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.

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.

Democracy, Liberty, and Orwell

The following is a guest post written by Jack Sigel, faculty member from 1982-2000 and supporter of the Shimer Student Alliance. My deepest gratitude goes towards Jack for contributing this excellent piece.

“What’s the big deal?” asked trustee Frank Buckley. He was addressing the students gathered outside the meeting room where the Board of Trustees had just voted 18-16 to approve Tom Lindsay’s mission statement. The question at once indicated a profound failure to understand or appreciate Shimer.

In responding to Frank Buckley’s question as well as commenting on Tom Lindsay’s mission statement, I first want to acknowledge the many insightful analyses already brought forth by members of the Shimer Community. I seek in what follows to add some thoughts and ideas to that corpus.

George Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language” is an essay we included in the past in the IS1 core texts, and it has also been utilized for the writing placement exam. In the section “Meaningless words,” Orwell writes:

    The words democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotic, realistic, justice, have each of them several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another. In the case of a word like democracy, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides. It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: consequently the defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using the word if it were tied down to one meaning. Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way. That is, the person who uses them has his own private definition, but allows his hearer to think he means something quite different.

Orwell’s commentary illuminates Lindsay’s mission statement. The word “democracy” is intended to evoke the same kind of universal praise Orwell describes happening with political regimes. Let me add that I believe the word “liberty” can also be included in Orwell’s list.

So once we catch ourselves and avoid a knee-jerk acquiescence to these key terms in Lindsay’s mission statement, we might then look to the actions of the statement’s proponents to see what if any correspondence there is between their words and their actions. Frank Buckley together with the other trustees entered the board meeting with the knowledge that the faculty had unanimously supported Shimer’s current Mission Statement and that the students similarly supported it—and I would add many of the administrative staff also support it. For 18 of the trustees to then reject the current Mission Statement in favor of Tom Lindsay’s made manifest that their commitment to the word “democracy” was merely to use it “in a consciously dishonest way.” The members of the Shimer community may have had the “liberty” to dissent, but the 18 trustee’s allegiance to “liberty” is akin to Thrasymachus’ view of justice in Plato’s Republic as the advantage of the stronger.

In Orwell’s 1984, the Ministry of Truth regularly promulgates three slogans in order to colonize minds and limit thinking:




Based upon the actions of the Lindsay 18, I would add the following slogans:



For those seeking to understand Tom Lindsay’s mission statement and the motivations behind it, this is where I would begin. To those who might object that I am prejudging the Lindsay 18 and associating them with the far right that has acted so destructively both here and abroad, my response is: By their actions ye shall know them.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

President Lindsay Threatens Faculty, They Firmly Declare Stance

Given that this weekend was so stressful and filled with important events and information, I think that to cover everything with one voice simply wouldn't do the story justice. So, in the next few days you loyal readers should be seeing stories and commentary from at least a few different perspectives.

I'd like to open this series of Board Meeting Coverage with the voice of the Shimer College Faculty, who in a collaboratively penned letter presented to the Board of Trustees on Saturday, firmly declared their dedication to our school's people and traditions. The Faculty today passed this letter on to the Shimer Student Alliance. Among the most striking points is confirmation of the rumor that President Lindsay told the Faculty that after the Board meeting, he would ask each one of them individually to declare their loyalty to the statement and his authority to define it. I commend the Faculty for, in the face of a ruthless tyrant whose power threatens their jobs, their brave and unwavering commitment to our College.

To the Board of Trustees of Shimer College:

The faculty supports unanimously the Assembly's recent vote to uphold the current mission statement of Shimer College. In doing so we confirm and uphold our responsibility for the College's mission itself: in a word, education.
The Faculty and Assembly together, rather than President Lindsay by himself, have the standing to define the College's mission. As Chris Nelson [chair of the Board of Trustees] recently wrote, the Faculty and Assembly have for decades labored against "almost insuperable challenges" to save the College itself and greatly enrich its incomparable instructional program. But President Lindsay turns his back to this history, revealing just days ago a proposed mission statement restating "guideposts" that have been resoundingly rejected by the internal community and alumni both.
More trying still, 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.
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 months 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.
Such betrayals strike at the heart of our educational mission. Students complain rightly that they are admonished just to study, while their studious efforts to defend and clarify their sense of the College's mission are repeatedly dismissed. And we hear more and more from alumni troubled by the lack of harmony gripping an institution they helped build on mutual support. For our part, the Faculty has grown increasingly dismayed at the President's and even Board's seeming reluctance to affirm our necessary authority over the College's core educational program and to assure the security and freedom we must have to protect and enhance it.
We understand entirely the Board's need to support the powers necessary to the President. But to define the College's mission unilaterally and without broad approval is not one of these powers. We therefore state again our unanimous backing of the Assembly's present will to uphold the current mission statement. And we trust the Board will help in enlisting President Lindsay to this general will for the greater and lasting good of the College.

The Faculty of Shimer College
Legitimate College Boards don't vote against the collective will of their institutions. The gloves are off.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Today's Outcome

I am posting this quickly, but there will be more details and feelings shared by hopefully not just me at another time. Right now I think we all need to decompress.

  • A large group of students assembled outside of the building in which the board would meet starting at 7:30a.m. this morning. Students held signs that read "We are 71% of the budget," "We want dialog & transparency," "Listen to your stakeholders," and "No Tuition without Representation," and remained outside until the meeting began.
  • After negotiations, the board of trustees allowed students to sit in the lobby next to (but separated by a wall) where the board was conducting their meeting.
  • The board voted 16-18 to pass Tom's mission statement.
  • While the board had understood that the students would relocate after the meeting so that they could eat by themselves if they chose, the students voted as a group to remain seated and conduct our own discussion about the outcome of the meeting. Campus police were called and we were threatened with the use of force, but we remained seated and continued to discuss. After this, the board expressed that it did not oppose our presence and as a result, the campus police left.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Countdown to the Board Meeting

As expected, the Shimer floor today has been filled with anxiety. People are buzzing around having quiet conversation after quiet conversation, frantically trying to figure out exactly what's going on and what's being planned. No one I've spoken with -- including several trustees, both internal and external -- is certain what will happen during tomorrow's meeting.

One of the reasons for this uncertainty is that the Agenda is vague. One faculty member expressed that this was a good sign, mentioning that there are no items on the Agenda about governance and that whether the mission statement would be voted upon was also uncertain. Some others, like student trustee Heath Iverson, feel quite differently. According to Iverson, the agenda really doesn't say much of anything, which leaves room for potentially dangerous votes to be called to order. Trustee Patrick Parker is one of several trustees who have suggested that the board should -- some say must -- vote on the mission statement. Additionally, board chair Chris Nelson (who sent a factually inaccurate nullification of the Assembly's power to the last Assembly meeting) has expressed that he feels that internal trustees should not have voting power on the board. Even worse, certain staff members and trustees I've spoken with, who I am unable to name because of the dangerous climate Tom has created, fear that even more destructive plans may be in the works for tomorrow.

There's no question that we're all deeply worried. But students have had no trouble making light of the situation by making fun of the people who are actively working against us. Comparisons to Star Wars and the response to Tom's repeated use of Chairman Mao's words have continually gained popularity, but one particular event has been just delightful to watch: certain trustees' reactions to a flyer that students have been scattering around the floor, and watching them disappear as quickly as we put them up. The flyer reads:

Barre Seid is the "Anonymous" Donor.

These are the organizations (that we know of) to which new Shimer board members belong as well as the amounts of money they have received from the Barbara and Barre Seid Foundation.

Center For Individual Rights (Michael McDonald) - $60,000
Congregation Shaare Tikvah B'nai Zion (Dennis Katz) - $401,000
George Mason University (F.H. Buckley) - $2,547,000
Heartland Institute (Joe Bast) - $865,477
Palmer Chitester Fund (Bob Chitester) - $660,000
Sam Adams Alliance (Eric O'Keefe) - $850,000

This data can be verified by looking at the foundation's 990 forms.

Mr Seid also employs the following Board Members:

Charles Lang (CFO of Tripp Lite Manufacturing. Barre Seid owns this company.)
Jon Marineau (Employed by Fiber Bond, another company owned by Seid.)
It sucks when your undisclosed conflicts of interest are put out in the open, doesn't it, guys?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Tom Crafts Mission Statement that will likely be voted on by Board of Trustees

As expected, Tom finally released a mission statement which will likely come before the board for approval. Take a deep breath, clear your head, and prepare to be infuriated.

Founded in 1853, Shimer College, The Great Books College of Chicago, is an independent, nonsectarian institution whose mission is liberal education. The word “liberal” in “liberal education” has the same root as the word “liberty.” Liberal education at Shimer is an education for and through liberty. Agreeing with Socrates that the “unexamined life is not worth living,” Shimer finds the highest liberty to consist in the freedom of the mind; that is, in freedom from unexamined assumptions, for example, swings in intellectual fashion, partisan politics, and ideology. Liberty at its peak is thus identical with the pursuit of truth. To this end, Shimer students and faculty engage in close study of the Great Books of Western Civilization conducted through the Socratic Method. By the term, Great Books, Shimer refers to those works of world-historical significance in the natural and social sciences as well as the humanities. Included in the Core Curriculum are the seminal works of Plato, Aristotle, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Francis Bacon, Sir Isaac Newton, William Shakespeare, John Locke, Adam Smith, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Alexis de Tocqueville, Karl Marx, and Albert Einstein, among many

The Shimer community recognizes that the intellectual liberty it pursues depends on its being situated in a system of political liberty. That is, Shimer’s cultivation of free minds simultaneously transcends and depends on the political freedom enshrined in the American Constitution. This dependence, along with the College’s commitment to enhancing its students’ self-knowledge, leads it to require of all students the serious study of the Founding documents—the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and The Federalist—as well as the other original sources that both informed the Founding and reacted to it.

It's obvious that this proposed mission statement is even more appalling than the guideposts, but given that I already wrote a lengthy article against Tom's guideposts for the mission statement and all of my arguments apply to this final proposal, I'm going to keep my commentary to a handful of bullet points:

  • Here we see confirmation that Tom purposefully abstained from proposing a mission statement that could be officially rejected by the college. By solely disseminating "guideposts" and holding perfunctory "discussions," Tom appears to have taken our view into consideration and there will be no record of community rejection of his proposal by the time of the board meeting (February 20th). It's clear that the community stance is not anywhere to be found in his proposed mission statement, but nonetheless he will make the argument that he "consulted us." Tom did not submit any mission statement -- or even officially submit his guideposts -- to the self-study committee of the Assembly, nor did he submit a mission statement directly to the Assembly for the meeting in which we voted on a mission statement.
  • In the past, the Board's responsibility was simply to approve a community-approved mission statement. This makes sense, since to retain accreditation, the HLC requires community-wide support of the college's mission.
  • Tom has said in the past that "at a school where Karl Marx and Adam Smith receive equal attention, it's impossible to have a political bias." Regardless of the outright falsity of that claim, Tom will reference the fact that he named Marx as evidence that this mission statement is "not political."
  • The first sentence of Tom's proposed mission statement is factually inaccurate since the mission of Shimer College, according to everyone at Shimer College other than Tom, is education, not "liberal education."
  • The first sentence of the second paragraph is also factually inaccurate, since the Shimer community overwhelmingly voices opposition to not only describing our education as the pursuit of "intellectual liberty" but also to the idea that our discourse is "situated in a system of political liberty."
  • In a letter to the Board, idiot and trustee Bud Vesta commended Tom Lindsay for all of his "consultation." He wrote, "I therefore encourage and ask you to take the current mission statement, all the helpful, indeed constructive, comment and input you have received (some of which appears already to be reflected in your current revised statement) and then using your “guide posts” as principles, prepare a final draft for approval at our board meeting next week. "
  • Tom Lindsay, and everyone who supports what he is doing, are morally reprehensible people who must be stopped.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Resolutions Passed at the February 7th Assembly

1. The Assembly voted to "urge" the Board of Trustees to bring to a full vote and induct the five most qualified alumni trustee candidates from the six who were tabled on January 18 by a split vote of the nominating committee.

2. The Assembly voted overwhelmingly to affirm Shimer's current mission statement.

3. The Assembly voted to agree to participate in the "Joint Task Force" to examine the May '08 changes to the Assembly Constitution and Board ByLaws under the revised terms offered by the Board Chair, Chris Nelson. Taylor Buck (student), Ann Dolinko (faculty) and Marc Hoffman (staff) were elected to serve on the task force; Albert Fernandez (faculty and speaker of the Assembly) will also serve as stated in the terms negotiated by Fernandez and Nelson.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Tom's Problems with the Mission Statement

By this point, most of us have heard Tom's main arguments for rewriting the mission statement. "A mission statement," Tom repeats like a broken record, "should say three things: who we are, what we do, and why it matters." With that in mind, his problems with the mission statement are threefold. First, there is his Aristotelian qualm; that phrasing "education for active citizenship" implicitly places our education in the service of something else, thus marking its inferiority (" the way that all means are inferior to their respective ends," says Tom). Secondly, "active citizenship," to Tom, is a "catch-all" phrase that could be taken to mean anything and also precludes the possibility of the "contemplative life." Thirdly, he sees "liberal education" as the quest for "intellectual liberty" or “freedom of the mind,” that is, freedom from unexamined assumptions, and he wants our mission statement to reflect that. The naming of the U.S. Constitution, Declaration of Independence, and Federalist in our mission statement is motivated by the assertion that "to be true to our quest, we examine the context in which our inquiry takes place." The truth is that I could go on and on about any single sentence that comes out of Tom's mouth, picking apart every single problem that I have with his claims, the way he appropriates general (and often mis- or selectively interpreted) ideas in the Great Books, and even his word choice. But since I can't focus 100% of my time on resisting Tom's takeover, here I will discuss some of the arguments that have come up against his mission statement suggestions.

Whether or not you're a fan of Aristotle's causes -- or their sloppy application to political issues -- what's clear is that Shimer does indeed define its education in relation to a larger picture. Part of the evidence of this is the recent report released by the Assembly's self-study committee, which was charged with evaluating the community stance on the mission statement. According to their report, every submission either supported the current mission statement or suggested only the need for minor revisions. Of the suggested mission statements that were submitted, all of them included the terms "responsible action" or "active citizenship." While many expressed “strong opposition to changing the mission statement,” not a single submission expressed support for Tom's “guideposts.” And of course, in a near-unanimous vote, the assembly recently affirmed support for the current mission statement.

Though the vote at Assembly was a conscious political move, the loud and clear community support of our college's mission statement is not superficial. In his open letter to faculty member Stuart Patterson, faculty member and trustee Steven Werlin writes:

[Our mission statement] both links us to our long history and says something about a view of the role of dialogical education that's worth sustaining. It links us to our history by proposing "active citizenship" as a way to understand that Shimer tries to teach us "Not to be served, but to serve." Shimer's motto [the preceding quote] specifies a certain type of engagement with the world around us as being at the heart of what we do. We are to serve, or to learn to serve. It frames the role of our College very differently, for example, from the way the motto of our siblings in Annapolis and Santa Fe frames theirs. St. John's asserts through its motto that it makes young people free. Shimer is different. Our motto is a goal, not a statement of what it is we do, and that goal is service.

Indeed, mission statements and traditions that coincide with Werlin's sentiment date back a very long way. Part of Shimer's uniqueness is the fact that despite our arguably dated approach to education, we think of our education as just one part of our role in society.

Unfortunately, Tom refuses to acknowledge or come to know what makes Shimer unique. When I asked what he saw as the mission of Shimer at Tuesday's meeting, Tom replied, "I agree with the first line of the mission statement -- that the mission of Shimer is liberal education." I had to correct him right away, since the mission statement's first line uses only the term "education," not "liberal education." The major issue, as Tom made explicit during the meeting, is that "Shimer" and "liberal education" are indistinguishable ideas. The first time this issue hit me in the face was when Heath and I interviewed Tom for our newspaper “Promulgates,” during which he said that our distinguishing features are our previous employment of the Hutchins plan and our ability to cross register at IIT.

It's pretty obvious – to us at least – that Shimer sets itself apart from other Great Books colleges. If Shimer was just a B-grade version of St. Johns, why would anyone come here? Without going into every single trait that distinguishes us from other colleges, I can say that framing our education towards "active citizenship" is one of them – something that's solidified in our college's democratic governance. The latest edition of our newspaper, "Promulgates," includes a section of open letters by alumni who powerfully support the value of the college's Assembly. In his letter, alumnus, former staff member, and one of the 6 "tabled" nominees to the board, Erik Badger, writes,

When you put it all together, a Shimer education reveals itself not only as an academic or intellectual project. It is a political and social one, too. At our best, we not only introduce students to powerful, liberating ideas, but we cultivate the habits and skills that prepare them to meaningfully participate in and, if they see fit, transform their world. In this way, Shimer education offers not only a theoretical, but a practical education in democracy. For some time now, this has separated Shimer from other so-called “great books” programs. Indeed, it's what makes us unique.

But regardless of the historically and community backed ideas in the mission statement, Tom feels entitled to change it based on his own specious philosophical grounds. According to Tom, anything could be considered active citizenship -- but he also feels that the phrase excludes the possibility of the “contemplative life.” It doesn't take a genius to see that these two problems are contradictory, since if the term is all encompassing, then it would include the "contemplative life." More importantly, Shimer doesn't educate people so that they can sit in an ivory tower, “wallowing in their truth,” as student Erik Boneff put it during Assembly -- but this is how Tom thinks of Shimer. You can hear that every time he describes “liberal education” as the “superior education,” or refers to people who haven't read Aristotle as “mere culture-beings.” And just take the way he describes “freedom of the mind,” for example. When explaining “freedom of the mind” – which he also calls “the highest kind of freedom” – he often references the allegory of the cave, in which the philosopher emerges from the cave, “free of unexamined assumptions.” But as alumnus Bill Arnold pointed out at Tuesday's meeting, the allegory doesn't end there. The philosopher goes back into the cave to live amongst the “unenlightened.” While incredibly important to us, Shimer is a tiny school, and unheard of by many. To think of our education here as a mark of our superiority over the rest of society, one that turns us into some sort of free-minded super-beings, is not only arrogant but preposterous.

Finally is Tom's argument that including the founding American documents in the mission statement provides context. But citing the founding documents in a mission statement to the exclusion of the rest of our core has significant political implications, as those provide only one specific context and appeal to people who understand U.S. politics a certain way. Were he possessed with a greater familiarity with the Shimer curriculum and method, Tom might understand that Shimer's discourse isn't directly situated in America's founding documents. Were he less vehemently opposed to post-modern analyses of discourse, he might also understand that there are more aspects to the political context in which we live than the words penned by the founders. Regardless of how Tom supposes the mission statement will be read by an external audience, name-dropping the U.S. documents is contrary to our entire approach to education. We don't privilege one single context – or one text, for that matter – over others; we take as many viewpoints as possible seriously and evaluate them on their own terms. Name-dropping the U.S. documents in our mission statement would simply misrepresent Shimer.

These are just a few of the ways that you can pick apart Tom's arguments. Unfortunately, the debate itself isn't the issue at hand. At a school where sincere dialog is our highest ideal, we find ourselves being swiftly trampled on by a President, anonymous donor, and fraudulently recruited trustees who aren't interested in listening. If Tom wanted to craft a mission statement that reflects who we are, what we do, and why it matters, he should have listened to the students, faculty, staff, and alumni sitting around him, vehemently opposing his proposed changes. Any student that has attended Shimer for a week has sat in the classroom for longer than Tom has, and it shows -- he has yet to make a single credible argument in support of how his mission statement suggestions would better reflect the college or garner any community support. This is on top of the fact that he has yet to substantially draw funds from anyone other than the anonymous donor -- who either funds the organizations of or employs all of Tom's recruited trustees. Tom's philosophical quibbles with our mission statement are simply time-buying tools that glaze over his malicious plan to dominate and transform Shimer College. While he isn't interested in a collaborative effort to further our school's mission, he is interested in our charter and accreditation, and he is establishing the power to steal them.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

February 2010 Promulgates is out!

Those of you thirsting for knowledge on the recent controversies at Shimer should read the newest edition of "Promulgates." Along with several punchy editorials, Promulgates contains the only comprehensive report of everything that occurred between Elaine Vincent's firing and the last Assembly. Read up!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Tom Lindsay to Hold Discussion on Mission Statement

On Tuesday, February 2nd at 2:00pm in Shimer's Cinderella Lounge, Tom Lindsay will hold a discussion on Shimer College's mission statement. I encourage all to attend, especially alumni/friends who have yet to hear Tom's talking points. To put the discussion in context, here's our current mission statement:

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.

Here are Tom's suggested "guideposts" for a completely new mission statement:

Liberal education is an education for, through, and in liberty.
--"For"--the highest freedom is the freedom of the mind, that is, freedom from bondage to unexamined assumptions (e.g., partisan politics, ideology, and political correctness).
--"Through"--through close study and free, wide-ranging discussion of the greatest works of Western Civilization, students gain the depth and breadth essential to a free mind.
--"In"--the practice of questioning the competing arguments of the greatest minds regarding life's most serious questions nurtures and, in time, comes to embody the qualities of mind and character essential to intellectual freedom.
In the course of examining the whole of existence, Shimer recognizes that, to be true to its quest, it must likewise examine its act of examining; that is, must explore the context in which its inquiry takes place. Accordingly, Shimer studies the Founding documents--the Declaration, U.S. Constitution, and The Federalist--as well as the other original sources that both informed the Founding and, later, reacted to it.
We at Shimer both acknowledge and appreciate the fact that the very possibility of an education for intellectual liberty depends on our being situated in a system of ordered political liberty such as we enjoy in American democracy.

And finally, here's an excerpt of a direct transcript of an interview with Tom Lindsay, explaining his suggestions.

Latest News

6 BOARD NOMINEES TABLED INDEFINITELY -- 6 potential trustees were submitted to the nominating committee of the Board of Trustees. Unlike many of the trustees that President Tom Lindsay recruited, all of them have fundraising experience, fiscally powerful friends in Chicago, are long time Shimer donors, and are either alumni, previous trustees, or previous faculty. On Monday, January 18th, for the first time in Shimer history, all of the nominees were tabled indefinitely. Their candidacy will likely be discussed at the upcoming board meeting.

TOM LINDSAY PROMOTES READER ARTICLE WITH PRIDE, CALLS THIS BATTLE "HIS TO WAGE" -- On Friday, January 22nd, a letter from President Tom Lindsay to Cato Institute Attorney Robert Levy was discovered by students and distributed around the Shimer floor. Lindsay, in reference to the Reader's recent article on Shimer, writes:

As a new college President, I know I'm doing something right when the left-wing media start screaming. As you will read in the enclosed newspaper article, my success at restoring civic education to the curriculum -- the core of which is the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, The Federalist, etc. -- has labeled me a "conservative menace." This is not going to deter me in my project for the reform of liberal education. Far from it. While this battle is mine to wage, I know that I am not alone.

HEARTLAND INSTITUTE PUBLISHES AD INDEPENDENTLY OF ADMISSIONS OFFICE, SHIMER STUDENTS OFFENDED -- Recently a Shimer alumnus discovered this ad in one of the Heartland Institute's publications:

Unlike in the past, Shimer's admissions office played no part in placing this ad. Students are generally taken aback by the ad. Alumnus Bill Arnold wrote on the college's informal listserv, "Listen,"

I think that this is a serious misrepresentation of what goes on at Shimer, if only because at Shimer we value careful speech[....] For example: one could re-formulate the statement "Man is a rational animal" as "People are rational animals" on the grounds that it is politically correct and one values political correctness; however, even if one does not value political correctness, we at Shimer would, I think, argue that it still behooves one to reformulate that statement in that way if what one means by "man" is actually something like "people as a species." I mean, language already has, in my opinion, much more in common with the ax than the scalpel - I think we need to take our precision where we can get it.

Shawnna Johnson wrote,
The thing that strikes me as particularly ridiculous about these ads is that I can't imagine who they are advertising to. I don't imagine that it's trying to attract black students from the Heartland Institute with the phrase "Tired of Political Correctness?". I then have to assume that it's directed at a white conservative audience who is in fact tired of what they call "political correctness", and that these girls were put on this flier to be made fun of. The only message that strikes me as possibly being there is: Shimer college, we don't care about racism and we're proud of it!
It is commonly presumed that Joe Bast, newly-recruited trustee and President of the Heartland Institute, is responsible for the ad. The Heartland Institute, as many of us already know, is a strong supporter of "Common Sense Environmentalism," which to them means denying the existence of climate change and decrying the Kyoto Protocol. According to Sourcewatch, the Heartland Institute was funded by Exxon in support of their conferences on (the alleged lack of) climate change. But even before that, the Heartland Institute was claiming that cigarettes don't cause cancer -- and receiving large amounts of funding from tobacco companies. Nowadays, they've curtailed their claim to simply that "second hand smoke doesn't cause cancer." Honest people.

PRESIDENT LINDSAY INVITES STUDENTS TO CONFERENCE, STUDENTS ORGANIZING BOYCOTT -- President Lindsay has solicited applications for Shimer students to participate in a conference at the Alexander Hamilton Institute to discuss the relationship between the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. The perk Lindsay makes clear is that all expenses of the trip will be paid by the AHI. What kind of place is the AHI? Heath Iverson writes in the upcoming edition of Promulgates,

Originally proposed in 2006 as a program within Hamilton College, the “Alexander Hamilton Center,” was to promote “excellence in scholarship through the study of freedom, democracy, and capitalism as these ideas were developed and institutionalized in the United States and within the larger tradition of Western culture.” However, fearing that the Center would be infiltrated by the “liberal” faculty of the University, its founders argued that the Center should enjoy exemption from the academic oversight to which all other campus organizations are subject. According to the online journal, Inside Higher Ed, one of the Center's founders, “Robert Paquette, argued that “it was appropriate for the Hamilton Center to have more independence than other campus programs. ‘We needed to provide insulation to prevent faculty cooptation,’ he said. Paquette acknowledged that the way the charter for the Center was created, it would have been possible after the first round of appointments to the Center's board for that body to have only one Hamilton faculty member among its nine members.” In the end, Hamilton College's administration rejected any affiliation with the Center, owing to its reluctance to submit to the University’s governance structures. The failure to establish the Center within Hamilton College has been seen as “a cautionary tale for conservatives as they struggle to establish small beachheads on hostile campuses.” Nevertheless, within months the Hamilton institute, as the proposed center has come to be called, emerged from the "culture wars of the college"" and was able to constitute itself as an independent entity outside of Hamilton College, garnering enthusiasm from conservative publications such as The National Review.
In light of students’ increasing impatience with Tom Lindsay’s lack of forthrightness, and in response to his apparent attempt to radically change Shimer’s public image and Mission Statement, members of the Shimer Student Alliance are organizing a boycott of this conference. This boycott will express students’ strong and common disapproval of Lindsay’s duplicity towards the student body and his support of a mounting political clique within the board of trustees.