Shimer College students vs. college’s president

By Stephanie Saviola

Shimer College, known as The Great Books College of Chicago, is a small, private liberal arts college located on the city’s South Side, 3424 S. State St. The college’s student body is composed of approximately 110 students.

The student body normally has a significant impact on the college’s curriculum, but since a new president of the college was appointed in January 2009, many students say rapid changes were made without their knowledge.

According to the Shimer Alumni Alliance, the college’s new president, Thomas Lindsay, fired the director of admissions, Elaine Vincent, and quickly replaced her with a candidate who was rejected during a previous hiring process.

“The president cut out all the extra steps,” said Nate Lefebvre, a 2008 graduate and member of the Shimer Alumni Alliance. “He didn’t consult with the assembly and have meetings. It’s been indicative of what has been going on across the board [over the past few months].”

There were several other instances involving the replacement of board members. New staff abruptly replaced old and there has been break in communication between board members and students. Still, the breaking point for students and alumni came less than three months ago when the Shimer College board of trustees announced a new mission statement for the college.

“The mission statement is really important to the school, but at the same time it detracts … away from the necessary conversation about governance and management about our college,” Lefebvre said.

On Feb. 20, the board of trustees and president announced the college’s new mission statement in what has been described by alliance members as a hasty, last-

minute decision.

The previous mission statement was in place from 1996 until this past February, and is summarized as “education for active citizenship.” The revised mission statement does not reflect the goal behind the old statement and is significantly longer. The new statement discusses the importance of education through liberty and the importance of the foundation of the United States.

“[The mission statement] did need to evolve and the school and community acknowledged that, but we were worried because we weren’t getting the whole picture,” Lefebvre said. “They had this secret contract about the statement and we weren’t told the stipulations.”

Numerous attempts were made by The Chronicle to get in touch with Lindsay, but he could not be reached for comment.

This is not the first time Shimer College has experienced internal conflicts. In 2006, the college moved its campus from Waukegan to Chicago, causing uproar. A number of students did not return to the college after the move.

“Until recently, everything at the school was done by the assembly, which is everyone—the trustees, the faculty, the students and the alumni,” Lefebvre said.

After the move, the school received an anonymous donation of $600,000, which was considered a large donation, according to the alumni alliance, keeping in mind the school has a budget of roughly $3 million a year.

In light of the more recent controversy, several students and alumni wanted answers to the swift changes that took place at Shimer.

The director of Communications and Public Relations for Shimer, Aaron Garland, would not discuss details of the controversy and said information regarding school donations was to remain anonymous.

Allie Peluso, a second-year student at Shimer, discovered the identity of the anonymous donor through her own research of public records.“I’ve done a lot of research and looked into donations and money the school has received,” Peluso said. “I identified this man as Barre Seid through 990s [a tax form].”

Peluso said she used to find financial information about both Shimer College and Barre Seid’s Foundation.

Since the 2006 donation and the recent change in college president, Shimer’s board of trustees’ size has almost doubled and the ratio between Shimer students and trustees is 3-to-1, Lefebvre said.

“It is not totally a bad idea to have a lot of trustees for a small college,” said Paul Fain, senior reporter for the Chronicle of Higher Education. “They are sometimes the college’s best allies, but it also makes sense to me that it would not go over well with students because this is not how it has been run over the years.”According to the alliance, 17 current board members have financial ties to Seid and his foundation.

“The board of trustees are members of the assembly but they never talk to us,” Lefebvre said. “They have a significant vote [in what happens at the college], and if they treated us as conscious adults instead of children then this whole crisis could have been averted.”

Several messages were left for Joe Bast, board of trustee member and president of Heartland Institute, 19 S. LaSalle St., but no calls were returned to The Chronicle.

“The end scenario that we dread the most is that they get rid of the entire current faculty and replace them with [all new] faculty,” Lefebvre said.