Shimer College

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Shimer College
Torch with four vases on black background, in which circle with words Shimer College and year 1853
Shimer College Seal
Motto Non Ministrari Sed Ministrare
Motto in English Not to be served, but to serve
Established 1853
Type Private, Coeducational, Undergraduate, Liberal arts[1]
Endowment $250,000 (2008)[2]
President Susan Henking (2012)
Academic staff 16 (2010)[3]
Students 141 (2012)[4]
Location Chicago, Illinois, United States
41°49′55″N 87°37′33″W / 41.83194°N 87.62583°W / 41.83194; -87.62583Coordinates: 41°49′55″N 87°37′33″W / 41.83194°N 87.62583°W / 41.83194; -87.62583
Campus Urban
Former names Mount Carroll Seminary Frances Shimer Academy Frances Shimer Junior College
Colors Maroon and gold[5]          
Mascot Flaming Smelt[6]
white tree above number 1853 on maroon octagonal background with year 1853 next to words Shimer The Great Books College of Chicago

Shimer College (often referred to as Shimer Listeni/ˈʃmər/ SHY-mər) is a small, private, undergraduate liberal arts college located in Chicago, Illinois, in the United States.

Founded by Frances Wood Shimer in 1853 in Mt. Carroll, Illinois, Shimer College retains the "Hutchins Plan" of education, originally put into practice by Robert Maynard Hutchins at the University of Chicago. This pedagogical program centres on the "Great Books" and Socratic style of education.

Classes are exclusively small seminars, in which students discuss original source material rather than attending lectures and reading textbooks. The core curriculum examines foundational primary sources documents in the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, and integrated studies. This comprises two-thirds of the course work required for a degree.

Applicants to the school are evaluated on their academic potential and critical thinking, based primarily on interviews and writing samples. No minimum GPA or test scores are required.

Shimer practices democratic self-governance, to a rare degree among institutions of higher education. Since 1977, the college has been functionally governed through committees and an egalitarian deliberative body known as "the Assembly", composed of current students, faculty, staff, alumna, and board-members.

Shimer has offered a study abroad program in Oxford, England, since 1963, and a weekend program for working adults since 1981. It has had an "Early Entrant Program" in place since 1950, allowing students who have not yet completed high school to start college early.

Shimer enrolled 119 full-time students in 2011.[7] Notable alumni include poets, authors, political theorists, experimental artists, and computing pioneers.



woman with white hair pulled back in black dress with white ruffles showing at collar stares sternly at camera
Frances Wood Shimer, the "moving spirit and superintending power"[8] of Mt. Carroll Seminary from its founding to 1896

Shimer was founded in 1852, when the pioneer town of Mt. Carroll, Illinois, lacking a public school, incorporated the Mt. Carroll Seminary with no land, no teachers, and no money for this purpose.[9][10]a[›] The town persuaded two schoolteachers from Ballston Spa, New York, Frances Wood and her friend Cindarella Gregory, to come teach. On May 11, 1853, the new seminary opened in a local church with 11 students.[11]

Failing to raise enough money locally, the incorporators borrowed the money to construct a building in 1854; discouraged by the financial picture, however, they soon sold the school to Wood and Gregory, who borrowed the money to buy it.[10] In 1857, Wood married Henry Shimer, a mason to whom the seminary owed money. He gave Wood, and later the school, his name.[12]

In 1864, the school began exclusively accepting female students because the school was out of space.[13]

Relationship with University of Chicago[edit]

Wishing to ensure the long-term survival of the school, in 1896 Frances Shimer reached an agreement with the University of Chicago (U. of C.), under which the school became the "Frances Shimer Academy of the University of Chicago", and was affiliated loosely with the Baptist Church.[14][15]b[›]

Frances Shimer retired to Florida, never setting foot on campus again; she died in 1901.[16] William Rainey Harper, then president of the U. of C., was the first to champion the idea of the Junior College in the United States. In 1907, Shimer became one of the first schools to offer a junior college program.[15][17] The two-year junior college program, which operated alongside the original preparatory program, was accredited in 1920.[18]

The college suffered a severe decline in enrollment and financial stability during and after the Great Depression weathering the fallout under five different presidents. Its success was due in part to the reorganization of the six-year preparatory program into a four-year junior college program and in part to deep salary reductions.[19]

In 1943, Shimer president Albin Bro invited the Department of Education at the U. of C. to evaluate the entire college community. The 77 recommendations they returned would become the basis for Shimer's transformation from a conservative finishing school to a nontraditional, co-educational four-year college.[20]

The school was renamed Shimer College in 1950, and adopted the Great Books curriculum then in place at the U. of C.[15] The U. of C. connection was dissolved in 1958, following the U. of C.'s decision to abandon the Great Books plan, and Shimer's narrowly averted bankruptcy in 1957.[21]

The Great Books program at Shimer lived on, and the school achieved national recognition and rapid growth in enrollment through the 1960s.[22]

In 1963, a Harvard Educational Review article named Shimer as one of 11 colleges with an "ideal intellectual climate".[23]

A 1966 article in the education journal Phi Delta Kappan reported that Shimer "present[ed] impressive statistical evidence that their students are better prepared for graduate work in the arts and sciences and in the professions than those who have specialized in particular areas."[24]

The "Grotesque Internecine Struggle"[edit]

In the late 1960s, Shimer experienced a period of internal unrest known as the "Grotesque Internecine Struggle," involving disputes over curriculum changes, the extent to which student behavior should be regulated, and allegedly inadequate fundraising by president Joe Mullin; half of the faculty and a large portion of the student body departed as a result.[25][26]

I don't care if we only pay our way for a time, if we can ultimately have a school that will be appreciated.

Frances Wood Shimer, 1853[27]

As financial problems worsened, the school's survival was in doubt. The trustees voted to close the college at the end of 1973, but the school was saved by a desperate fund-raising campaign led by students and faculty.[28][29] Three times in the next four years, the trustees voted to shut the school down, only to later vote to reopen it.[30]

Finally filing for bankruptcy in 1977, the trustees, in the words of board chair Barry Carroll, "put responsibility for the school's continuing on the shoulders of a very dedicated faculty of 12 and students who volunteered".[30] This group was led by Don Moon, a nuclear engineer and Episcopal priest who had joined the faculty in 1967.[31]

Invitation to Waukegan, Illinois[edit]

The city of Waukegan, Illinois, a suburb north of Chicago, offered Shimer an invitation to relocate their facilities, and over Christmas break in 1978, the faculty and 62 students borrowed trucks and moved the college into two "run down" homes.[32] Classes began on schedule in January 1979. The college emerged from bankruptcy in 1980, but had its accreditation temporarily downgraded to "candidate" status as a result of its financial problems.[33][34] Over the next 25 years, Shimer purchased 12 of the surrounding homes to form a makeshift campus and slowly progressed towards financial stability.[35] By 1988, enrollment had climbed from a low of 40 to 114 and income exceeded expenses.

Shimer won a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) in 1991, with the help of then NEH chair and core-curriculum advocate Lynne Cheney; the grant helped the school raise US$2 million and revitalized fund raising.[35][36] That same year, Shimer's accreditation was restored by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.[34]

Move to Illinois Institute of Technology Campus[edit]

In 2006, Shimer was again struggling with stagnating enrollment. It again accepted an invitation to move, this time to the campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT or Illinois Tech.) in Chicago. Under a long-term lease agreement, the two institutions kept separate faculties and boards.[37][38]

Shimer attracted national attention in 2009 when the school became embroiled in "a battle over what some saw as a right-wing attempt to take over its board and administration".[39][40] Students, organized under the name "Shimer Student Alliance", protested at the February 2010 Board meeting.[41][42]

Following votes of no confidence by the faculty, the alumni, and Shimer's democratic governing body (the Assembly), president Thomas Lindsay stepped down in April 2010.[43] He was succeeded by Ed Noonan, a Chicago-area architect and longtime Trustee of the college.[43]

In February 2012, Shimer announced that Susan Henking, a professor of religious studies at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, would succeed Noonan as president of the college.[44] She has since been inaugurated, and still heads the college as of 2014.

Pedagogy and Curriculum[edit]

Shimer is one of four Great Books colleges in the US.[45][46]c[›]

Shimer awards bachelor's degrees with opporunities to Concentrate in the Humanities, Social Sciences, and Natural Sciences, as well as to further Specialize in a number of sub-fileds. Two-thirds of the courses required for graduation (85 credit hours)[47] are mandatory core courses. The remaining 40 credit hours are filled by electives.

History of Curriculum[edit]

See also: Great Books

The Great Books movement began with the work of John Erskine, who founded a Socratic seminar at Columbia University in 1919.[48] Erskine's colleague Mortimer Adler was profoundly impacted, and came to believe that the purpose of education was to engage student's minds "in the study of individual works of merit ... accompanied by a discussion of the ideas, the values, and the forms embodied in such products of human art."[49] Robert Maynard Hutchins, who led the University of Chicago from 1929 to 1951, brought Adler to the U. of C. and wholeheartedly embraced his ideas.[50][51]d[›] In 1931, Hutchins implemented the "Chicago Plan", which later became known as the "Hutchins Plan".[52]

 an older man in suit and tie stands behind a microphone with his finger raised
Mortimer Adler, whose Great Books philosophy of education heavily influenced the Shimer curriculum

The Chicago program comprised sequences in the natural sciences, the humanities, and the social sciences which were supposed to integrate past and present work within these divisions of knowledge. In addition, these sequences were capped by work in philosophy and history. The emphasis in teaching was on small classes with bright students, where discussion could supplant monologue as the dominant pedagogic technique.... At the same time, in order to retain high academic standards and contact with the "frontiers of knowledge", the College's pedagogy emphasized reading originals (sometimes although not invariably, defined as Great Books).[24]e[›]

... that the best way to a liberal education in the West is through the greatest works the West has produced, is still, in our view, the best educational idea there is.

Robert Maynard Hutchins, The Great Conversation[53]

Shimer, which had been affiliated with the U. of C. since 1896, adopted the Hutchins plan entirely in 1950, including the Chicago syllabi, comprehensive examinations, and several of their instructors.[54] Hutchins left the U. of C. in 1951, and the university abandoned the program thereafter. Shimer College maintained the Hutchins plan, which continues as its primary pedagogical model to this day.

Current Curriculum[edit]

Shimer's current 200-book reading list remains largely faithful to the original Hutchins plan; however, new works are judiciously added to the core curriculum. These have included voices originally overlooked in the formation of the canon.[55] Now included, for example, are works by Martin Luther King, Jr., Carol Gilligan, Frantz Fanon, and Michel Foucault, along with other contemporary authors.[55] Readings are also organized by broad historical and philosophical themes, rather than conventional fields.

Small seminars remain the sole form of instruction, in all subjects from mathematics to poetry. Classes are composed of no more than twelve students, and read and discuss only original source material.[45] Faculty are always addressed by first name. Teachers "facilitate" discussion, and therefore may talk little during actual class-time.

Through a process Shimer internally calls "shared inquiry", "the text is the teacher, and thus the faculty member's role is to facilitate interaction between the text and the students",[54] as well as between the students themselves. Often teachers provide historical and relational information not availble from other students or the text itself.

Shimer's Core[edit]

The core curriculum of Shimer College is a sequence of 16 required courses in humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, and interdisciplinary studies. The Basic Studies courses, numbered one and two, are generally taken during the first two years, and the Advanced Studies courses, numbered three and four, during the final two years. The Advanced Integrative Studies courses, numbered five and six, are taken in the senior year.[56]

In addition to required core classes, electives offer in-depth work in a particular subject, or basic skills instruction. Tutorials follow a similar protocol, but with only one or two students per course, and are similar in structure to the Oxford-Cambridge supervision system.[57]


The humanities core begins with the study of visual art and music and progresses through literature, philosophy and theology. It culminates with the final course, "Critical Evaluation in the Humanities," which seeks to unify the Humanities courses by approaching all of the areas of the Humanities theoretically through critical evaluation of significant works of the 18th century and later. The course includes Martin Buber's I and Thou, Immanuel Kant's Critique of Judgment, Friedrich Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil, and Søren Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling.[58]

Social Sciences[edit]

The social sciences sequence begins with study of the individual and society in the first course, proceeds to classical political thought in the second, then modern social and political theory in the third, and concludes with the "Theories of Social Inquiry" course, which focuses on statistical and interpretive methods in sociology, linguistic theory, and 20th century social thought, through works like Clifford Geertz's The Interpretation of Cultures, Paolo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Michel Foucault's Discipline and Punish, and Karl Mannheim's Ideology and Utopia.[59]

Natural Sciences[edit]

The natural sciences core studies science as it has developed historically, beginning with the presocratic philosophers of the 6th century BC and the theory of atoms in the first course; evolution, genetics, and animal behavior in the second; optics and the theory of relativity in the third; and concluding with the study of quantum physics and molecular biology. The natural science reading list includes Albert Einstein’s Relativity, Isaac Newton’s Opticks, Richard Feynman’s QED, Antoine Lavoisier’s Elements of Chemistry, and Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species.[60]

Integrative Studies[edit]

The first basic integrative studies course teaches the fundamental skills in close reading and argumentation required to work with original source texts. In the second course, logic and mathematics are studied in terms of the development of geometry and axiomatic systems in ancient and modern times.[56] The advanced integrative studies courses, in which students explore connections between the course texts and those they have studied in other courses, are the capstone of the Shimer curriculum. The readings are arranged chronologically in a unified, full-year sequence to demonstrate their historical relationships, beginning with the ancient epic poems The Epic of Gilgamesh and Homer's Iliad, and concluding with Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Faust and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel's Reason in History.[61]

Shimer's Core Curriculum


Humanities Social sciences Natural sciences Integrative studies
I Art and Music Society, Culture, and Personality Laws and Models in Chemistry Analysis, Logic, and Rhetoric

(Previously Offered)

II Poetry, Drama, and Fiction The Western Political Tradition Evolution and Animal Behavior The Nature and Creation of Mathematics
Basic Studies Comprehensive Examination
III Theology and Early Modern Philosophy Modern Theories of State and Society Light, Motion, and Scientific Explanation
IV Critical Evaluation in the Humanities Methodology in the Social Sciences Quantum Physics and Molecular Biology
Area Studies Comprehensive Examination
V History and Philosophy of Western Civilization:

Ancient World - Middle Ages

VI History and Philosophy of Western Civilization:

Middles Ages - Nineteenth Century

Senior Thesis

Assessment and Student Production[edit]

 eleven people sitting around octagonal wood table with red books in front of them seen from above
Octagonal tables are an iconic fixture of Shimer College classrooms. The shape is also reflected in the college logo.[62] Shown here is a 1995 class in Waukegan.

Beyond assessment of performance in every class (usually accounting for over 50% of a student's course grade), Shimer College requires and assesses the production of a number of significant projects throughout a student's undergraduate tenure.

Writing Week Projects[edit]

Students not completing Comprehensive Examinations or Senior Theses (see below) are required to complete a Semester Project during the final week of each term (known as Writing Week). These projects focus on a topic chosen by students, in conjunction with an advisor. The project does not receive a grade, but is reviewed by the student's instructors in a Final Conference, and must be accepted before the student can register for the following semester.

Research Paper[edit]

Students are required to complete a substantial research paper, usually undertaken in the third-level Social Science course, before registering for advanced Integrative Studies courses.[63]

Comprehensive Examinations[edit]

Students must pass at least two comprehensive examinations to graduate. After completing the Basic Studies courses (called the "1's" and "2's"), all students must pass the Basic Studies Comprehensive Examination to continue on to higher level courses.[56] After completing the Advanced Studies courses ("3's" and "4's"), students must pass at least one Area Studies Comprehensive Examination, usually in their area of concentration, in order to graduate. [63]

Each comprehensive examination involves a week of exercises in reading and writing, as well as an oral component often taking the form of a Socratic seminar.

Undergraduate Thesis[edit]

Every student must complete a Senior Thesis in order to graduate, undertaken during the student's final year. Fulfillment usually takes the form of an analytical or expository essay, but may be a piece of original fiction, poetry, performance, or work of visual art. Students are encouraged to defend their theses orally and the public is invited to these defenses.[63]

Special programs[edit]

 seven young people standing on grass in front of stone wall with Gothic building behind them
Shimer students visiting Ely Cathedral in Ely, Cambridgeshire, England in 2008. Shimer has held its study abroad program in Oxford since 1963.

Weekend College[edit]

The Weekend College Program, founded in 1981, allows working adults to participate in intensive classes which meet every third weekend, to allow them to graduate in four years.[64][65] Weekend students have ranged from 23 to 70 years of age and come from all over the country; weekend students have commuted from as far as Florida and New York.[66] The program enrolled 35 to 40 students in 2010.[67]

Study Abroad[edit]

Shimer first offered a year of study abroad, in Paris in 1961. The college has regularly held a program biennially in Oxford, England, since 1963.[68][69]

The Shimer-in-Oxford program allows students in their third or fourth years to study one or two semesters in Oxford, supervised by a Shimer professor.[70] The students take a core class each term with the supervising faculty. The remainder of their work is completed via tutorials in self-selected subjects under the guidence of professors from and associated with the University of Oxford.[71]

The Shimer-in-Oxford program is now affiliated with the Oxford Study Abroad Programme,[72] founded in 1985, which allows students to share housing with students from Oxford University and other American colleges.[73]

Teaching Fellows Program[edit]

The Teaching Fellows Program offers a graduate-level Great Books course designed for kindergarten through 12th grade school teachers. Shimer does not award graduate degrees, but teachers earn professional development credit through the program. The program complements traditional education courses by providing the background knowledge required for teachers to give more content-rich instruction.[74]

The program was developed in conjunction with the Core Knowledge Foundation, which was founded in 1986 by E.D. Hirsch, Jr., author of Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know,[75] to promote a common core of learning in elementary school education.[76]

Early Entrant Program[edit]

Shimer's Early Entrant program, which admits students who have not yet graduated from high school, was first launched in 1950.[36] The program has continued to be supported by the Ford Foundation, the Carnegie Foundation and others.[77]

Students enter after the 10th or 11th grade (US), and follow the same curriculum as all other students. The college will consider the application of any interested student, stressing motivation, willingness to learn, and intellectual curiosity as the most important qualifications.[77]

Shimer also actively encourages applications from home-schooled students, and makes special accommodations for their credentials (for example, their lack of transcripts).[78] In 2008, 16 percent of new students were early entrants or home-schooled students of a similar age.[79]

Joint Programs[edit]

Shimer currently supports cross-registration for courses at Illinois Tech, and the Vandercook College of Music, also located on the Illinois Tech campus; these courses include everything from laboratory science and advanced mathematics to music performance, history, and theory.[80]

The Great Books + Law program[edit]

Launched in 2007 this program is offered in conjunction with the Chicago-Kent College of Law (the Law School of the Illinois Institute of Technology). It allows students to count their first year of law school towards their Shimer degree and receive their J.D. in a total of five years instead of seven.[81]

Local Colleges[edit]

A joint program has also been operated since 2009 with Harold Washington College (HWC), one of the very few community colleges to offer a Great Books program. The program allows HWC students to take one Shimer course,[82] and is meant to encourage students to transfer to Shimer to complete their bachelor's degree.[83]


Current Shimer Faculty

As of 2012, Shimer had 14 full-time and 3 part-time faculty; all full-time faculty hold doctorates.[4] Two of those faculty members were among those who brought the school to Waukegan in 1978; the average tenure is 14 years.[84]

Shimer instructors teach across disciplines and the "ideal is that any faculty member can teach any one of the core courses".[36]f[›]

The student-faculty ratio is eight to one.[4]


Shimer applicants are evaluated on their academic potential and relationships with previous academic institutions: no minimum grade point average (GPA) or test score is required. The college accepts students who it believes will benefit from and contribute to its intellectual community.[77] While most applicants are admitted (nearly 90 percent), candidates are counseled closely before applying, in effect reducing frivolous applications.[85][86]

In a unique profile, the average GPA of incoming students is 3.29 on a four point scale (82nd percentile), while average composite scores on standardized college admissions tests, are 28 for the ACT (92nd percentile) and 1917 for the SAT (90th percentile).[87][88]

Applicants are asked to write an essays analyzing their academic experience, while displaying their creative talents. This, along with a personal interview, is the major criterion for admission.[89]


In 2010–2011, full-time tuition and fees were $29,100.[90] One hundred percent of undergraduates received financial aid; the average aid package was $12,938.[90]

Recognition and accomplishments[edit]

University rankings
Liberal arts colleges
U.S. News & World Report[91] NR
Washington Monthly[92] 82

Shimer has traditionally boycotted college rankings due to disagreements over standards in rating metrics.

In 2009, Shimer was ranked 82nd among liberal arts colleges by Washington Monthly (WM),[93] while it was unranked by U.S. News & World Report (USNWR).[94] In 2006, Shimer was selected as one of the top 50 colleges in All-American Colleges: Top Schools for Conservatives, Old-fashioned Liberals, and People of Faith, which highlights "programs that connect in a special way with the core values of the American founding and the vibrant intellectual traditions of the West".[95]

Barron's named Shimer one of the 300 best buys in college education, noting that "the success of the Shimer curriculum depends a great deal on the knowledge and skill of the faculty facilitators, who receive accolades ranging from 'fantastic' to 'brilliant'".[96]

In 2007, Shimer joined a national effort by the Education Conservancy to boycott participation in college-ranking surveys altogether.[97] Then-President William Craig Rice said "what Shimer does well—educating ourselves in on-going dialogue with the greatest minds of the past—can’t be captured in the U.S. News measurements."[98] Nearly all Shimer students take the Graduate Record Exam (GRE), a standardized test for graduate school admissions, their senior year, outscoring three of four potential graduate students and "consistently rank among the best in the nation in scores on the verbal and analytical portions of the test", with average analytic scores in the 91st percentile.[99][100]

Post-Graduation Doctoral Rates[edit]

A 2009 report by The Washington Monthly ranked Shimer third in graduate Ph.D. rate among U.S. liberal arts colleges.[101]

In a 1998 study by the University of Wisconsin, Shimer was found to have the highest rate of graduates receiving doctorate degrees of any liberal arts college and the third highest of any undergraduate program in the nation.[99]

Studies based on data from the Higher Education Data Sharing Consortium (HEDS) found Shimer to have the seventh-highest alumni Ph.D. rate of all US colleges and universities and the highest rate for Ph.D.s in linguistics.[102][103]


 a low steel and glass building and concrete courtyard, with the words Paul V. Galvin Library about a bank of doors, flanked by trees and an abstract steel sculpture
The Paul V. Galvin Library in 2011. Designed by architect Walter Netsch in 1962, it is named for the founder of Motorola.[104]

Shimer relocated to the main campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology in 2006.

Illinois Tech's 120-acre (48.6 ha) campus is centered on 33rd and State Streets, approximately 3 miles (4.8 km) south of the Chicago Loop, in the between the neighborhoods of Bridgeport and Bronzeville on the South Side of Chicago.[105][106][107]

In 1976, the American Institute of Architects named the IIT campus one of the 200 most significant works of architecture in the United States.[108] The IIT Main Campus was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2005.[109]

 large steel tube encircling elevated train track with a train on it, over low building with large glass windows
The McCormick Tribune Campus Center in 2007. Students have informally dubbed it the "building under the tracks" or B.U.T.T.[110]

Shimer occupies 17,000 square feet (1,580 m2) on the first and second floors of what was formerly the Institute of Gas Technology complex, under a long-term lease agreement with IIT.[38] The complex, designed by van der Rohe, consists of four buildings, the southern most formerly hosting the first industrial nuclear reactor in the U.S.[104]

Shimer has access to the resources of the Paul V. Galvin Library, IIT's main research library.[111] Shimer's own collection of 15,000 books is also housed in the Galvin library, where it was moved when the school relocated from Waukegan.[112]


 People seated on a circle of chairs in a large room with hanging lights from the ceiling and a table visible in the foreground
The Shimer Assembly in action in 2010. Democratic self-governance at Shimer grew out of the collective efforts of the faculty and students to save the school in the late 1970s.

"As a function of its mission to promote active citizenship", Shimer states that it is "devoted to internal self-governance to an extent that is rare among institutions of higher education."


As a not-for-profit organization, Shimer has a "self-perpetuating" Board of Trustees responsible for the legal affairs and the assets of the college.

The board delegates legal authority to the president (who acts as the chief executive administrator), to the dean of the college, and the faculty (regarding academic affairs).[113] As of December 2009, the board had 36 members (including three students and two faculty), with a target membership of 40, and was chaired by Christopher B. Nelson, president of St. John's College.[114]


Since 1977, Shimer has been governed internally by a deliberative body called "the Assembly".

The goal of the Assembly is to foster a situation in which "all the top-down bureaucracy of traditional colleges and universities has been replaced by participatory democracy committed to dialogue."[115] Students and faculty are elected by the community at large to serve on all administrative bodies, including the Board of Trustees.

The Assembly has no legal authority, but governs "by virtue of the moral suasion established by communal deliberation".[116]

Begun informally in the years immediately prior to the move to Waukegan, the Assembly was formalized by a constitution in 1980.[117] Voting members include all students, faculty, administrators, staff and trustees.[118] Alumni are also members but do not vote. The Assembly advises the administration and conducts the business of the college through a system of committees with purview over administration, academic planning, budgeting, admissions, grievances, financial aid, and quality of life. Committees are composed of faculty, staff, and students elected by the Assembly as a whole.[119]

Representation at Illinois Tech.[edit]

Shimer students participate and are represented within the IIT Student Government Association (SGA), which functions as a liaison between students and the university administration, and a forum for expressing student opinion.[120][121]

Student life[edit]

five young people sitting on stone wall in front of modern sculpture and tree
Shimer students at the Galvin Library in 2006. Shimer students have access to all student activities on offer at IIT.

The New York Times has called Shimer "one of the smallest liberal arts colleges in the United States", and described Shimer students as "... both valedictorians and high school dropouts. What the students share, besides a love of books, is a disdain for the conventional style of education. Many say they did not have a good high school experience."[122]

Students tend to be individualistic and creative thinkers, and are encouraged to be questioning and inquisitive.[123] Shimer enrolled 141 students in 2012, from 26 states and 2 other countries; the majority came from Illinois.[4] Of these students, 72 percent were white and 30 percent were over age 25.[90] Of full-time students who attended for the first time in 2010, 82.5 percent return for their second year in 2011.[124] Of students who entered in 2005, 62.5 percent completed a bachelor's degree within six years.[124]

The college has a tradition of community meals, dating back to the time of the Waukegan campus, when the whole community would meet for potluck meals and discuss matters of general interest in gatherings that eventually gave birth to the Assembly.[117]

The Orange Horse, Shimer's bi-annual talent show started in the 1960s, invites students, faculty, and alumni to read poetry, sing, play music, or tell jokes, individually or in groups.[125]

Between the years of 1967-2014, the Shimer theater program had been under the direction of emeratus Humanities Professor Eileen Buchanan. Buchanan, a professional actor and director, directed productions that complement the curriculum and offer anyone who wants to participate in theater the chance to do so.[126] Productions in the Chicago location have included Anton Chekhov's Uncle Vanya and Eve Ensler's Vagina Monologues.[127][128] A fund has been started to ensure the community productions of Shimer continue as Buchanan began, even as she shifts from the director's seat to that of the audience.[129]

In addition to the resources of the MTCC and the athletic facilities, Shimer students are able to take part in the more than 150 student organizations sponsored by IIT, including Liit Magazine, the student-run literary magazine of IIT, and IIT's on-campus radio station, WIIT, where they can host their own shows.[130][131]


After Shimer, most students go on to graduate studies: 50 percent of Shimer graduates earn master's degrees and 21 percent go on to earn doctorates.[100][132] Another 10 percent attend law school and 5 percent go to business school.[96]

 grey haired man in white shirt with glasses seated at table reading from a book
Poet Peter Cooley reading from his work in 2009

As of 2008, Shimer claimed 5,615 living alumni.[2] Nearly 25 percent of graduates are employed in education (from elementary schools through college), 7 percent are lawyers, and 7 percent work in computer software. The remainder occupy all walks of life, from consulting to social services, to non-profit organizations.[70]

List of Notable Alumi[edit]


^ a: The school was called a seminary but did not engage in religious instruction. It was part finishing school and part preparatory school, designed to produce female teachers.[139] The four-year program (which the Junior College later extended to six) covered what was essentially a good quality high school program, such that "students [were] prepared for the very best institutions east and west."[140]
^ b:  Under the agreement, Shimer remained independent with its own board, of which a majority represented the U. of C. and two-thirds were required to be Baptist. Shimer was administered locally, but subject to a chief administrator in Chicago for final decisions.[141]
^ c:  The others are St. John's College in Annapolis, Maryland, and Santa Fe, New Mexico, Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, California, and Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in Merrimack, New Hampshire.[122]
^ d: Adler and Hutchins collaborated on The Great Books of the Western World, published in 1952, which was intended to present the entire Western canon in one 54-volume set.[142] The selection of works it contained defined the reading list on which Great Books curricula were based, and which Shimer has largely kept, with minor changes, ever since.
^ e: The Hutchins plan also instituted placement exams, which students would take before enrollment "to determine how much or how little of the program they need".[143] This practice lives on at Shimer, where students are able to place out of several of the basic core courses by examination.[144]
^ f: This aspirational goal is very rarely achieved. Professor David Shiner, who joined the faculty in 1977, received special recognition from the college in 1998 for the "unique distinction of having taught the entire core curriculum".[145]


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Works cited[edit]

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  • Casement, William (1996). The Great Canon Controversy: The Battle of the Books in Higher Education. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers. ISBN 1-55778-742-5. 
  • H.F. Kett & Co, ed. (1878). The History Of Carroll County, Illinois, Containing a History of the County—Its Cities, Towns, Etc. Chicago: H.F. Kett & Co. OCLC 3368934. 
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  • Glass, Rose (1953). "Shimer College History (1853-1950)". In Hostetter, A. Beth. Centennial Anniversary Record. Mt. Carroll, Ill.: Shimer College. pp. 3–22. OCLC 33122715. 
  • Kavaloski, Vincent C. (1979). "Interdisciplinary Education and Humanistic Aspiration: A Critical Reflection". In Kockelmans, Joseph J. Interdisciplinarity and Higher Education. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press. pp. 224–243. ISBN 0-271-02326-0. 
  • Moorhead, Patrick H. (1983). Shimer College Presidency 1930 to 1980 (Ed.D. thesis). Loyola University of Chicago. OCLC 9789513. 
  • Malkmus, Doris (2003). "Frances Wood Shimer, Cindarella Gregory, and the 1853 founding of Shimer College". Journal of Illinois History (Illinois Historic Preservation Agency) 6: 195–214. ISSN 1522-0532. 
  • Severson, Stanley (1975). Responses to Threatened Organizational Death (Ph.D. thesis). University of Chicago. OCLC 28780062. 
  • "Constitution of the Assembly of Shimer College" (PDF). Shimer College. 2008. Retrieved 2010-04-23. 
  • Frances Wood Shimer, 1826–1901. Mt. Carroll, Ill.: Shimer College. 1901. OCLC 13863166. 
  • Shimer College (2011). "Self Study Report, Fall 2011". Retrieved 2011-11-17. 
  • "Shimer College Catalog 2009–2011" (fee required). Shimer College. 2009. Retrieved 2010-06-29. 

External links[edit]