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Shimer College
Logo with tree of knowledge on burgundy field with the year 1853
Shimer College Logo
Motto "To Serve Rather Than Be Served"
Established 1853
Type Private, Coeducational, Undergraduate, Liberal arts
President Thomas Lindsay
Faculty 10 (2008-09)
Students 103 (2008-09)
Location Chicago, Illinois,  United States
41°49′55″N 87°37′34″W / 41.832°N 87.626°W / 41.832; -87.626Coordinates: 41°49′55″N 87°37′34″W / 41.832°N 87.626°W / 41.832; -87.626
Campus Urban
Colors Burgundy and Gold         
Nickname Flaming Smelt[1]

Shimer College is a liberal arts college in Chicago, Illinois, best known for its intellectual atmosphere, small class sizes, and Great Books curriculum.

With fewer than 150 students, Shimer is one of the smallest liberal arts colleges in the United States. More than 50 percent of Shimer graduates go on to graduate and professional schools. In the early 90's, the Ph.D. rate for Shimer graduates was the highest in the nation among liberal arts colleges, and the third highest among all U.S. 4-year colleges and universities. As of 2007, Shimer ranks in the top 1% of the 3,478 U.S. colleges and universities in doctorate productivity. Shimer is accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.



Shimer was founded in 1853 in Mount Carroll, Illinois, by Frances Wood Shimer and Cinderella Gregory as a non-denominational coeducational seminary. It eventually evolved into a junior women's college and continued to serve as a feeder school, now for transfer students instead of freshmen, into the University of Chicago. Shimer again became co-educational during a period of financial crisis in 1950.[2]

In the early 1960s, Shimer gained national attention with a Time magazine article about the school highlighting its reputation as a counterculture mecca.[2] The article cited a survey by the Harvard Educational Review that ranked Shimer as among the top eleven small liberal arts colleges in the United States, along with Carleton College, Reed College, and Swarthmore College. Mounting debts and bankruptcy forced the college to leave its Mount Carroll campus and move to the northern Chicago suburb of Waukegan, Illinois in the winter of 1978-79.

On January 19, 2006, amid controversy, the Board of Trustees announced that it had accepted an invitation to move Shimer College to the Illinois Institute of Technology campus in Chicago. The move was completed August 10, 2006. Students of both institutions have the opportunity to cross-register in selected courses, though fraternities, sororities, and other organizations that promote exclusivity are not permitted by Shimer's ethic statement.


Shimer is located on the campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT). The 120-acre (49 ha) campus provides a wide range of student facilities, including a performing arts center, a fitness center, and dining hall.

Organization and administration

Following the move to Waukegan in 1978-79, Shimer College formally adopted a system of self-governance, whereby the school's dialogical approach to education was applied to its internal operations. The management of Shimer's administration, finances, and curriculum were vested in the Assembly, a governmental body made up of Shimer's faculty, students, administrators, and trustees. The Assembly votes democratically, is administered by a Speaker, and is governed in accordance with traditional parliamentary procedure. Committees chosen by democratic election within the greater Assembly are vested with the administration of particular areas of the College, e.g. a Finance Committee that drafts a budget to be formally ratified by the Board of Trustees, an Academic Planning Committee that evaluates the College's curriculum and its students' academic standing, and a Grievances and Appeals committee that offers recourse to committee members presenting a personal grievance or seeking a reevaluation of an administrative decision.[3]

Recently, the College's tradition of self-governance has been called into question by some members of the Board of Trustees citing bylaws amended in May of 2008. The issue has been the subject of heavy debate since that time. [4] [5]


Shimer College became formally affiliated with the University of Chicago in 1895 and adopted the Chicago "Hutchins Plan" in 1950. The Hutchins Plan refers to American educator Robert Maynard Hutchins who was President of the University of Chicago from 1929 to 1945 and Chancellor from 1945 to 1951. The Hutchins Plan relies on close readings of original sources, often called Great Books, rather than textbooks, as the basis for its curriculum.

Shimer remains among a very small number of Great Books colleges—among them Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, California and St. John's College in Annapolis, Maryland, and Santa Fe, New Mexico. Shimer presently markets itself the "the Great Books College of Chicago". The emphasis at Shimer on Great Books has been broadened and updated in recent curriculum additions to include a range of contemporary texts, and texts by female authors and writers of color.

Shimer's core curriculum requires three years of study in the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, and trans-disciplinary integrative studies. Electives are generally taken in the junior and senior years, though many of them are open to first and second year students as well. Students also often take tutorials with their professors, either one-on-one or with up to two other students. A senior thesis is required, and thesis writers have the option to present their work in a public thesis defense.

Classes are small (12 students is the maximum size in undergraduate courses) and are guided by a faculty member. The Socratic, discussion-driven, method is the pedagogical norm, apart from a very few specific courses. Core readings include the works of Homer, Shakespeare, Descartes, Nietzsche, Dostoevsky, Kafka, and Woolf in the humanities; Lucretius, Lavoisier, Galileo, Newton, Darwin, Einstein, and Feynman in the natural sciences; and Machiavelli, Rousseau, The Constitution of the United States, Karl Marx, Adam Smith, De Tocqueville, Weber, Michel Foucault, Plato, Aristotle Freud, Du Bois, Wollstonecraft, De Beauvoir, and Arendt in the social sciences.

Shimer College is notable for its Early Entrant Program, which caters to bright high school students who are ready for college after their sophomore or junior year of high school and not challenged by high school requirements.

Shimer also maintains a weekend college program. In keeping with the proposed Hutchins ideal of lifelong education, weekend college offers Shimer's full core curriculum, but is tailored to those students balancing a college education with full-time employment and, in most cases, a family. Weekend college courses meet every third weekend but involve the same academic workload as the weekday program.

Additionally, Shimer offers an academic program in Oxford, England, for a group of Shimer students who take courses from Shimer faculty and tutorials from University of Oxford tutors.

Student life

The Shimer community is based on democratic and egalitarian values. Fraternities, sororities, and other organizations that promote exclusivity are not permitted. Student activities include community lunches and potluck dinners, theater, lectures and discussions, chess, and other student led events. Shimer students enjoy the cultural offerings of downtown Chicago, minutes away, as well as outdoor recreation areas on the Lake Michigan waterfront.

Noted people

  • Peter Cooley, poet and Professor of English at Tulane University
  • Heather Corinna, author, sex columnist and activist
  • Alan Dowty, class of '59, Vice President of Shimer's Alumni Association and international relations scholar
  • Steve Heller, class of '71, technical author and software engineer
  • Robert Keohane, class of '61, Professor of Political Science at Princeton University and renowned neoliberal institutionalist
  • Ken Knabb, class of '65, situationist writer and translator
  • Jesse Kraai, class of '94, chess Grandmaster
  • John Norman Maclean, author and journalist
  • Nick Pippenger, class of '65, researcher in computer science
  • Daniel J. Sandin, class of '64, computer graphics and visual arts pioneer
  • Laurie Spiegel, class of '67, composer and computer scientist
  • Elizabeth Vandiver, class of '76, Associate Professor of Classics and Whitman College and lecturer for The Teaching Company
  • Cat Yronwode (née Manfredi), class of '67, comic book publisher and folklorist

See also


External links



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