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.


  1. As a member of the external community, who would be risking neither his job nor his degree, it wasn't and isn't my place to weigh in on the merits of the decision. I think that the Assembly reached a prudent and profoundly Shimerian conclusion. But I also think it is important that we recognize that we cannot expect that dialogue alone will see the community through the present danger.

    The resolution, if it is ever passed, will send an important message in this asymmetric fight: even though you are far more powerful than we are, we would rather take you down with us than walk away. I think this is important -- if backed up with action -- because I don't see how there are going to be any real negotiations until the Lindsay 18 understand that the people of Shimer are prepared to take unreasonable actions in defense of their college. Given our current position, the reasonable thing would be for Shimer's people to either submit or walk away. Parker has already stated that he sees no reason to fear even the latter outcome. As long as we continue to be reasonable, then, it would be downright UNreasonable for the Lindsay 18 to stray from their premeditated course.

    I realize that the impact of the resolution will not be greatly changed if it is passed in 3 weeks, or 6; and I think that the community has done well to allow for the possibility of negotiations in the meantime. Unless those negotiations bear fruit, however, the Shimer community must eventually acknowledge that we face a threat that requires stepping outside our comfortable dialogical box.

  2. Thanks for sharing your comment.

    I am in full agreement that we cannot win this through dialog alone. We have taken every opportunity to dialog but to no avail, since dialog is not effective when no one is listening. During assembly, I said that "the time for dialog is over," and Jim Donovan suddenly exclaimed, "I will never give up on dialog." That sounds noble and all, but (to continue with the trend of Star Wars comparisons) I'd put this question to Jim: You're Luke Skywalker, trapped in the garbage compartment as the walls are closing in on you. At what point do give up dialoging with the walls and start to push back?

    The point is, I don't think that we are going to save Shimer through negotiation. I think that we must turn to other means. But a vote of no confidence is not a strategy that would further our goals.