Jan 27, 2010

Welcome to the Shimer Alumni Alliance Information Page!

This is the Shimer Alumni Alliance Information Page, dedicated to keeping the extended Shimer College community updated on news, developments, and events that need to be publicly known. As many of you know, Shimer is facing a grave crisis of ideologically driven mismanagement. Here, we will provide you with:
  • An explanation for why you should be concerned
  • An explanation for why you should be concerned, NOW
  • An archive of relevant documents
  • Suggestions for how you can help
  • Up-to-date information about the unfolding conflict
Please take a little time to learn about what's happening at the College. Shimer needs you now more than ever.

If you would like to stay abreast of this struggle with timely updates, or just want to offer your comments, please contact us at shimeralum@gmail.com.

Feb. 22 Update: "What the hell just happened?!"

On the afternoon of February 20th, in a discussion circle hastily formed by students outside the IIT meeting room in which the Shimer College Board of Trustees had just decided, by a narrow vote of 18 to 16, to adopt President Lindsay's whole-cloth rewrite of the mission statement, Jack Garvin ('12) - part of a peaceful protest of over 60 students and alums there to challenge this eventuality - in exasperation, asked this question.

Given the circumstances, it's a really good question. Despite overwhelming support from the Assembly, a powerful letter from a unanimous Shimer faculty supporting the Assembly's affirmation of the current mission statement, as well as a petition from both students and alumni in support of the current mission statement, a determined faction of the Board voted against community consensus, instead adopting the clearly unpopular, hastily drafted, last-minute rewrite of Shimer's mission statement by President Tom Lindsay.

What the hell just happened, you ask? Well, here's our answer.

1. October 2009: Mr. Lindsay offers his "guideposts on the mission" in an hour-long lecture to the internal community. Though it's billed as a "discussion," questions are not welcomed.
2. February 3, 2010: Mr. Lindsay met with the Shimer community and respectfully disagreed with faculty, staff, students and alumni about what the mission of the College is (see notes here).
3. February 7, 2010: The Shimer College Assembly considers several alternative mission statements and votes overwhelmingly to affirm the current one. Since Mr. Lindsay had only submitted "guideposts", the Assembly could not vote specifically on his proposed mission statement.
4. February 8, 2010: Noting the "soft conviction" of the [unanimous] Assembly on behalf of the current mission statement, "Bud" Vesta - a Lindsay trustee nominee from 2009 - sends an open letter to Lindsay and the Board asking Mr. Lindsay to draft a rewrite of the Shimer mission for consideration by the Board at their plenary meeting of February 20.
5. February 15, 2010: Mr. Lindsay submits his whole-cloth rewrite of the Shimer mission statement to the Board via email. The Assembly doesn't have a chance to respond to it. As per Lindsay's own strategic plan, it is not formally scheduled for a vote until the May 2010 Board meeting.
6. February 19, 2010: A day before the plenary meeting of the Board, Patrick Parker - the chair of the hiring committee who forced Lindsay's hire despite overwhelming internal community resistance in 2008 - claims that there exists a legally-binding grant document that was supposedly signed by Dean David Shiner and former president Bill Rice in 2006, according to which Shimer MUST rewrite its mission statement to include the terms "Great Books of Western Civilization", "Socratic method" and "Hutchins Plan" by April 10, 2010. Though Dean Shiner does not acknowledge this claim and Parker does not produce the document, Parker uses this as a pretense for forcing a vote on the issue at the February 20 plenary session of the Board.*
7. February 20, 2010: The Board, by a narrow vote of 18 to 16, adopts Mr. Lindsay's whole-cloth rewrite of the Shimer College mission statement.

"What the hell just happened?" The short answer: Snake oil, a la Lindsay. What's gonna happen next? Stay tuned. Like Aristotle says, "This shit ain't over yet."

* NOTE: Since the time this was written this grant document has been produced (read it here). Though it clearly does not demand the mission statement be rewritten, it does demand that Shimer "craft a charter" which reflects Parker's priorities. Dean Shiner did not sign this document, as Parker claimed. In fact, he thought that Shimer had already met this requirement with a "Vision Statement" he had written for use elsewhere. The reason for the April 10 date was because on April 11th Parker's foundation - the free-market "Aequus Institute" - was having a board meeting. The suggestion was clear enough: vote to change the mission or lose any future funding from Aequus and be in breach of a legal contract.

For an article on this disreputable action by Parker, click here.

Why you should be concerned about Shimer

Many Shimer alums have expressed concern about the College recently based on information they've been receiving online and elsewhere. Here, we will make a clear case for why you, as someone invested in the prosperity of Shimer and its future, should be currently concerned about the College. Knowing that Shimer alums would also want to see the evidence upon which this case is based, we will not only provide a summary argument, we will provide, carefully presented in our archives, the documentation through which you can judge the case for yourself.

The summary argument can be presented in two simple points:
  1. Thomas K. Lindsay, the current president, has been and is mismanaging the College by repeatedly demonstrating contempt for Shimer's traditions of shared governance and genuine, open dialogue.
  2. President Lindsay's ideological imbalance disables him from listening to and, thus, representing the diversity of our students, faculty, and alumni.
Point number one is well-documented in the subsequent post entitled: "President Lindsay's Mismanagement of the College." The second point is, predictably, more complex to argue, but we encourage you to spend a little time viewing first the post below called, "President Lindsay's Ideological Imbalance," and then the subsequent posts about the sixteen trustees he has brought to the College in his brief tenure as Shimer's president. The ideological narrowness of this recent crowd - Heritage Foundation "Scholars" (like Lindsay, himself), speakers for and the president of the Heartland Institute, an outspoken dean from the George Mason "Law and Economics Center" - is stunning, leaving little room for doubt that Lindsay and these new trustees are ill-suited to represent Shimer's diverse community.

As you learn more, we hope you'll engage in the fight to defend Shimer from Tom Lindsay's failing, ideologically driven mismanagement, and visit our subsequent post on how you can help.

Why you should be concerned about Shimer, NOW

Since the October Board meeting, several developments raise concerns that the February 19th and 20th Board meeting could be decisive for Shimer's future*. These developments are:
  • On November 15th, with broad participation, the Assembly passed three resolutions which, in different forms, recognize the moral authority of the Assembly and the tradition and importance of shared governance at Shimer. At the February meeting, the Board will decide how to respond to these resolutions.
  • For the last couple of months the internal community has been discussing the review of Shimer's mission statement. Despite its broad community support, Lindsay has proposed getting rid of the current mission statement entirely and replacing it with his own whole-cloth rewrite. At the next Assembly meeting - on February 7th - it will be taken up as well, possibly leading to more resolutions. At the February meeting, the Board will likely take up the issue of whether and, if so, how to change Shimer's mission statement.
  • On January 18th, the Nominating Committee of the Board tabled six new trustee candidates by a split vote of four to three. Not only does this amount to turning down $60,000+, but it is also the first time that any trustee nomination has not been offered to the full Board for a vote or been passed since the Mt. Carroll years. Since this committee is dominated by Lindsay's ideological allies, and passing the nominations could upset his tenuous majority on the Board, many speculate that this was done to defend his power. We expect the question of how to proceed with these nominations will be on the agenda at the February meeting as well.
If the Board backs Lindsay's efforts to dismantle shared governance at Shimer, rewrite the mission in the service of his ideological agenda, and/or disable constructive efforts to add a fresh balance of voices among the Trustees, the results may kill the College. Fears abound over losing faculty, dedicated administrators, current and future students, as well as alumni supporters.

This is why we should all be concerned about Shimer, NOW.

*This post is at this point, of course, dated. At the February Board meeting, the Assembly's November resolutions were ignored; Lindsay's mission rewrite was narrowly passed (see post above, "Feb. 22 Update: What the hell just happened?!"); and the tabled trustees were not addressed.

President Lindsay's Mismanagement of the College

Under Don Moon, Shimer's President from 1977 to 2004, the College tripled its board size, tripled its student body, went from one to twelve buildings, started an innovative and successful weekend program, gained back its accreditation, increased donations from effectively nothing to hundreds of thousands of dollars per year, received several major private and public grants . . . and so on and so forth . . . and never did all this change upset the Shimer community like this. Never.

How, then, you ask, has Tom Lindsay created such controversy in such a short time? One word: Mismanagement.

Follow the link below and read the "Report" section for a thoroughly researched, objective account of President Lindsay's management failures leading to the current crisis. FYI: This document has been vetted by Shimer faculty and President Lindsay, himself. Great thanks to the Promulgates staff for this impressive document.

How You Can Help

By now, we hope, you're ready to act to stop what has clearly become a hostile takeover of Shimer, the college that we all know and love. If you're not sure how, here are a few suggestions:
  1. Write an email to Shimer's Advancement office (m.guillot@shimer.edu, r.rivest@shimer.edu), copying President Lindsay (t.lindsay@shimer.edu), Assembly Speaker and Faculty Trustee representative Albert Fernandez (a.fernandez@shimer.edu), Dean of the College David Shiner (d.shiner@shimer.edu), and us (shimerlaum@gmail.com) expressing your dissatisfaction with his leadership and making clear your unwillingness to financially support the College until certain conditions are met. For an easily edited sample letter, click here.
  2. Call Shimer's Advancement office (312-235-3545) and make your position heard personally to Mike Guillot, Advancement Director, or to Tom Lindsay, President.
  3. Write a letter to the same at: Office of Advancement, Shimer College, 3424 S. State Street, Chicago, IL 60616
  4. DO YOU HAVE MEDIA CONTACTS? If so, direct them to this page and/or have them contact us at: shimeralum@gmail.com. You can also use this sample letter to invite them to do a story about Shimer.
  5. LINK THIS PAGE TO EVERY WEB PRESENCE YOU HAVE - facebook, twitter, et. al. - so we can spread the word (check the links on the sidebar to facilitate this).

Jan 26, 2010

President Lindsay's Ideological Imbalance

"As important as it is for voters to know what kind of financial capital a candidate is drawing from in a bid to serve the public, it is even more important that voters know what kind of moral capital a candidate is drawing from. Just as we don't want public officials who are dominated by their ties with special interests, we don't want officials dominated by their greed, lust or arrogance. In fact, knowing character is more important than knowing about contributions, because it is corruption inside a person that fuels corruption on the outside."
-Tom Lindsay on Bill Clinton (see full article here)

Thomas K. Lindsay is not the kind of radical conservative that many on Shimer's left would like him to be. He doesn't rave and his rants are well-spoken, politically measured and often - too often, some might say - reference Aristotle. He was, indeed, a W. Bush appointee to the NEH and, thus, a member of one of the most radically conservative presidential administrations in U.S. history, but the work he did - the Picturing America Project - was perhaps the most benign thing Bush could take credit for. He was an adjunct Heritage Foundation "scholar" - perhaps the best-funded conservative think tank in the history of the planet - and he likes to go to their meetings (like this one), but his available writings for them are a far cry from the scorched-earth narratives one can easily find in their archives. He wrote an essay endorsing Alan Keyes as a vice-presidential candidate and a movie review which placed responsibility for becoming pregnant solely on women, "by nature." He apparently also penned an article contesting affirmative action for the National Association of Scholars (see their defense of Lindsay under "Shimer in the News" in the sidebar), though, after it cost Lindsay a job at St. Joseph's in PA, he presumably had it taken off the NAS website as it appears to have vanished from their archives.

The most damning evidence of Lindsay's ideological agenda for Shimer, however, is found in an appeal he made to a director at the Cato Institute which he made the mistake of leaving out on the Shimer floor. Referencing the recent Reader article (see "Shimer in the News" in the sidebar), he brags about being labeled a "conservative menace" in the "left-wing media," claiming that it's because he is "restoring serious civic education to the curriculum - the core of which is the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, The Federalist, etc. . ." This letter reveals not only the kinds special interests he's seeking to support Shimer - Cato is another leading ultra-conservative think tank - but his attitude toward the conflict he's creating at the College. Far from being concerned that he has upset the Shimer community so much by his actions that the story has made its way into the local news media for lack of internal recourse, Lindsay proudly uses it as proof that he is succeeding in his project of remaking Shimer in his particular ideological cast, a cast that will fit, he suggests, nicely with the interests of the Cato Institute. What's perhaps more remarkable is how he takes credit for these American foundational documents being a part of Shimer's core curriculum. Last time we checked, they've been in there since we adopted the Hutchins curriculum in 1950.

In addition to these troubling facts, in his short tenure as Shimer's president, Lindsay has brought sixteen new members onto the Board. Though expanding the Board is not in itself a bad thing, the fact that they all have such radically conservative credentials reveals Lindsay's own agenda. Recent Board members include: multiple W. Bush appointees, multiple Earhart Foundation grant recipients, multiple Olin foundation grant recipients, contributors to and the president of the Heartland Institute, contributors to the National Review, the President and CEO of Free to Choose Media, the founder of the Center for Individual Rights, and on and on . . . (see bios in the following post)

What unifies these Board members is a mix of conservative and libertarian platforms: free market "solutions" to public policy problems, small government, traditional cultural values, individual liberty as a U.S. national ideal, etc, etc. And, though the fact that these ideologies are represented on Shimer's Board is not itself a problem, the fact that they're all of this ilk is. President Lindsay claims to be committed to open dialogue, but on the Board he's not interested in hearing any viewpoints but these. And, apparently, neither are his Board allies: they recently tabled six new nominees, the first non-Lindsay motivated nominees since his presidency began and the final six needed to reach the 40 the ByLaws allow (see post above, "Why you should be concerned about Shimer, NOW").

In the end, President Lindsay's ideological imbalance disables him from listening to the Shimer community, rendering him an ineffective manager. He's willing to talk with you, but after a point, he won't hear you. At a school based on genuine dialogue, it's no wonder why he has failed as its leader.

Shimer's Board of Trustees

Below you'll find links to bios of Lindsay and Shimer's current Board members. Where available, we've included links to their stated opinions about governance at Shimer.

Assumed trusteeship under Thomas K. Lindsay:
Thomas K. Lindsay
Matthew J. Franck - Letter on Shimer's Governance
Bob Chitester - Letter on Shimer's Governence
Carson Holloway - Letter on Shimer's Governance
Michael P. McDonald - Letter on Shimer's Governance
Claudia Allums - Letter on Shimer's Governance
F.H. Buckley
Kathleen McCreary
Joanne P. DiGennaro
Eric O'Keefe
Milton J. Rosenberg
Vinton A. "Bud" Vesta
Dennis Katz
William Escamilla

Assumed trusteeship under William Craig Rice/Ronald O. Champagne:
Christopher B. Nelson - Chair
Patrick J. Parker ('54) - Letter on Shimer's Governance
Joseph L. Bast
Charles A. Lang
John Marienau
Shirley A. Conibear ('68)
Mary Lou Kennedy ('74) - Secretary

Assumed trusteeship under Don Moon:
Rebecca A. Sundin ('99)
Edward W. Walbridge ('56)
Peter William Schroth ('66)
Christopher English ('72)
Barry J. Carroll ('66)
Phil Farina ('73)
Sally Brown ('65) - Vice Chair
Edie Barschi ('75)
Daniel Shiner ('77)

Curent Faculty Trustees:
Albert Bades Fernandez
Steven J. Werlin

Current Student Trustees:
Heath Iverson ('10)
Robert H. Carpenter ('11)
Katy Martin Seaver ('12)

Emeritus Members
Ralph Wendell Conant
Edward J. Noonan

Helpful suggestions for the Board of Trustees

What kind of evidence would prove to the community that it can trust the leadership of Mr. Lindsay and the Board? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Mr. Lindsay and the Board could formally and respectfully recognize the Assembly resolutions from November 15. The Assembly and its committees are a symbol of Shimer's commitment to real, authentic, dialogue - dialogue in which everyone's voice is taken seriously and the best ideas govern rather than simply the ideas of those with power. The contempt Mr. Lindsay and some of his allies on the Board have shown for the Assembly has demonstrated an arrogant disinterest in engaging in genuine dialogue and, predictably, raised fears about their ability to represent our unique community and the direction they want to take it in.
  2. Mr. Lindsay could take the overwhelming community opposition to his suggested rewrite of the mission statement seriously, admit that his view does not represent the community, and set aside the cause of changing it. People are open to reconsidering it, but they're furious about his arrogant assumption that he understands what Shimer does better than the entire community after sitting in on a handful of classes. He doesn't, and if he respected the community and knew how to listen, he'd take this off his agenda. Practically speaking, as a leader, he should realize that it's not worth the political capital him and the Board are losing over the fight.
  3. The Board could bring the six trustee candidates who were "tabled" by the nominating committee on January 18 to a full vote. When the Board, for the first time in recorded history, effectively turns down $60,000+ and several new members whose qualifications meet or exceed the qualifications of current members, all while the stated claim is that we want to expand to 40 members, it makes the community wonder why. Unfortunately, the obvious reason is that they weren't Mr. Lindsay's nominees and they don't have strong libertarian/conservative credentials like our last 20 or so candidates.