Shimer College

April 10, 2014

Meeting Our Friends

Conversations with Shimer

Shimer is a tiny college, right? Our website says, “We few, we happy few” when we refer to alumni. Just as we know this, we have a sense that wherever we go, we find Shimer. Our impact reaches well beyond what we might expect from our size and our connections include many more than the 4,000 or so living Shimerians who have enrolled in classes across the decades. We formally recognize such Shimerians as “Friends of Shimer.”

Like many friendship circles, ours is a wide and diverse one. Our friends range from parents to partners, from those who once taught at Shimer to those who found us through their research, pursue similar values in other organizations, are IIT colleagues, are friends of friends, or are people who have “met” Shimer in lecture series or salons.

The friends of Shimer are many. And, as we all know, friends matter.

 -Susan Henking, President


Today’s friend of Shimer is Tim Lacy. Our president, Susan Henking, “met” Tim because she read a piece he wrote and dropped him a note. Only then did she discover that Tim already knew Shimer. And, Shimer had already met him!

Tim received a Ph.D. in history from Loyola University in 2006 and has written extensively on Shimerian-like matters. As you’ll see below, Tim shares what he calls a “Shimerian sensibility.”


Shimer: Every friend of Shimer met Shimer somehow. How did you?


Tim: I first learned about Shimer, around 2000-01, through my research

on the great books idea. Then, late in 2005, I met Shimer faculty

member David Shiner when I gave a talk at the Great Books Foundation.

Finally, I came to Shimer’s campus, in person, when I gave a lecture,

in January 2008, titled “The Un-Stuffy, Liberal-Minded,

Trans-Atlantic, Victorian Roots of the Great Books Idea.” That’s when

I first met some of Shimer’s students, as well as some other faculty

members like Stuart Patterson.


Shimer: Seneca has said that one of the true qualities of friendship is

to understand and to be understood. If you were going to introduce

Shimer as your friend to someone else, what might you say?


Tim: I would say that my friend Shimer and I share a deep, sincere, and

thorough interest in all things great books. I would add that we share

a liberal-lefty outlook on the great books as an idea, but also on its

place in American higher education and culture generally. To

paraphrase C.S. Lewis and others that have written thoughtfully about

the permutations of love, I would say that Shimer and I possess

something of all the four loves: storge, philia, agape, and, yes, even

eros. Indeed, on the last, I would say that my shared romance with

Shimer about the great books idea has been essential to our proper,

Seneca-esque understanding of each other.


Shimer: One of the things about Shimer and Shimerian friends is that we

are everywhere. Somehow, Shimer seems to be connected to everyone!

Please share with us one of your favorite stories about Shimer– a

“six degrees of separation” story!


Tim: This one is tougher for me. My relationship with the great books

idea dates to around 1993-94, but,  as I said, my contact with Shimer is more

recent. I can, however, offer this anecdote: One of my good friends in

graduate school was Derek Halvorson. Derek studied medieval history

and I worked on post-Civil War U.S. history, but we both loved to talk

about academia: its trends, history, traditions, problems, and

possibilities. We haven’t been on campus together since around

2002-03, but we’ve stayed in touch by e-mail, social media, etc. Derek

is now the president of Covenant College. Recently I finally finished

my book on the history of the great books idea (The Dream of a

Democratic Culture, Palgrave Macmillan, Nov. 2013). Last December

Derek saw a story about my book and wrote to say that he had just

participated in a conference at Harvard with other small college

presidents. Lo and behold, he had met Susan Henking there and told her

“about his buddy from grad school who had done work on the great

books.”  One thing led to another, and last December I was introduced

to Susan Henking and put back in touch with Stuart Patterson.


Shimer: Nice six degrees of separation tale. Of course, as you have already hinted, Shimer is partly about what we read and discuss together. What are you reading these days?


Tim: I’m almost always reading several books at once. Right now I’m in

the middle of: Goethe’s Faust (part two—so imaginative, wondrous,

and devious), Una Cadegan’s All Good Books are Catholic Books (a

history about 20th-century Catholic literary critics and censorship),

Patrick O’Brian’s The Hundred Days (my third time through the

20-novel series), Mortimer Adler’s Art & Prudence (a work of

philosophy on movie and literary censorship in democracies), and,

finally, a book of practical help, Your Five- and Six-Year-Old, As

They Grow (yes, I need help thinking about raising our son and



Shimer: Love the mix of old and new, re-reading and reading, practical and less directly practical! What question have you never been asked that you wish someone would ask you? What’s your answer?


Tim: Hmm…. The question: What do your parents do, and how has that affected your professional trajectory?  My answer: My father is a truck driver, my stepmother is a seamstress who owns her own home-based shop, and my mother is retired from a life of factory work and housecleaning. Until recently

I was the only one in my immediate family to earn a anything beyond a

high school diploma (my youngest sister recently finished her associates degree). They all love me, and value my scholarship and education, but there’s no denying I’m a bit different. I know they think I’m a bit crazy—that I’ve overdone the “education thing” a bit. They may be right to some extent. But I’m quite pleased with where I am, personally and professionally, after all the work!


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