The Cave-Dwellers of Shimer

20071204_Shimer_color_trans_bckgrd.jpgOn 19 April, the board of trustees of Shimer College in Chicago, by an 18 to 16 vote, ousted Dr. Thomas Lindsay from the presidency after little more than a year of service. For sixty years, tiny Shimer (about ten faculty and 100 students) has touted itself as a Great Books college on the Robert Maynard Hutchins plan. Students converse about the content of texts with one another, guided by a professorial facilitator employing the Socratic method. The experience, it was believed, would “sustain a life-long passion for learning.” Accordingly, Shimer constructed and reconstructed its mission statement to reflect—and to extend— Hutchins’s ideals. Since 1996, the ambitious Shimer educational experience purported to prepare students for “active citizenship,” not just in the United States, but “in the world.” After four years of matriculation, Shimer’s graduates would learn to shun “passivity” for “responsible action” by moving “beyond either unquestioning acceptance of authority or its automatic mistrust.”
Dr. Lindsay came to Shimer from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) where he served as deputy director and oversaw We the People, a well-regarded program designed “to encourage and enhance the teaching, study, and understanding of American history, culture, and democratic principles.” There he attracted national attention with impressive publications and lectures on how to teach the principles of the founding to the American people. Inaugurated as Shimer’s thirteenth president In January 2009, he set to work trying to elevate an institution possessed of noble goals but gasping from slipping standards, radical egalitarian governance structures, a bare-cupboard endowment, and a long history of financial distress, including several bankruptcies. Re-accreditation itself was hanging in the balance. Dr. Lindsay expanded to thirty-four the number of sitting members on the board of trustees to include educators and philanthropists who could help Shimer out of its chronic fiscal woes. Raising money in good times requires persistence and long hours to persuade prospective donors. During a recession, the task can seem Sisyphean. Dr. Lindsay says he spent two out of every three days during his first year at Shimer on the road with tin cup in hand.
Many at Shimer made known their dislike of Dr. Lindsay from the outset. Despite his obvious relish for the Great Books, many saw him as an outsider with a suspicious agenda. They complained when they discerned that he might be moving to make the founding documents of the United States more central to a Shimer education. In The Federalist Papers, a work that Dr. Lindsay would have liked Shimer’s undergraduates to read cover to cover, Publius devotes the majority of the eighty-five essays to the republican character of the Constitution. Of the two species of popular government, republicanism had refining, insulating features that democracy did not. In fact, in The Federalist Papers, the word democracy appears less than a dozen times and when discussed in its pure form draws a pejorative contrast. In a society composed of a small number of persons, Publius warns, the “citizens, who assemble and administer the government in person, can admit of no cure for the mischiefs of faction,” and they “are continually exposed, by their incapacity for regular deliberation and concerted measures, to the ambitious intrigues” of others. One would be hard-pressed to find in the United States an institution of higher learning with a more radically egalitarian and democratic structure than Shimer’s. Three faculty members and two students sit as voting members on the board of trustees. Shimer’s representative assembly consists of all students, faculty, and staff, with one vote each. Dominated by activist students, the assembly has set itself up as the moral authority of the college, and members reference the Assembly’s majority votes as if they were exquisite expressions of Rousseau’s general will. When dissidents protested that Dr. Lindsay was not sufficiently steeped in Shimer’s traditions read that he refused to kow-tow to the majoritarian voice of the predominant element in Shimer’s Assembly.


lindsay-big.jpgShimer’s board hired Dr. Lindsay in large part to fix problems. His executive actions, however, in attempting to plug a leaking ship got him branded by the radical democrats as a tyrant and usurper with an “ideological agenda.” When he fired a director of admissions who was not performing to standard without consulting the Assembly, that group threw a tantrum. His success in raising substantial sums of money with no strings attached from donors with no obvious connection to Shimer, other than their support for a Great Books program, encountered howls of protest from conspiratorial-minded students and their adult allies, including alumni who had shown no previous generosity to the impoverished place. Suddenly, Dr. Lindsay heard from Shimer “stakeholders” he never knew had existed. Tocsins sounded that the “faculty and curriculum” were “in serious peril” from the allegedly imperious Dr. Lindsay.
The Shimer Student Alliance, hostile to Lindsay, branded him a “conservative menace” for daring to speak of strengthening civic instruction in the curriculum through serious engagement with the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and The Federalist. A convenient narrative circulated by a faction of ambitious intriguers insisted that the “duplicitous” Dr. Lindsay was part of some vast right-wing conspiracy to capture poor little poverty-stricken Shimer. To cite one example, dissident students and their allies among alumni and faculty turned into some sort of presidential bribe an invitation to President Lindsay from my Alexander Hamilton Institute to bring, all expenses paid, a class of Shimer students to a major colloquium on the relation between the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Dissident students ginned up the propaganda machine and organized on campus a boycott of the colloquium, pressuring interested students into non-participation. The decibel-level of protesting voices intensified when Dr. Lindsay proposed for Shimer a new mission statement that would more accurately reflect the importance of Shimer’s Great Books education. Instead of citizen-of-the-world gobbledygook, Dr. Lindsay offered two deeply thoughtful paragraphs on the relation between liberal education, political liberty, and intellectual liberty. The Shimer Student Alliance, along with alumni and faculty allies, rose in protest. For those who wish visual images of the boorish radical egalitarianism Dr. Lindsay was up against, watch a series of twelve YouTube clips, “Thomas Lindsay vs. Shimer College”. Throughout a lengthy conversation in a ring with dozens of braying, exceptionally self-centered students, Dr. Lindsay remained poised, patient and thoughtful. Students demanded that their “consensus” on defeating the proposed mission statement trumped Dr. Lindsay’s defense, as Shimer’s chief executive, of conscience and right. They repeatedly declared that Shimer’s president “works for us” or “represents us.” One of the most memorable scenes occurred when Dr. Lindsay attempted to invoke words from Edmund Burke’s “Speech to the Electors of Bristol” to explain to those around him his position as president in advancing the new mission statement against the student demands for “consensus.” Remember what Margaret Thatcher said about consensus? “What great cause would have been fought and won under the banner ‘I stand for consensus’?” The students repeatedly cut him off, refusing to allow him to finish. The suppressed words deserve quoting here: “Your representative,” said Burke to his constituency, “owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment, and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”
On 20 February 2010, Shimer trustees, after passing through a gauntlet of black-shirted protestors on their way to a meeting, approved Dr. Lindsay’s judgment by an 18 to 16 vote. Anti-Lindsay students faculty, and alumni then rolled into action. With the lure of free pizza, they organized a special meeting of the assembly for Sunday, 18 April. About sixty people showed and voted overwhelmingly to adopt a resolution of no-confidence, saying that Dr. Lindsay’s presidency “has imperiled the very existence of the College.” Such breast-beating would not have mattered much if the 18 to 16 majority that had passed the mission statement on 20 February had held at the 19 April meeting that decided Dr. Lindsay’s fate. But in secret balloting, two votes turned. Since “transparency” was a watchword of the anti-Lindsay protest, perhaps the two voters who switched should muster the courage to explain themselves publicly. That Ed Noonan, a trustee emeritus and Dr. Lindsay’s replacement ad interim, immediately announced the renewal of faculty contracts, suggests the source of at least some of the energy behind the clanging alarm bells was more material than ideal: Dr. Lindsay, a man of high standards concerned about the lack of professionalism in Shimer’s untenured faculty, may have been thinking of clearing it of dead-wood.
“Of all flattery,” declared the Federalist politician Fisher Ames in 1805, “the grossest (gross indeed to blasphemy) is that the voice of the people is the voice of God.” Where will Shimer go from here? One observer close to the scene despaired, “How grotesque. An excellent scholar and a proven administrator, possessing a compelling vision and mastery of liberal education in the great books tradition, is thought somehow wrong for Shimer College.” Shimer has squandered an outstanding opportunity, perhaps its last to save itself from going the way of Antioch.
Like generations of lovers of the Great Books in the Western canon, Dr. Lindsay has journeyed through Plato’s Republic and pondered the meaning of the allegory of the cave. Plato asks how do those transfixed and confused by the ever-changing shadows in the cave escape its darkness to pursue the light of truth. Do the shadows projected on the cave walls stimulate us to seek the truth? Or do we require before ascension into the light an essence, inscribed in our nature, that allows us to reason our way out of captivation by reaching the understanding that the cave’s illusory shadows are refractions of the truth, not truth itself. Many people, as Dr. Lindsay well knows, never escape the cave.

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Robert Paquette

Robert Paquette is Professor of History at Hamilton College.

17 thoughts on “The Cave-Dwellers of Shimer

  1. My Dear Fellow Shimerians,
    I am exceedingly proud of your eloquent, passionate and reasonable responses to Professor Paquette’s misinformed vitriol. I too feel wounded by his words, all the more so because he is a very well-regarded historian from whom we might have expected a certain scholarly regard for evidence, even-handedness, and the importance of choosing one’s words carefully. Yet time and time again, ever since this quite unwanted crisis broke over the College, you and others have, with rare exception, responded with grace, vigor and rigor to those who seem determined to mischaracterize Shimer in the most unfair ways imaginable. Every time I read one of these responses, I am reminded of how proud I am to be one of you.
    This is who we are at Shimer; never forget it.
    Most Sincerely,
    David Koukal
    (Shimer College, 1990)
    —————————-
    D. R. Koukal
    Associate Professor of Philosophy
    Director, The Honors Program at UDM
    University of Detroit Mercy
    4001 W. McNichols Road
    Detroit, MI 48221-3038
    —————————-
    “Contra omnia dogmatia”

  2. I, for one, disagree with your assertion that there were many students that felt intimidated by the community-wide movement to preserve the identity of our beloved college. If the distraught student who emailed you is not alone in feeling that way, I urge him and others to compile student testimonies and bring to light the unjust or underhanded manner in which I and others supposedly squashed dissent.
    I do not take these allegations lightly. In an effort to prove and maintain the dignity of the community, I request that any student who felt pressured or intimidated IMMEDIATELY bring these concerns to the proper channels within Shimer College to investigate and make the appropriate choices. If the student is concerned with encountering bias in those channels, I urge them to make it public so that all external parties can get an accurate portrayal of the conflict.
    Paquette, in the interest of dialogue, I’ll refrain from stooping to the disrespectful tone that permeated your article. If that was not your intention, I apologize, and look forward to open-minded and respectful conversation in the future. I’m confident that if you were actually engaged in true dialogue with Shimer students, you would find your characterization of them and the college to be unfounded in fact or reality, and steeped in the abstraction and mischaracterization that inevitably arises from third-hand subjective accounts.
    That being said, I am curious. Where, exactly, did you get the basis for your statement that Shimer students were lured to the assembly by free pizza? Where, exactly, did you get the proof that a substantial number of students were afraid and intimidated to voice their opposition?
    I would like to end by clarifying two of the fundamental disagreements I have with your article and response. First, I take personal offense when you state that there are members of the faculty that are unprofessional or “dead wood”. I believe that is an unnwarranted assertion based on a singular biased account–or perhaps a deliberate mischaracterization provided by parties with vested interest in changing the constitution of the faculty. I urge you to either rephrase or justify your claim.
    Also, I would disagree wholeheartedly with your assertion that students felt afraid and pressured into not voicing their opinion. At Shimer, we genuinely value open discussion and dialogue. I had conversations with a few students who voiced skepticism concerning the utility of fighting this particular fight. Most of them ended up changing their mind as events progressed and further evidence surfaced. But even still, I maintain that I could count on one hand–possibly two fingers–the students that WHOLLY disagreed with the majority of the community’s goals. Students should collect testimony to showcase the tactics of intimidation that squashed dissent. I assert that it will be apparent that no such tactics were used.

  3. Mr. Paquette,
    Who is “Ward Halverson”? Do you mean, “Heath Iverson”, soon to be Shimer alum and student trustee to the Board? I understand that in the course of this crisis others who didn’t like what Heath had to say purposefully misnamed him, for example, as “Keith,” simply as a way to rattle him. Certainly, as a college professor or, even, simply, as an adult, you’re above this kind of behavior, aren’t you?
    With this as an example of the kind of thing Shimer has been up against in this struggle, I’ll leave it to your readers to decide who to trust.
    Erik Badger
    SC alum (’97) and former staff (’02-’09)

  4. Dear Mr.. Hathaway,
    regarding this statement: “When speaking of votes on Dr. Lindsay’s leadership, what about those Shimerians who chose not to attend the assemblages? How many members of the community stayed away because of fear of the majority faction? Or are the principals denying that a minority in this small, democratic Shimerian community stayed away under pressure and out of fear?”
    I have never in my experiences or in the experiences of my many Shimerian friends have ever heard of ANYONE ever being “afraid” to attend a good discussion or standing as a minority in face of a majority….so I have to ask what is the source of this “fear” if its real?
    curiously yours,
    Mark Robinson

  5. Never heard of Shimer until this post. From the far outside, it seems that Tom Lindsay was simply not
    Ron Campagne. Happens all the time. An beloved figure departs and an interim officer comes into an institution.
    The change is trauma for the students and faculty. Stress and then if the new officer wants to change the way of doing business, the stress increases and rumors fly [even in supposedly level headed and rational institutions].
    The trap has been set by the new man’s arrival; events spring the trap. Gone.
    And in this case, it may be the what happens is Shimer is gone because without money, the institution folds. Perhaps some former student will write the history of the once great place.
    Longdrycreek Ranch
    Texas Panhandle

  6. Dear Mr. Pacquette,
    Intention aside, these comments (and innumerable sources which support them) indicate that your article is wildly inaccurate. Since you are a man who is passionately dedicated to reason and truth, I’m sure this is quite alarming. I look forward to the many corrections to your article that you will undoubtedly publish.
    In objectivity, transcendence, and truth,
    Jonathan

  7. Some of the above comments, particularly those by Albert Fernandez, Robert Hathaway, and Ward Halverson, would be amusing if they were not wrapped in such repulsive disingenuousness. It’s as if now that they have won their great victory to oust Thomas Lindsay, they deny the political content of their own public words and actions in pushing him out the door.
    One wonders where Professor Fernandez’s courageous voice was when certain Shimer students were being strong-armed not to attend the educational opportunity offered by the AHI. Did you blog your outrage on that issue Professor Fernandez? After all, you are a teacher thinking of the best interests of your students, aren’t you? Or are you denying that students who wanted to come ultimately decided not to because of intimidation? One wonders where the self-righteous Heath Iverson left his truth-telling scruples when he published a hit piece filled with half-truths and untruths about the AHI.
    When speaking of votes on Dr. Lindsay’s leadership, what about those Shimerians who chose not to attend the assemblages? How many members of the community stayed away because of fear of the majority faction? Or are the principals denying that a minority in this small, democratic Shimerian community stayed away under pressure and out of fear? As one “distraught” Shimer student put it when he emailed me today, “it is a pity that a college with such potential and high ideals in the Great Books Core Curriculum fails to live up to them in practice due to 60’s-style radical counterculturalism (At a Great Books College of all places!!!,”
    Ultimately, time will tell whether Shimer will survive as something precious to behold or sink into oblivion under the weight of its own narcissism, self-indulgence, and democratic excess. Roll up your sleeves Professor Fernandez you have much work to do if you plan on saving the place.
    In the meantime, I ask interested and intelligent people who want a glimpse of the truth of Shimer to take their open minds to readily available sources: Visit YouTube and see the clips of the majority faction in action against Dr. Lindsay; read carefully on the relevant blogs the words of folks like Professor Fernandez, Robert Hathaway, and others who poured their criticism and vitriol over Dr. Lindsay’s uncovered head; interpret the politics of student critics of Dr. Lindsay in reading such on-line publications as “Promulgates.”
    I’ll ride with the judgment of disinterested parties whether the distortions lie with me or with the likes of Professor Fernandez.

  8. Perhaps you might consider printing facts, not falsehoods, in your next article. Fact: In the three years before Tom Lindsay came to Shimer College, the College received an average of over $1,500,000 in contributions each year. Fact: During Tom Lindsay’s first full year as President of Shimer, the College received less than $500,000 in contributions.
    Under Mr. Lindsay, the College was well on its way to bankruptcy because he was unable to retain donors or secure new ones. This despite the fact that he hired a personal friend as a fundraiser for the College, paying him over $10,000 per month to work a day or two per week. Under Tom Lindsay, Shimer College actually spent more money on fundraising than they received in contributions! It is interesting to note that in the two weeks since Shimer College and Mr. Lindsay parted ways, the College has received over $250,000 in contributions–about half the amount Mr. Lindsay and his highly paid staff managed to raise in a full year–without a single paid fundraiser on the staff.
    The Shimer Student Alliance did not brand Lindsay “a conservative menace;” that is patently false. You might also note–but of course, you would not–that the faculty voted no confidence in Mr. Lindsay UNANIMOUSLY, the Alumni Association voted no confidence UNANIMOUSLY, the students and staff voted no confidence UNANIMOUSLY, and, basically, Tom Lindsay had zero support except for the eighteen personal friends he recruited to the Board of Trustees, and after a few months, even some of them no longer wanted him as president.
    You might also note that until Tom Lindsay came to Shimer, enrollment was steadily increasing, fundraising was steadily increasing, and academic standards were so high that Shimer graduates are three to four times as likely to earn doctorates than graduates of such schools as Harvard, Yale, or Princeton. And Shimer graduates score in the top 1% in the country on standardized tests–not bad for a college that routinely accepts 90% of applicants. Perhaps the faculty knows what they are doing? Or is the ability to take average students and turn them into brilliant scholars a sign that the faculty are “dead-wood?” If so, perhaps our nation’s institutions of higher learning need more dead-wood!
    On a personal basis, having been at the February 20 meeting referenced above, I will never forget one of Tom’s friends on the Board, who, when asked by a student why he had voted for the revised mission statement, responded “F*** off.” Dozens of students, faculty, and Board members who heard the exchange were, frankly, appalled. But this was symptomatic of how Tom Lindsay and his friends on the Board regularly treated students, faculty, staff, alumni, and even other Board members–which may partially explain why Tom and his minions did not exactly endear themselves to Shimer College.
    Politics mean little at Shimer, and never have; no one cares if a student or faculty member is conservative, liberal, libertarian, socialist, or anything else. And at Shimer, the political views of the students and faculty run across the spectrum, from deeply conservative Republicans to ultra-liberal Democrats. Only Tom Lindsay made politics an issue at Shimer. The previous President, Ron Champagne, was a conservative Republican, a religious Catholic, and beloved by everyone at Shimer.
    So try to avoid propagating lies, such as is done above, and instead, seek the truth. It is what students and faculty–and most Presidents–have done at Shimer for the past 157 years.

  9. To try to change an institution like Shimer, with a strong identity and set of traditions, in the space of a year is the action of a Jacobin, not a conservative.

  10. I, one of the cave dwellers, cannot attempt to correct all the errors and false implications in order to balance the obvious tilt of this article.
    I’m almost positive that the admissions director was performing above average and brought in the largest class in some time the year she was fired by Tom. However, the reason behind the firing was kept confidential even within the community. The way the sentence is arranged makes it seem like a no-brainer.
    “Throughout a lengthy conversation in a ring with dozens of braying, exceptionally self-centered students, Dr. Lindsay remained poised, patient and thoughtful.”
    Like nearly all of the meetings and protests with the President the meeting shown on YouTube was heavily attended by staff, faculty, students, and alumni; a broad representation of the college. As to your comments about self centered students I must resist shouting that I will be carrying the financial burden of my education for years to come. For four years of my life I will invest myself entirely into this school. I have the right to be self centered. On this not of community involvement, you will not find another school like Shimer. The dissident factions you incessantly refer to are in fact a majority of the school.
    You are correct in saying that Thomas was poised during such discussions; however, I found this behavior of his deeply disturbing. When 98% of the people who make up a college say that you, their leader, are doing it wrong, hurting the institution, threatening its future, and refusing to represent its constituents I believe remaining poised is the sign of an extremely arrogant man or one with dementia.
    I am perfectly willing to accept the term cave dweller as I am uncomforted by recent examples of what enlightenment looks like. But one of the more degrading portions of your article is when you suppose that students were lured by free pizza to the Assembly meeting. Giving only a dirty look over the shoulder as justification for college’s cause, your article speaks as though students and faculty were complete imbeciles and had only the most primal urges and fear.
    Again, I cannot address everything in your article as I have finals today and I’d really like to get out of this cave in four years.

  11. My name is Bill Arnold, I graduated from Shimer College in 2006. I was relatively active in the community during the period in which the events described in Mr. Paquette’s article occurred – I am the red-haired gentleman sitting next to Tom in the “Thomas Lindsay vs. Shimer College” videos.
    While I do not speak for Shimer College, I would offer that, in my opinion, Tom failed to understand many things about Shimer.
    Here are two of the most important things Tom failed to understand:
    1) Shimer’s essence does not reduce down to its being a species of the genus “liberal education”; Tom mistakenly thought that it did, and that because he was familiar with the genus he knew what was proper for the species.
    2) The ‘Allegory of the Cave’ does not end with emergence from the cave; rather, people emerge, see reflections, see the reflected things, see that which illuminates the things, and then must descend back into the cave. And when they do descend, they are bewilderd and ill-regarded. In speaking about “liberal education” and Shimer’s Mission, Tom repeatedly made the mistake of speaking about the Allegory as if it ended where it does not.
    These two are important because, in my experience with Shimer College, the community is at least as interested in why the philospher must descend back into the cave as they are in her/his emergence from it. Setting my experience aside, an objective fact is that Shimer College does not require much of students anything other than that they do their reading and come to class ready and willing to discuss. A person who does not acknowledge her/his obligation to her/his classmates to do the reading and participate in the discussions will not make it at Shimer, whereas a person can graduate magna cum laude having made no pretenses about understanding Kant or Hegel or pretty much anybody else we read.
    What this highlights is that Shimer’s essence has less to do with liberty (political, intellectual, etc.) and more to do with the reciprocal obligations community members have to one another. If Shimer prepares students for ‘active citizenship’ it is by helping them understand that, if such a thing as liberty is possible, the approach to it is asymptotic and the effort to achieve it is a cooperative one.
    In my opinion Tom jumped right to liberty without regard for asymptotes and cooperation, and for this reason – his good intentions notwithstanding – he was not good for the College and it was proper for him to be dismissed.
    On my reading there was no evidene in Mr. Paquette’s article of any of these considerations, and so I offer them here in the form of a comment.

  12. I don’t have the inclination to respond to each of the outright errors and distortions of fact in this piece; however, it should suffice to point out that if Mr. Paquette gets even simple quantitative facts wrong (there are two faculty members and three students on the board of trustees) then he obviously is in no position to understand the reality of Shimer’s governance structure or Lindsay’s failure at the College.
    A few other glaring inaccuracies:
    First, the implication that opposition to Lindsay was driven by a small faction of radical students and faculty incorrect. In fact, prior to Lindsay’s removal, a petition calling for his resignation was signed by over 70 percent of the student body.
    Second, Shimer Students never branded Lindsay a conservative menace. The term originally appeared in an article on Shimer in the Chicago Reader and it was posed in terms of questions about the increasingly right-leaning composition of the College’s board, not its president. The only person at Shmer ever to apply the term to Lindsay was Lindsay himself. This self-appellation frequently occurred either in the context of his solicitations to right wing organizations or when the epithet was useful for manufacturing the appearance ideological rancor to paper over his own inability to lead.
    Third, Shimer students have read the foundational documents of American democracy for decades. Lindsay made absolutely no change to their role in Shimer’s curriculum, though he frequently and falsely pretended to have reintroduced their study to Shimer.
    Finally, meetings of Shimer Assembly have always been well attended by faculty, staff and students. The idea that pizza motivated people to attend is silly and baseless. Furthermore, rather than being a student-dominated body, the Assembly has frequently voted in favor of actions highly unpopular among students; the move from Waukegan to Chicago is one such example.
    For Plato, the way to the light of wisdom is through dialectic, through conversation. Maybe if Mr. Paquette had actually talked to someone from the Shimer community he could have taken a few modest steps out of the cave of his own ignorance.

  13. Paquette?s sympathetic account of Thomas Lindsay?s short stay at the helm of Shimer College misses the point entirely. Paquette subordinates many Shimer narratives to a simple formula, better left to pulp fiction: The night in shining armor here to save the day, but somehow invisible to the common folk. Clearly Lindsay was not able to listen to and elaborate on the voices of teachers, students, administrators, and ultimately a majority of the Shimer board of directors. Shimer?s resilience is in part due to its complex history?one in which it is in a life and death struggle to survive. But it is also fair to say that it is Shimer?s dedication to an egalitarian education, one close to many original sources?not just those with a U.S. agenda, to diverse discourse conventions and rich conversational interaction, and to the writings and musings of its students and faculty. Shimer policy is (re)constructed, therefore, in a complex, non-linear, and dynamic implementational space that cannot be managed by the simple equations of leadership with hidden top-down agendas. Most cast Lindsay in a parallel policy frame and were unwilling to join him there. Let?s hope his next endeavor is a better fit. Ari Sherris, Ph.D.

  14. Robert Paquette’s slanders of Shimer College are intolerable. Contrary to what he writes, no one at Shimer asked or expected President Lindsay to bring his personnel decisions to the Assembly. The Constitution of the Assembly actually prohibits it from taking up specific personnel issues. What happened was that Lindsay fired the Director of Admissions without consulting with anyone whatsoever in the internal community, or with the Admissions Committee of the Board of Trustees, or with the Chair of the Committee, or with anyone except the Chair of the Board. But perhaps Mr. Paquette thinks that any more consulting than that would be “radical egalitarianism.”
    After President Lindsay’s extraordinarily unilateral action, what Paquette calls a “group” of “dissidents” did not “throw a tantrum.” Rather, it was virtually the entire community, including vocal conservatives and persons who voted for McCain, and they limited themselves, at first, to respectfully asking their President, as written records show, for an explanation, not of the firing, but of the lack of consultation, and they did so with a restraint that Lindsay himself lauded at the time.
    And President Lindsay was never criticized for wanting to bring “serious engagement with the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and The Federalist,” especially since these texts and other American documents have been studied in Shimer core courses, with serious critical open-mindedness, since the 1950’s. And students were not “lured” to attend a meeting of the Assembly with an offer of pizza. The meal was offered by a thoughtful Trustee after the lengthy evening meeting was well underway. Perhaps Mr. Paquette would care to experiment with luring Shimer students to vote for Lindsay’s return with an offer of pizza. And the phrase “conservative menace” was introduced into the polemics by a reporter from the Chicago Reader, and not, as Mr. Paquette writes, by the Shimer Student Alliance. And it was not “Faculty allies” of the Student Alliance who objected to Lindsay’s so-called “mission statement,” but rather the entire Faculty that, in a joint declaration, unanimously rejected, as the Assembly had, President Lindsay’s no doubt well-intentioned but poorly written, misleading, and politically tendentious statement. Mr. Paquette refers to the student demonstration at the entrance of the Board’s meeting place as a “gauntlet” Board members had to run, and he insinuates that it consisted of fascists (“black-shirted protesters”) , but the color was intended to signify mourning, the students made a point of greeting Lindsay supporters silently, and were scrupulous about maintaining civility throughout.
    What is appallingly unjust about these bits and pieces of supposed evidence, as is the case with all slanderous speech, is that persons who are not in a position to know they are falsehoods could not be blamed for thinking that Shimer College must indeed be a hotbed of wild-eyed radicals, and that the eloquent quotations deployed by Paquette are to the point. Those who may be in such a position are cordially invited to visit Shimer classes and attend Shimer Assembly meetings.
    Like articles published about Shimer’s crisis by the National Association of Scholars and other organizations and individuals waging cultural warfare, Mr. Paquette’s posting is a prime example of ideological fantasy, that is, of how ideology–right or left– consists of imposing templates on specific realities and situations that do not fit it, but that the confident ideologue does not bother to look into. If they did, as an increasing number of the new Trustees that Lindsay brought in have been doing, they might see that Shimer College, with its values of dialogue, participation, and authority based on reason, is better positioned than most institutions to be the site in higher education where “the cure for the mischiefs of faction” can be found, and where right and left ideologies can be transcended.
    Albert B. Fernandez
    Speaker of the Shimer College Assembly
    Faculty Trustee

  15. I really don’t know where to start in responding to Mr. Paquette’s essay about Shimer College. Let me start with his “discussion” of the mission statement. Although Mr. Paquette is correct in saying that no great cause has ever claimed to stand for consensus, in higher education, a mission statement MUST stand for consensus. That the mission statement of a college is affirmed by a great majority of the community is a REQUIREMENT of the body that accredits Shimer. A mission statement that is rejected by students and faculty alike is not a true mission statement.
    My second concern is that Mr. Paquette implies that it was only the students who opposed Mr. Lindsay, when in fact, Mr. Lindsay lost the support of the students, the faculty, and the alumni.
    My third concern is Mr. Paquette’s statement that Mr. Lindsay was just planning to cut some “dead wood” from the faculty. As of April 19th, NONE of the faculty had heard whether or not his or her contract would be renewed for the 2010-2011 academic year. When are faculty at Hamilton College notified about the status of their contracts? In my college, we are informed by October if our contracts are not to be renewed the next September.
    I am a college professor, but I am also the parent of a current Shimer student. As I see the profound growth that Shimer has nurtured in my son’s ability to think and write and listen carefully and respectfully to the opinions of others, all I can say is: Would that all college students could be cavedwellers, too!

  16. I, one of the cave dwellers, will attempt to correct the errors and false implications in order to balance the obvious tilt of this article. But because I am a mere mortal I would appreciate it if those who comment after I do could help me with this tedious task.
    I’m almost positive that the admissions director was performing above average and brought in the largest class in some time the year she was fired by Tom. However, the reason behind the firing was kept confidential even within the community. Maybe you mean her performance wasn’t up to standard in some other way than her ability as an admissions director to acquire students.
    “Throughout a lengthy conversation in a ring with dozens of braying, exceptionally self-centered students, Dr. Lindsay remained poised, patient and thoughtful.”
    Present at this particular meeting was more than fifty members of the community; faculty, alumni, staff, and students. As to your comments about self centered students I must resist the urge to shout that I and my parents will be carrying the financial burden of my education for years to come. For four years of my life I will invest near entirely into this school. I have the right to be self centered. You are correct in saying that Thomas was poised during such discussions; however, I found this behavior of his deeply disturbing. When 98% of the people who make up a college say that you, their leader, are doing it wrong, hurting the institution, threatening its future, and refusing to represent its constituents I believe remaining poised is the sign of an extremely arrogant man or one with dementia.
    I am perfectly willing to accept the term cave dweller as I could never hope to be enlightened like Thomas or yourself, Bob. But one of the more degrading portions of your article is when you suppose that students were lured by free pizza to the Assembly meeting. Giving only a dirty look over the shoulder as justification for college’s cause, the article speaks as though students and faculty were complete imbeciles and had only the most primal urges and fear.
    Again, I cannot address everything in your article as I have finals tomorrow and I’d really like to get out of this cave in four years.
    Shame on you

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