Buying A College

This is a very scary story.

Shimer College, the “Great Books College of Chicago,” has just foiled a hostile takeover attempt and fired its president.

The small liberal arts school has weathered numerous crises since its founding in 1853, including a near-bankruptcy in the 1970s that forced it to sell its original campus in northwestern Illinois. But it has never come as close to destruction as during the last few months, when newly hired president Thomas Lindsay packed the Board of Trustees with 14 additional members who had a different agenda in mind for the college. With the tacit support of his narrow majority on the augmented Board, Lindsay initiated an increasingly authoritarian administration, contemptuously challenging Shimer’s tradition of shared governance and intimating that faculty and staff who did not go along with his program would soon be obliged to seek employment elsewhere. Investigation by concerned students and alums revealed thefar-right background of all the new Board members and of Lindsay himself, as well as the fact that virtually all of them were closely tied to a very right-wing and very wealthy anonymous donor.

After months of discussions, debates and protests, the crisis developed into an open power struggle, giving rise to national coverage (including a particularly mendacious article in the Wall Street Journal) and uniting virtually everyone in the Shimer community — studentsfaculty, administration and alums. Hundreds of alums signed an online petition calling for Lindsay’s resignation and on April 18 the Shimer Assembly (a body comprising all students, faculty and administrative staff as equal voting members) passed a unanimous resolution of no confidence (with three abstentions).

This virtually unanimous opposition, combined with behind-the-scenes arguments and negotiations, succeeded in converting two crucial swing members of the Shimer Board, which at a secret meeting on April 19 voted 18-16 to fire Lindsay, effective immediately.

It is unusual enough for a college president to be fired, but it is almost unheard of for this to happen as the result of an open and democratic process involving the entire community. This process has demonstrated the dynamism of Shimer’s community, and delivered a modest but exemplary blow against ongoing right-wing attempts to corrupt or take over academic institutions. At the same time, it opens up an unknown future. Will the tiny school be able to continue to carry out its innovative program after having bluntly rejected the strings-attached support of the wealthy right-wing clique?

5 Responses to Buying A College

  1. Shimer Alum April 22, 2010 at 1:14 pm #

    It is scary, but also heartening; it shows that a strong and united community can fight back and win, even against overwhelming financial and logistical odds. I could not be prouder of Shimer College and its uniquely awesome blend of education and community. Let me mention that Shimer has both a regular program and an every-third-weekend program for working adults — I hope that any prospective college students out there will consider it. For great books and great people, you can’t do better than Shimer.

  2. dcblogger April 22, 2010 at 6:45 pm #

    there really is a Vast Right Wing Conspiracy

  3. snarkitron3k April 23, 2010 at 6:26 am #

    There’s probably a bunch of similar occurrences with less heartening results we haven’t heard about, there are lots of little 4 year liberal art and sciences schools, their endowments which mostly provide interest income are tiny and any number of wingnut welfare backing groups could simply buy compliance from the board and faculty.

    The outcome here was probably due to overreach too soon by the pres. and his hand picked trustees.

  4. lambert strether April 23, 2010 at 1:54 pm #

    They’re not trying for state schools? I bet they are.

  5. Bernard April 23, 2010 at 7:39 pm #

    the dumber we are, the easier it is to sell their “truths.” any and all methods in their desire for the “right” way to think.
    America. think my way or the highway.

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