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?


  1. "In certain extreme situations the law is inadequate. In order to shame its inadequacy, it is necessary to act outside the law. To pursue... natural justice." (Frank Castle)

    Forgive me for the source of the quote, but I think it sums up the situation nicely. The Lindsay 18 hold all of the cards at the moment, in order to beat their hand we're going to have to change the rules.

    By the way, props for citing the Shock Doctrine!


  2. "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."

    Ok, so if these are the requirements for the new mission statement I do not believe Lindsey's statement meets the requirements. In his rambling about liberty he forgot to his these key points. So Nothing stops us from pointing out that the new mission statement does not meet the legal requirements of the agreement and then proposing a new new mission statement. I propose the following which meets the letter of the law and shouldn't be offensive to anyone. We would only need to sway a couple board members for it to pass making Lindsey's Statement a footnote to history.

    "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.

    To these ends Shimer College is dedicated to studying the Great Books of Western Civilization and using the Socratic method of open dialogue in it's continued adherence to the Maynard Hutchin's Great Books plan."

  3. I'm not a lawyer, but there's something I still don't get about this Parker contract business: Where did Bill Rice derive the authority from to commit Shimer to changing its charter/mission? As the final legal authority, perhaps the Board could sign such a document on behalf of Shimer; as the traditional source of revisions to the mission, perhaps the Assembly and the faculty could, too. But, the president? The president can sign a grant committing to do certain work or create certain programs, but to change the primary statement through which the institution defines itself? What if Parker was demanding that Shimer rewrite its mission to acknowledge Jesus or capitalism as the source of absolute freedom? Who gets to sign that legal contract? This just doesn't make sense to me.

    That said, I'd vote for Alan's rewrite.