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.