I believe we've all heard by now, from any number of sources, that Shimer is magic. I'm willing to agree without too very many reservations, which may come as a surprise. I hate to say it, but Shimer isn't Hogwarts (although David Shiner may or may not be Dumbledore), nor is it a land of unicorns and cute little fairies.
Possibly our dean
Folklore is yet another pet subject of mine, and calling Shimer magic is an irresistible temptation for me to outline exactly what kind of magic it is. Clear out what magic usually means in modern conversation, if you will, and let's go back a bit. In times and places not our own, magic is/was scary, a vital and dangerous force to be guarded against lest it upset the day-to-day business of living. Think witch bottles, think salt and iron, think St Benedict medallions. Think Faery, in the older sense than sexy miniature women living in flowers. They were called the Good Folk to appease them, not because they were good in actual fact. If you've ever read Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, which you ought to if you haven't, by the way, think of that kind of otherworld. On the surface it's compellingly pretty, even heartbreakingly so. Under the illusions, however, there are dead bodies hanging from the trees and human children stolen away from their hearths and families (see Yeats' "The Stolen Child," even though it's super-silly Irish romanticism that he later moved far beyond). There are not dead bodies at Shimer, as far as I know, nor stolen children, and those things that appeal about Shimer, that make us call it magic, aren't necessarily illusion. However, I think that idea of Faery is a good jumping-off point, and the idea of magic that goes along with it. Magic is unsettling, essentially disorienting. It pulls us out of the normal hearth-and-family course of our lives and into something strange and dangerous. What I'm proposing is that Shimer is magic in that sense: what we study here is unsettling. Stretching the Faery analogy further than might be wise, I'd even propose that there's something of the stolen-child/changeling motif going on here. Go home to people who know you well after a semester at Shimer and see whether you don't feel that in your absence you've become slightly Other, altered by a stay in our particular otherworld. Of course, I've not known anyone to wither and perish when home from Shimer, as people home from all sorts of otherworld often do.
Another useful analogy might be alchemy, incidentally the subject of my fall semester project. It's already used as metaphorical currency for what I want to say, which is convenient. Read widely enough for long enough and you'll eventually encounter something about the "crucible of suffering" or some such, in which one is transformed. Alchemy was originally a mystic discipline more than a science, and many of its texts use allegories that are equally applicable to making the Stone and to personal development. For example, one must kill the White King (the first stone) to allow the Red King (the Philosopher's Stone itself) to be born. If you'll allow me to put that in the Shimer context, one must kill or discard some very dear preconceptions and habits to get where one would like to go. There's a fairly high incidence of intellectual or emotional crises during one's first semester here. I don't think these are dangerous, or indications that one is working too hard or in the wrong place. They're alchemical. The first-semester Shimer crisis (and other semesters beyond that, I'm sure, but I've only experienced the first) is evidence, as it were, that the White King is dying. Shimer is in this sense an alchemical crucible, carefully planned for some kind of transformation. Part of Shimer's curious magic is the guarantee that at least once a semester you will have at least one reading in at least one class that will knock the legs out from under you in a way that feels calculated for harm. Issues with how female sexuality is represented? Welcome to Freud. Problems with gender essentialism? Hello, Gilligan. Unshakeable devotion to free-market capitalism? Marx might shake it. Chronic illness? The entirety of Humanities 2 for me has been connected by a thread of illness=immorality. Again, I'm putting forth here that this isn't malignant magic; we don't need to make scholarly witch bottles (although that sounds like a community Tuesday event to me) -- this is alchemy. And alchemy, no matter what it destroys, always creates something better.
The bottle here represents the crucible of Shimer
Shimer's magic, sure. But, in class and out, we really need to define all of our terms.