Yesterday afternoon, the Shimer College Assembly met for the first of its two regularly scheduled meetings in the semester. If you've never been to an Assembly, picture this: a wide section of the community (students, faculty, staff, alumni, and trustees) sitting in a circle (as best is possible in a rectangular room) deliberating and discussing the college's current and future state.
The Assembly represents the entire community of Shimer College. It is run according to democratic rules set down in the Assembly Constitution, presided over by the Speaker (currently faculty Albert Fernandez) and charged with the task of Shimer's moral guardianship.
From the Preamble of the Constitution: "The Assembly governs by virtue of the moral suasion established by communal deliberation. The Assembly is a democratic legislature; it defines and protects the basic moral law or essential ethos of the College. The form and major responsibilities of the Assembly are symbolic of the Shimer College commitment to the pursuit of truth and intellectual honesty. The Assembly thus serves to nurture the spirit of true dialogue as well as the habits of public responsibility."
As such, the conversational habits and ideas we read about for class that have to do with governance (among other things) are set into action at the Assembly. Among its normal functions, the Assembly delegates certain tasks that help to run the College to its committees, which in turn communicate with the staff and Board of Trustees. These include the Budget Committee, the Admission Committee, the Administrative Committee, the Academic Planning Committee, and the Quality of Life Committee, among others. In each committee there is representation from several of the constituencies of Shimer's internal community: faculty, administrators, weekday students, and weekend students. Each Committee's powers are laid out in the Constitution, and Committees are reelected every year.
Each member of the Assembly has one vote, all votes equal. Matters to be voted on may include committee elections, motions, resolutions, amendments or changes to the Constitution, or statements made by the Assembly as a whole. In yesterday's Assembly, among other things, the agenda included examination and discussion of Shimer's mission statement. The debate/discussion was lively and lengthy, and the current mission statement, along with other suggestions submitted by the community via a self-study group appointed last year, were carefully considered. While the democratic process is frequently not quick, it is thorough.
The Assembly is a vital part of Shimer's life and governance today. While it did not always exist at Shimer (it was formed shortly before Shimer's move to Waukegan in the late 1970s), it has provided the community with a voice and say in how the college runs, as well as given students a chance to put what they learn into action. It embodies the college's current mission statement of "education for active citizenship," and gives the opportunity to Shimer to live its motto: "To serve, rather than to be served."