Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Disappointment for Shimer Students, Alumni at Saturday's Board Meeting

Last Saturday I was one of many Shimer students and alums to attend, and demonstrate at, the meeting of the school’s board of trustees. We—most of the weekday students and a contingent of weekend students and graduates—were there in force, before eight a.m. on a Saturday, in the snow, in hopes of saving the mission statement of the school we love from a radical change. Preserving the mission statement was our immediate concern, not only because the alternative was a suspiciously worded and widely condemned statement from President Thomas K. Lindsay, but also because such a change would directly contradict the expressed position of the Shimer Assembly and indicate a drastic power shift in the governance of the college.

So we got there early. We huddled for warmth. We wore specially-printed Shimer Student Alliance T-shirts, with the first line of our mission statement emblazoned on them: "The mission of Shimer College is education—education for active citizenship in the world." (Highly appropriate for student action!) We brought signs, too, which stated succinctly just why the board should take our feelings seriously: "We are 71% of the Budget"; "Listen to Your Shareholders." (This refers to the unusually high proportion of annual funds which Shimer garners from tuition.) As the trustees filed into the building, we gave them hand-outs stating the student position:

Shimer students are significant stakeholders in the College; our tuition and fees make up about seventy-one percent of the budget. We are well within our rights to involve ourselves in Shimer college processes.

We express support for the six recently tabled alumni candidates for the Board of Trustees.

We acknowledge the Board's responsibility to review the college's Mission Statement, but protest the notion that changing the Mission, over and above the prevailing sentiments of the student body, could possibly constitute good, responsible management.

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.

We support our faculty, and their support of the current Mission Statement.

We did everything we thought appropriate—everything we had planned out in earlier meetings via Shimerian dialogue and democratic decision-making—and displayed to each trustee our position and our dedication. But we lost.

The final vote was close, with eighteen trustees voting for Lindsay’s new statement and sixteen for keeping the old one. When the news broke, the assembled students and alumni milled quietly around the anterooms of the board chamber, shocked and devastated (we had finally been allowed inside the building only after hours outside and negotiation with campus security).

Demonstrators stayed on to greet the trustees after the meeting and to attempt to engage with them in open discussion about the mission statement change. They determined to do this by discussion and vote, in the Shimer tradition, and despite threats of force from the campus security force. Tensions ran high and many board members proved unsurprisingly reluctant to deal with student concerns.

Since the weekend, the illustrious Mr. Lindsay has threatened the positions of the board’s executive committee which has thus far acted to support him, and which he has no authority to fire (which, in fact, has the authority to fire him). Lindsay has also requested the resignation of alum and trustee Ed Walbridge, president of the Alumni Association, due to Walbridge's disapproval of the changed mission statement. The Shimer Assembly meets this Sunday to take a vote of no confidence in Lindsay’s presidency; so the question of the day is, how far will this executive coup be allowed to proceed?

More pictures available here.

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