An Open Letter
As I started to hear more information about IIT, the less exciting it sounded. In my visions of a Chicago campus, I always thought it would be wonderful if Shimer had its own dedicated campus somewhere closer to the city, but this IIT situation was nothing of the sort. First of all, it's on the south end of downtown in an area that really isn't all too appealing for a plethora of reasons. Secondly it's a technical college. While I feel like the fact that it is a technical college says enough, I will elaborate on how ridiculous it is that a liberal arts college is moving into a building that is much more appropriate for scenes from the movie "2001: a space odyssey". The space and people we will be surrounding ourselves with are not inspiring for delicious conversations about art and philosophy.
Okay, so none of this really even mattered to me until I went to the "fireside with Bill Rice" yesterday. I was ready to dismiss Shimer and bid it good riddance and good luck (which I actually did in my online blog). But last night's discussion made me realize that this school will not survive at IIT. By "this school", I mean the community and environment that is held in high regard by nearly all the students that attend and have attended this college on this campus (I cannot speak for the mt. carroll campus, as I have no frame of reference). Listening to Mr. Rice discuss forcing a community in a place where it is EXTREMELY obvious that little to no community will exist was disheartening at best. You cannot force a community to happen. The suggestions for "keeping the community together" included: requiring students to live in on-campus housing (the dorms at IIT are tiny and require that students who live in them buy a meal plan at a significant increase in cost) and eating together, along with having classes together.
The IIT campus is quite large and obviously does not belong exclusively to Shimer College. There is no off-campus housing that is nearby (ie: many houses within walking distance like there are here in Waukegan), forcing students and faculty to live quite spread out from one another. I don't know how one can force students to eat together when they're at a place that gives them a myriad of decisions about where and when they want to eat (cafeterias, outdoor "parks", etc).
The reason why the weekday students have a very tight-knit community in Waukegan is because we must, because there aren't a whole lot of other options to be had here. Nearly all of us live within walking distance from the school. We see each other at our best and at our worst. It's incestuous and complicated and beautiful.
I can see how weekend students and others that do not live on campus (some faculty and staff, etc) feel like this move won't affect the community all that much. I am sure I'll get hell for saying this, but I don't think you can really be part of the true Shimer spirit unless you live here or take great effort to be around. I speak from experience in that I have been an on-campus weekday student, an off-campus weekend student, a commuter weekday student and an off-campus (in Waukegan) weekday student. I have seen nearly every aspect of community involvement at Shimer College. I can say very assuredly that the only times I have ever felt like I was truly a part of Shimer College was when I've lived in Waukegan. When I commuted back and forth, I rarely stayed around to hang out and just be with fellow students, even though I had several good friends who lived in Waukegan and often invited me to stick around. It was a hassle to travel and to not be near my "home base". Perhaps this can be critiqued as part of my personality and social issues, but I would venture to guess that most people tend to like to be nearish to their homes, especially when they need to study or they're out drinking or staying out late and getting home 40 minutes to an hour away isn't an appealing process. This will be an issue at IIT. There is no way that this sense of community that I equate with Shimer College can be recreated at a place that we will be so diluted in.
And so here we are, thank you Bill Rice. It's really too bad you never got to experience Shimer College, and now you never will. I think it might even be appropriate to change the name, because this place, as it exists will never be the same. And sure, the world is always changing and it's inevitable that it will, I for one don't want to sit idly by and just watch all this disappear. I hope that the gold that "the college" hopes to fill its pockets with by this move will be worth the death of our school.
And please, stop calling it an "expansion", it's just offensive.
Shimer Student 2002-2006 (accepted 1997, but delayed entry)