent to share with you some of my experiences in the board meeting that occurred yesterday.

Firstly, I would like to extend my thanks to the Weekday & Weekenders who attended the demonstration and acted with remarkable grace. Numerous board members spoke to me with glowing words about the action. Many of these trustees were alive to see extreme student protests from our nation's troubled past; they were astonished at the measured and controlled reaction of the student body. I would pass on their compliments and thanks to all of you who were present.

As for the main matter to come before the board, the vote on the mission statement, I have a few remarks that I hope will shed clarity on the position of the board and why the decision happened as it did. For those of you who are unaware, the board voted 18 to 16 in favor of adopting Tom Lindsay's proposed mission statement. That the board was so divided I think speaks volumes to the influence we have had thus far. Had this vote taken place at the last meeting, I am certain we would have been defeated by a landslide. Unfortunately the majority carried it yesterday, but this vote gives me hope for the future - hope for the strength of brilliantly logical argument and its ability to deliver results over time.

The supporters of Tom Lindsay, while vocal, had little of substance to back up their claims. Their arguments were tenuous at best and I am certain they can be counted upon to remain this dim in the future. Unfortunately, the trustees who were obviously on our side seemed genuinely reticent to speak out against Tom's camp. Your student and faculty reps did an admirable job taking up the fight on your behalf. But it is clear to me that a more active role is needed from not only myself, but from the other trustees who I feel confident are with us in this fight. To this end I plan to get more active in organizing these trustees for the next meeting.

As for the thinking from the board, I think I can sum up their position thus: their main reason for adopting the statement was the desire to give Tom every chance possible to succeed at his job in delivering new donors and endowments. [Editor's note: For instances of Tom explicitly saying that the mission statement is not a marketing tool, see this Promulgates interview and this clip of Tom talking with the community about the mission statement.] It is now their position that Tom has the authority to control the shaping of his staff and his vision for the college, and that this vote signals their willingness to support him. While this is certainly troubling given Tom's unilateral approach to management, it also means that if he screws the pooch, he's got no get out of jail free card (this inference was drawn from statements made by Chris Nelson, Board Chair). A small light to be sure, but the endless oubliette that was our plight has been slightly mediated by the enormous responsibility Tom carries. With so many board members unsure of Tom's abilities and style (as evidenced by our 16 supporters in the vote) I feel the chance is high that Tom's continued pursuit of this management avenue will lead directly to his own demise.

The student and faculty trustees are not done with this fight. I welcome continued input from those of you who have been forthcoming thus far, and entreat the rest of you to bring your ideas to myself or any of the other internal trustees.

As for my personal feelings in the wake of this debacle...I will say that my vision is clear. The fortitude and magnanimity we have thus far displayed has been above reproach. Our efforts at reconciliation have been heroic. We have been met largely by disdain and deaf ears from the Lindsay camp - they have chosen to fight with obstinacy and intractability. Thus I am resolved to meet any threat to our way of education with no less than my full cunning and creativity. When I look at the school, the community, the curriculum and the professors I am surrounded by, I am blown away by the value of the experience. It's worth defending...

Thank you for your time Weekenders, I know you are busy people.

-Robert Carpenter

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Emergency Assembly This Sunday

In response to the atrocious slap in the face that was the Board meeting, the Agenda Committee of the Assembly has called an emergency Assembly meeting for this Sunday, February 28th. Along with announcements on the possibility of motivating a community-revised mission statement, the Assembly's agenda consists of two resolutions, both nominated by the Agenda committee. The first resolution reads:


Whereas the Board of Trustees adopted a statement called a “mission statement,” written by President Thomas Lindsay, on February 19, 2010;

Whereas this statement is without the support of the faculty, the students, the administrative staff, or the vast majority of alumni who have addressed it, and is upheld only by 18 out of 34 Trustees;

Whereas the Assembly by overwhelming majority and the Faculty unanimously have voted to retain the current mission statement at least for the time being;

Whereas the statement approved by the Board does not meet the criterion of the College’s academic accreditor, the Higher Learning Commission, that “Understanding of and support of the mission pervade the organization” (Accreditation Criterion 1c);

Whereas the statement, unlike all other mission statement proposals, was never submitted to the Self-Study Group, or brought to the Assembly, but was sent exclusively to Trustees, and only five days before they were to vote on it;

Whereas the statement was approved by the Board under threat by a major donor, delivered one day before the Board plenary, that funding would cease if the statement were not adopted;

Whereas shortly before the Board plenary President Lindsay urged the Trustees on the Executive Committee to resign if they would not vote for his statement, and told another Trustee that he would “have to go” or words to that effect if he did not vote for his statement; and,

Whereas the statement was voted on by the Board without the customary notification of a vote in the meeting agenda, after only 75 minutes of consideration, and without observance of equal time for those opposed;


The Assembly of Shimer College does not recognize the legitimacy or authority of this so-called “mission statement.”

The second resolution reads:


The Assembly declares that it has no confidence in the ability of President Thomas Lindsay to lead Shimer College.

I intend to vote in favor of both resolutions. There's an obvious complication, however, with the second one: Tom can fire the administrative staff whenever he damn well feels like it. Carrying out a vote of no confidence puts the staff -- especially those who work closely with Tom -- in a very awkward position. It seems likely that because of this, most of the staff will abstain from voting, unless the staff votes unanimously. It's a tricky situation, and I don't necessarily know what the correct course of action for the staff should be (and besides, they will likely decide this themselves). Either way, it's an issue that ought to be addressed thoughtfully, and most importantly, very quickly. See you at Assembly.

What We Missed

Three noteworthy pieces of literature on Shimer politics appeared in the last week:

1) The latest in a now 3-part series on Shimer politics by Deanna Isaacs in the Chicago Reader, now including the uncovered ties between Tom's cronies and the anonymous donor.

2) The newest publication to join the discussion, The Chronicle of Higher Education published a well-researched article that also references the fiscal relationship between Seid and the cronies.

3) A straightforward answer to Jack Garvin's ('12) question on Saturday, "How the hell did this happen?" written by our friends at the Shimer Alumni Alliance Blog.