Shimer College

December 14, 2013

Guest Blog: The Fantasy and Reality of Being a Board Member

When I was a student at Shimer, I dreamed of being a Board member. I would know everything about the College before anyone else did, all the secrets, good and bad, all the dirt and all the glory. I’ve now served on the Board for twenty years, and everything I used to believe turned out to be totally wrong.
By Dan Shiner ‘77

The truth is, Board members are usually the last ones to know anything.

Sure, we make the legal decisions for the College, but if I want to know anything that is really going on at the school, the best way to do it is to talk to students. Often times faculty and staff are aware of plans and projects, but for reasons that escape me, it seems students always know first.

And they are remarkably casual about it. Typical conversation before I realized this:

Me: (talking to a student after a Board meeting) There was some talk at the Board about possibly hiring a new faculty member. I’m interested to know your thoughts on that?

Student: (voice inflections what one would expect from Albert Einstein if someone were to ask him “Have you ever heard of something called ‘relativity’??”) Well, of the three candidates I helped interview last week, I thought two were excellent. The third seemed to have a bit more difficulty with the concept of interdisciplinary education, but he might be OK.

Me: Thanks. If I take you out to lunch, will you tell me what else is going on at the College?

Maybe it is because the Board only meets three times per year. Or maybe it is because the Assembly and the various committees are apprised of all important (and not so important) matters at the College on an ongoing basis. Or maybe it is because the “rumor mill” tends to be fairly accurate much of the time, as secrets are impossible to keep in this day and age (“I’m not supposed to tell you this–it’s a secret–but Stephen Hawking will be starting as a student at Shimer in the Fall,” followed by, “Yeah, I started hearing about that when he first considered applying last year.”)

The lesson is simple. You can join the Board, contribute lots of money, and be the last to know what is happening at Shimer. Or you can be a student, borrow lots of money, and be the first to know everything. It’s a tough choice.

Dan Shiner ‘77