If Shimer were a religion, and we had saints, one of ours would be Robert Maynard Hutchins. His name is even invoked in our mission statement. And yet, I am not sure many of us know who he was, or read his work. I had not done so in years until I came to know Shimer. And, now, I often find myself asking who today's Robert Maynard Hitchins might be. I even ask myself: is it possible for anyone to lead in higher education in the way he did? Does the commodification of learning -- and of colleges and universities -- or the economic situation or. . . . bode poorly for such leadership?
If you are unsure, then join the crowd.
But, if you do not know much about him, then he is worth exploring. If you click the link on his name above, you will come to the novel form of encyclopedia, perhaps apt given his historic relationship to the Encyclopedia Brittanica, we all call wikipedia. What is most interestng, perhaps, is that the depiction of the Hutchins Plan included there says it "survives at Shimer College in Chicago."
Here are a few teasers:
1. Because it is interestng, did you know his father was president of Berea College? I did not. And, it is pretty darn interesting, in my view, give the wonders of Berea.
2. As perhaps you know. in his role as head of the Ford Foundation, Hutchins was influential in the establishment of early entrants programs, including the one at Shimer, which continues to this day!
3. He wrote a terrific book entitled The University of Utopia, which I have not read. It strikes me I darn well better, given that one of the unofficial mottos of Shimer that I really like it "Shimer -- somewhere between Utopia and Reality."
"The conversation presented in this set is peculiar to the West. We believe that everybody, Westerners and Easterners, should understand it, not because it is better than anything the East can show, but because it is important to understand the West. We hope that editors who un- derstand the tradition of the East will do for that part of the world what we have attempted for our own tradition in Great Books of the Western World and the Syntopicon. With that task accomplished for both the West and the East, it should be possible to put together the common elements in the traditions and to present Great Books of the World. Few things could do as much to advance the unity of mankind."
Hmmm. And what, then, is the great books of the "east" in our curriculum?
5. Finally, try this site where Don Levine strives to engage us all in a Hutchins-like great conversation. (Yes, he is one of the guys depicted -- Hutchins, that is.)
So: the question is: can one be a Shimerian without being a Hutchins devotee? Are you? Both? Or?