Shimer College, an independent accredited four-year liberal arts college in Chicago, Illinois, whose curriculum focuses on intensive reading and discussion of Great Books, is undertaking a search for a new President. The new President will be charged with placing this 158-year old institution on a firmer financial footing, while helping to maintain its already high intellectual quality and the cohesion of a small community that is undergoing significant growth. The President will need to provide leadership on campus by working effectively with faculty, students, and staff; further developing and executing the College’s Strategic Plan; and cooperating with Shimer’s host institution, the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT). He or she will also need to build relationships with alumni, parents, other individuals, foundations, and government agencies in Chicago and elsewhere to ensure that the College has the financial support essential for it to thrive. To perform these tasks well, the next President will have to be able to articulate Shimer’s distinctive mission and quality to a variety of audiences.
Shimer College is one of only a few institutions of higher learning with an integrated Great Books curriculum. It is the purpose of the College to teach students how to think, not what to think, and to develop skills of clear expression, analytical reasoning, and logical presentation. It provides an opportunity to develop a breadth of knowledge in the Humanities, the Natural Sciences, and the Social Sciences that is very rare in this age of specialization. Shimer enjoys an extraordinary culture of intellectual curiosity and shared inquiry, and an ethos of lifelong learning and achievement, which is demonstrated by a 2007 study that showed that the proportion of Shimer’s graduates between 1992 and 2001 to have earned a doctorate by 2006 placed the College in the top 12% of liberal arts colleges in the United States and the top 1% of all colleges and universities in the US.
Shimer was founded in Mount Carroll, Illinois, by Frances Wood Shimer and Cinderella Gregory, two visionary women committed to admitting students based upon capability rather than educational background. In 1895, Frances Shimer and William Rainey Harper, the founding President of the University of Chicago, established an affiliation between the two institutions. In 1950, that relationship culminated with the mutual adoption of the “Hutchins Plan,” an integrated curriculum of original sources grounded in the Great Books tradition, discussion classes, and the development of competencies in thought, speech, and writing. Shimer’s academic program is adjusted regularly by the Faculty, but continues in the tradition of Robert Maynard Hutchins and Mortimer Adler, who implemented such a curriculum at the College of the University of Chicago 75 years ago.
After relocating to Waukegan, Illinois in 1978, the College moved to the main campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago in 2006. Shimer’s partnership with IIT enables students and faculty to take advantage of the opportunities available through our affiliation with a larger urban campus including a broad range of IIT academic offerings (especially in the sciences and business), as well as the diverse IIT student services, programs, and opportunities that are open to Shimer students. The relationship also offers IIT students access to Shimer’s rich liberal arts offerings. The IIT campus includes more than 100 facilities on a 450-acre site with Shimer enjoying access to on-campus housing and dining services; numerous academic & library resources; health, counseling, & fitness centers; public safety; and student life programming including involvement in over 150 student organizations.
The College offers an Undergraduate Weekday Program for traditional-age college students; an Undergraduate Weekend Program for adults; an Early Entrant Program for highly motivated high school students; and a Study Abroad Program in Oxford, England for qualified third and fourth year students.
There are 11 full-time faculty members, each of whom holds a Ph.D. There are five part-time and adjunct faculty members, approximately 145 undergraduates, and fifteen full-time staff members.
DECISION-MAKING, MISSION, AND THE STRATEGIC PLAN
Shimer has a distinctive decision-making system based on democratic principles of equality and consultation. In addition to the Board of Trustees and a Faculty, College governance institutions include an Assembly comprising all members of the Community. Shimer can only thrive in a spirit of cooperation among President, Board, Faculty, and other members of the Assembly, including students and staff members. The Assembly plays an important role as a deliberative forum for the College as a whole; it also forms various committees that work on administrative and academic issues. The Board of Trustees, which includes three student and two faculty representatives among its membership of about 25, has been working effectively throughout 2010-11, in cooperation with the Assembly and the Faculty. In the spring of 2011 the Board of Trustees thoroughly revised its by-laws, making them more consistent and clarifying that they take precedence over other College documents, such as the constitutions of the Assembly and the Faculty.
Shimer’s Mission Statement, prepared principally by the Assembly and approved by the Board of Trustees in May 2011, eloquently summarizes Shimer’s purposes:
Shimer College provides and preserves education centered on discussion of enduring questions and issues. Historically influential original sources are studied through Socratic questioning in small seminar classes, following the kind of Great Books curriculum advocated by Robert Maynard Hutchins. The core values informing education at Shimer are free inquiry, dialog, critical open-mindedness, and integration of disciplines. The College offers all members of its community the opportunity to participate meaningfully in deciding the future of the institution. A Shimer education demands much of both the intellect and the character of students, and prepares them for responsible citizenship and the examined life.
Shimer’s Strategic Plan, updated and approved by the Board of Trustees on an annual basis, provides an overview of the College’s major goals and initiatives, as well as strategies for attainment. Its principal goal is stated as follows:
To preserve and continue to build an educational community centered on the study of the Great Books, and discussion of the issues that they raise, and that nurtures in all its members the ability and the habit of taking individual responsibility for one's own education.
A centerpiece of the Strategic Plan is to increase the student body by 8-12% each year to a target level of 300 students. Between 2007 and 2011, the number of full-time equivalent students increased by about 70%, from about 75 to almost 130. The Strategic Plan sets out specific goals for related objectives such as expanding educational programs, strengthening support for faculty and staff members, and fundraising.
THE NEXT PRESIDENT
The current President of Shimer College is Edward Noonan, former Chair of the Shimer Board of Trustees. Mr. Noonan has agreed to serve until his successor takes office, expected to be on or around July 1, 2012.
Shimer’s next President will need to exercise leadership effectively within its distinctive governance structure, achieving ambitious objectives through the exercise of vision, persuasion, and judgment.
Specific challenges include:
- Executing Shimer’s Strategic Plan.
- Obtaining increased levels of philanthropic support, particularly from individuals and institutions in the Chicago area.
- Sustaining and supporting an under-compensated faculty and staff. The President has oversight and facilitative leadership with direct reports including chief academic officer, chief financial officer, chief operating officer, chief advancement officer, chief admission officer, and chief student affairs officer.
- Continuing to build a strong, diverse, and supportive Board of Trustees.
- Capitalizing upon partnership opportunities with the Illinois Institute of Technology and with other institutions of higher education in the greater Chicago region.
- Hiring first-rate staff members and ensuring that Shimer’s resources are managed prudently.
- Shimer’s next President must be someone of great integrity, who will demonstrate consistent respect for faculty, students, and administrative colleagues.
- He or she must be able to demonstrate the capacity to provide effective, inspiring, and courageous leadership within the context of a highly egalitarian and democratic organization, and to manage effectively in a complex and highly collaborative environment.
- The successful candidate need not be a professor or have a PhD, but must be intellectually vibrant and have an understanding of and passion for a small liberal arts college whose curriculum is focused on discussion of texts of enduring value.
- Shimer’s next President must be committed to devoting full time to the position, and to reside, at least during weekdays throughout the academic year, in the greater Chicago area.
- He or she must be an excellent communicator with strong interpersonal skills who is prepared to be an effective advocate for the College and to raise funds for its maintenance and expansion.