|Mt. Carroll Seminary, Frances Shimer Academy, Frances Shimer Junior College|
|Motto||Non Ministrari Sed Ministrare|
Motto in English
|Not to be served, but to serve|
|Type||Very small, four-year, exclusively undergraduate, liberal arts|
|President||Dr. Susan Henking (2012)|
|Location||Chicago, Illinois, United States
Shimer College (pronounced i// SHY-mər) is an American liberal arts college located in Chicago, Illinois. Founded as the Mt. Carroll Seminary in 1853 in Mt. Carroll, Illinois, it became affiliated with the University of Chicago (U. of C.) and was renamed the Frances Shimer Academy in 1896. It was renamed Shimer College in 1950, when it began offering a four-year curriculum based on the Great Books program of the U. of C., known as the Hutchins Plan. The U. of C. parted ways with Shimer, and the Hutchins program, in 1958, but Shimer has continued its own version of the curriculum to the present day. Shimer left Mt. Carroll for a new home in Waukegan, Illinois in 1978, and moved again, to Chicago, in 2006.
The academic program is based a core curriculum of sixteen required courses in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. All courses take the form of small seminars with no more than twelve students, and are based on original sources from a list of some 200 core texts broadly based on the original Great Books canon. Socratic discussion is the sole form of classroom instruction. Intensive writing is required, including two comprehensive exams and a senior thesis. Students are admitted primarily on the basis of essays and interviews; no minimum grades or test scores are required. Shimer has been recognized for one of the highest alumni doctorate rates in the country.
Shimer is housed in a complex designed by Mies van der Rohe on the main campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) in the historic Bronzeville neighborhood of Chicago's Near South Side. The American Institute of Architects has called the IIT campus one of the 200 most significant works of architecture in the United States and it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2005. Shimer is governed internally by a deliberative body called the Assembly, in which all members of the community have a vote.
According to the New York Times, students "share a love of books [and] a disdain for the conventional style of education. Many say they did not have a good high school experience." Students tend to be individualistic and creative thinkers and are encouraged to be questioning and inquisitive. Over its entire history, Shimer has averaged 125 students; Shimer enrolled 97 students in 2014. Most Shimer alumni go on to graduate studies. Notable alumni include writers, political theorists, inventors, avant garde artists and musicians, politicians, and computing pioneers.
- 1 History
- 2 Academics
- 3 Campus
- 4 Organization and administration
- 5 Student life
- 6 Alumni
- 7 Notes
- 8 References
- 9 Works cited
- 10 External links
In 1852, 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.a[›] The town persuaded Frances Wood and Cindarella Gregory, two schoolteachers from Ballston Spa, New York, to come teach. On May 11, 1853, the new seminary opened in a local church with eleven students.
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. In 1857, Wood married Henry Shimer, a mason to whom the seminary owed money. He gave Wood, and later the school, his name. In 1864, completely out of space, the school began accepting only female students.
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.b[›] Frances Shimer retired to Florida, never setting foot on campus again; she died in 1901. 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. The two-year junior college program, which operated alongside the original preparatory program, was accredited in 1920.
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 survival 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. In 1943, Shimer president Albin C. 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.
The school was renamed Shimer College in 1950, and adopted the Great Books curriculum then in place at the U. of C. 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. The Great Books program at Shimer lived on, and the school achieved national recognition and rapid growth in enrollment through the 1960s. In 1963, a Harvard Educational Review article named Shimer as one of 11 colleges with an "ideal intellectual climate". 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."
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. 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. Three times in the next four years, the trustees voted to shut the school down, only to later vote to reopen it. 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".
Over Christmas break in 1978, the faculty and 62 students borrowed trucks and moved the college into two "run down" homes in Waukegan, Illinois, a suburb north of Chicago. The college emerged from bankruptcy in 1980. Over the next 25 years, Shimer purchased 12 of the surrounding homes to form a makeshift campus and slowly progressed towards financial stability. By 1988, enrollment had climbed from a low of 40 to 114 and income exceeded expenses. In 1991, Shimer received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), with the help of then NEH chair and core-curriculum advocate Lynne Cheney; the grant helped the school raise $2 million and revitalized fundraising. In 2006, struggling with stagnating enrollment, Shimer again accepted an invitation to move, this time to the campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) in Chicago. The two institutions operate independently but cooperate closely, under a long-term agreement.
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." In February 2012, Shimer announced the appointment of Susan Henking, formerly a professor of religious studies at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, as the 14th president of the college, the first woman to head the school since Frances Shimer herself.
In September 2014, Shimer again attracted media attention when Ben Miller of Washington Monthly ranked Shimer as "the worst college in America" according to one formula that adjusted graduation rates for percentage of minority and low-income students and factored in the net price charged to low-income students. In December 2014, Jon Ronson of The Guardian disputed Miller's claim, quoting him as saying that the ranking was "at least partly due to small sample sizes."
History of curriculum
Shimer is one of four colleges in the U.S. that follow in the Great Books tradition, which began with the work of John Erskine.c[›] Erskine's Socratic seminar at Columbia University, which he began in 1919, profoundly impacted his colleague Mortimer Adler, who 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." Robert Maynard Hutchins, who led the University of Chicago from 1929 to 1951, brought Adler to the U. of C. and implemented a program based on Adler's ideas known as the Chicago Program and later the Hutchins Plan.d[›]
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).e[›]
Shimer, which had been affiliated with the U. of C. since 1896, adopted the Hutchins plan in its entirety in 1950, including the University of Chicago syllabi, comprehensive examinations, and several U. of C. instructors. When Hutchins left the U. of C. in 1951, and the university abandoned the Hutchins Plan, but Shimer continued to embrace it; it still heavily reflected in the current Shimer curriculum.
The Shimer core curriculum is a sequence of sixteen required courses in humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, and interdisciplinary studies. Basic Studies courses are generally taken during the first two years, Advanced Studies during the final two years, and Integrative Studies courses, in the final year. In addition to the common core courses, student take electives, which offer basic skills instruction or in-depth work in a particular subject. Students may also take tutorials, with only one or two students per course, tailored to their specific interests and similar in structure to the Oxford tutorial system.
Students do not pursue traditional majors, but rather broad concentrations in Humanities, Natural Sciences, or Social Sciences. Within each of these areas, students may choose to earn a specialization in Literature, Mathematics, Philosophy, Political science, or Psychology.
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. Now included, for example, are works by Martin Luther King, Jr., Carol Gilligan, Frantz Fanon, and Michel Foucault, along with other contemporary authors. 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. The average class size is seven. Through a process Shimer 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", as well as between the students themselves. In the words of one former Shimer professor:
At Shimer, the professor is a facilitator, a guide on the side, not a sage on the stage - encouraging each student to contribute to the intellectual light being kindled in every class. Each student is expected to question and comment upon the text, to respond to one other’s insights, actively taking part in every discussion.... Students know their insights matter; they have something to offer to their peers, and to the life of the text being discussed. Some students are more exuberant than others, some would rather talk than listen; others may be a bit shy. The professor/facilitator must make sure that each student has a chance to shine, that each can feel confident, each can have the courage to ask what they think might be a stupid question. What are feared to be stupid questions are often the most provocative ones.
The curriculum is writing intensive. Students are required to complete a semester project each term, on a topic chosen by students in conjunction with an advisor. Students are also required to complete a substantial original research paper during their third year. Additionally, all students must pass a Basic Studies Comprehensive Examination to register for upper level courses and at least one Area Studies Comprehensive Examination, usually in their area of concentration, in order to graduate. A senior thesis required of all students, usually in the form of an analytic or expository essay, but which may also 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.
Early Entrance program
The Early Entrance program, which admits students who have not yet graduated from high school, was pioneered by the Robert Hutchins at University of Chicago in 1937 and adopted by Shimer in 1950. It has continued to the present day, with the support of the Ford Foundation, the Carnegie Foundation, the Surdna Foundation and others. At one time, as many as 80 percent of students at Shimer were early entrants.
Early entrants are admitted after the 10th or 11th grade, and follow the same curriculum as all other students at the college. The college will consider the application of any interested student, stressing motivation, willingness to learn, and intellectual curiosity as the most important qualifications. Shimer also actively encourages applications from home-schooled students, and makes special accommodations for their credentials (for example, their lack of transcripts). In 2008, 16 percent of new students were early entrants or home-schooled students of a similar age.
The Great Books + Law program, launched in 2007, is offered in conjunction with the Chicago-Kent College of Law (the Law School of the Illinois Institute of Technology) and the Vermont Law School. This program allows students to complete the undergraduate and law degrees in a total of five years instead of seven.
Shimer offers a dual enrollment program with Harold Washington College (HWC), one of the few community colleges to offer a Great Books program. The program allows HWC students to take one Shimer course, and is meant to encourage students to transfer to Shimer to complete their bachelor's degree.
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. 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. 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 guidance of academics associated with the University of Oxford.
Teaching Fellows Program
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 can 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. 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, to promote a common core of learning in elementary education.
As of 2014, Shimer had eleven full-time and one part-time faculty. The student-faculty ratio is eight to one. All full-time faculty hold doctorates. Shimer instructors teach across disciplines and the "ideal is that any faculty member can teach any one of the core courses".
Shimer applicants are evaluated on their academic potential; no minimum grade point average (GPA) or test score is required. Applicants are required to write essays analyzing their academic experience, while displaying their creative talents. These essays, along with personal interviews, are the primary criteria for admission. The college accepts students who it believes will benefit from and contribute to its intellectual community. Barron’s Profiles of American Colleges classifies Shimer as "very competitive plus". Candidates are counseled closely before applying. Nearly 90 percent of those who do apply are admitted.
In 2010, the average GPA of incoming students was 3.29 on a four point scale. Average composite scores on standardized college admissions tests, were 28 for the ACT (at the 92nd percentile) and 1917 for the SAT (at the 90th percentile).
Tuition and fees
In 2014, full-time tuition was $27,491. The total cost of attendance, including room, board, and fees, was $41,615. One hundred percent of students received financial aid; the average aid package was $13,956.
Recognition and rankings
|Liberal arts colleges|
|U.S. News & World Report||NR|
Shimer has been recognized for one of the highest rates of doctoral production in the country. 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. A 2009 report by Washington Monthly ranked Shimer third in graduate Ph.D. rate among US liberal arts colleges. Other studies based on data from the Higher Education Data Sharing Consortium 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.
Shimer students who take the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) historically outscore three of four other 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.
Insight Magazine named Shimer one of its 15 Most Politically Incorrect Colleges in the country, that is, those "colleges that had strong and effective traditional curricula that were not 'obsessed with the recent educational fads and fetishes such as multiculturalism and diversity.'"
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.'"
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".
In 2007, Shimer joined a national effort by the Education Conservancy to boycott participation in college-ranking surveys. 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." Washington Monthly ranks Shimer 200th among liberal arts colleges based on social mobility, research, and service. Shimer is unranked by U.S. News & World Report.
Shimer is co-located on the main campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology. IIT's 120-acre (48.6 ha) campus is centered at the intersection of 33rd and State, approximately three miles (4.8 km) south of the Chicago Loop. It marks the border between the historic Bridgeport and Bronzeville neighborhoods of Chicago's Near South Side.
In 1976, the American Institute of Architects named the IIT campus one of the 200 most significant works of architecture in the United States. The IIT Main Campus was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2005.
Shimer occupies 17,000 square feet (1,580 m2) on two floors of the former Institute of Gas Technology complex. The complex, designed by Mies van der Rohe, consists of four buildings, the southern most formerly hosting the first industrial nuclear reactor in the U.S.
Shimer has access to the resources of the Paul V. Galvin Library, IIT's main research library. 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.
Organization and administration
"As a function of its mission to promote active citizenship", Shimer states, it is "devoted to internal self-governance to an extent that is rare among institutions of higher education." Since 1977, Shimer has been governed internally by a deliberative body called the Assembly. Begun informally in the years immediately prior to the move to Waukegan, the Assembly was formalized by a constitution in 1980. Voting members include all students, faculty, administrators, staff and trustees. Alumni are also members but do not vote.
The Assembly has no legal authority, but governs "by virtue of the moral suasion established by communal deliberation". The goal of the Assembly is to foster an environment in which "all the top-down bureaucracy of traditional colleges and universities has been replaced by participatory democracy committed to dialogue."
Shimer students also participate in the IIT Student Government Association (SGA), which functions as a liaison between students and the university administration, and as a forum for expressing student opinion.
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."
Students tend to be individualistic and creative thinkers, and are encouraged to be questioning and inquisitive. Shimer enrolled 97 students in 2014; about half came from Illinois. Of these students, 41 were women, 25 percent were students of color, and 76 percent were age 24 or over. Forty percent were considered first-time, full-time students. Of full-time students who attended for the first time in 2012, 86 percent returned for their second year in 2013. Of students who entered in 2007, 60 percent completed a bachelor's degree within six years.
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. 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. The Shimer theater program presents productions that complement the curriculum and offer anyone who wants to participate in theater the chance to do so. Recent productions have included Anton Chekhov's Uncle Vanya and Eve Ensler's Vagina Monologues.
In addition to the student services of the McCormick Tribune Campus Center and the health and athletic facilities, Shimer students may participate 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.
Most Shimer alumni go on to graduate studies: 50 percent of Shimer graduates earn master's degrees and 21 percent go on to earn doctorates. Another ten percent attend law school and five percent go to business school.
As of 2008, Shimer claimed 5,615 living alumni. Nearly 25 percent of graduates are employed in education (from elementary schools through college), seven percent are lawyers, and seven percent work in computer software. The remainder occupy all walks of life, from consulting to social services, to non-profit organizations.
Some notable alumni include:
- Peter Cooley: Prize-winning poet, author, and professor of English at Tulane University
- Alan Dowty: Arab Israeli conflict scholar and Professor Emeritus at the University of Notre Dame
- Robert Keohane: Political scientist, international relations scholar, and professor at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. A leading figure within institutional neoliberalism, he is best known for his work After Hegemony: Cooperation and Discord in the World Political Economy .
- John Norman Maclean: Pulitzer Prize-nominated author of the 1999 bestseller Fire on the Mountain
- Daniel J. Sandin: Pioneer in computer graphics, electronic art and visualization. Professor emeritus and director of the Electronic Visualization Laboratory at the University of Illinois Chicago
- Jayne Barron Sherman: Producer of the Tony Award-winning Broadway shows A Raisin in the Sun, The Normal Heart, Kinky Boots, and Hedwig and the Angry Inch
- Phoebe Snow: Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter best known for her 1974 hit "Poetry Man"
- Laurie Spiegel: Composer, software engineer, and electronic music and computer music pioneer
- Sydney Spiesel: Medical inventor, Slate columnist, and professor at Yale University School of Medicine
- Daniel Perlman: Former president of Suffolk University in Boston, Massachusetts and Webster University in St. Louis, Missouri
- Nick Pippenger: Computing researcher and theorist, IBM Fellow, and professor at Harvey Mudd College. Known for his work on the foundations of computer science, including issues of complexity, computability and communications theory.
- Tucker Viemeister: Award-winning industrial designer and holder of 32 US patents, called "industrial design's elder wonderkind" by I.D.
- Phyllis Westberg: Literary agent and president of Harold Ober Associates, where her clients have included JD Salinger and Langston Hughes
- Mary Wings: Writer, artist, and musician. Released. Known for releasing the first lesbian underground comic book and her series of novels featuring lesbian detective Emma Victor.
- Roland Winston: Leading figure in the field of nonimaging optics and its applications to solar energy, sometimes termed the "father of non-imaging optics". Director of the California Advanced Solar Technologies Institute.
- Catherine "Cat" Yronwode: Award-winning writer and comic book editor
^ 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. 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."
^ 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.
^ 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.
^ 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. 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". This practice lives on at Shimer, where students are able to place out of several of the basic core courses by examination.
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