Shimer College

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The Assembly of Shimer College.

Shimer College is a liberal arts college in Chicago, Illinois, best known for its small discussion classes and Great Books curriculum. With fewer than 150 students, Shimer is one of the smallest liberal arts colleges in the United States. Shimer was founded in 1853 as the "Mount Carroll Seminary", and adopted the current curriculum and the "Shimer College" name in 1950. It moved from Mount Carroll, Illinois to Waukegan in 1978, from Waukegan to Chicago in 2006, and finally to Naperville in 2017 when it became the Shimer Great Books School at North Central College.


  • Shimer wears a mask of nodding tranquility but plays devil's advocate to the Big Ten and the Ivy League.
  • The Shimer College I attended no longer exists and yet is eternally present in this moment (as T.S. Eliot said — he, too, I read at Shimer).
  • At Shimer we paid no attention to disciplinary boundaries; we blithely followed problems wherever they led. For better or for worse, I’ve never been able to shake this approach.
  • We do not think that any of our Seminaries can boast of a more laborious and self-sacrificing band of instructors.
  • While memories of my youth and that of my contemporaries will always be of the Mount Carroll campus, the essence is in the method. What makes Shimer unique is dedication to the truth, to be found by free and open inquiry and discussion.
  • "Let's look at the bottom of 64," she says, and it suddenly strikes me that everybody is. No one is staring into space, or writing love letters, or sleeping off a hangover. What kind of place is this, anyway?
    • Harold Henderson, "Big Ideas" (1988), Chicago Reader.
  • Walk into a class at Shimer — with students talking earnestly, sometimes painfully, about the meaning of a classic — and you might think you had stumbled into a group therapy session for young literati.
  • It is understood that, in an important sense, the text is the teacher, and thus the faculty member's role is to facilitate interaction between text and students.
  • Both students and faculty agree. There is nowhere else for them to go.
    • Anne Keegan, "End of Shimer brings tears, then resolution to carry on", Chicago Tribune, 1973-11-12.
  • But it wasn’t so long before I discovered three things. First, the graduate students I was with were not as smart, on average, as the early entrants whom I had hung out with at Shimer. (Indeed, it is not clear to me that I have ever been with a brighter set of people than those early entrants – although we are not talking here about maturity.) Second, I was better at thinking about politics than most of my graduate student peers. Finally, Shimer had taught me critical skills, and how to write. In a sense, Shimer proved itself to me at Harvard.
  • You came to me, and you taught me the Great Books, but you also taught me about love and a level of commitment and devotion that is so uncommon in our time. Without you, the College would have never come to be here, or in Waukegan, for that matter; without you, it would have died a quiet death in the Elysian fields of Mount Carroll. Without you, I would have been deprived of so many friends, both inside and outside of books, and a loving companionship that has so far lasted fifteen years. Without you, I would have remained ignorant of the wonder of philosophy.
  • Among the many things for which I am profoundly grateful to my parents, there is no one thing for which I am more grateful than for their decision to send me to Mount Carroll Seminary.
  • If Shimer survives, it could be the future.
  • I often tell people that I received my degrees from various universities but that my education is from Shimer.
  • Probably one of the best things that ever happened to me was finding a little article in the Chicago Tribune that mentioned that you could go to Shimer without finishing high school. This was at a point when I was desperate to get away from home. I discovered that Shimer was a place where people were really into ideas and cared about things, not just the superficial things that people were into in high school.
  • The great tragedy of Shimer is that it was the purest and most perfect test of the power of an enlightened curriculum and a faculty seriously committed to teaching to truly educate essentially unselected students – and that such a stunning accomplishment was never documented. I’ve had plenty of opportunity to teach amazingly gifted, highly selected students and to observe and assess their accomplishments. But for these students we can never know whether the curriculum or the teaching made any difference: they were predestined for great accomplishment. Shimer, desperate for students and democratic in its admissions policies, provided a different and more pure case.
  • "To serve rather than be served" is the motto of Shimer College, a fiercely independent liberal-arts institution where professors and their students use dialogical tools to dismantle arguments like kids pulling the innards out of old alarm clocks.


A Shimer class.
  • What drew me in was the individual concern shown for me. Only after the first semester did I realize how awesome the curriculum was.
    • Alan Botts, quoted by Harold Henderson, "Big Ideas", Chicago Reader, 1988.
  • The intellectual life was intense and exciting, and for those of us who accepted the Shimer philosophy, it was a secure refuge from the foibles of the outside world - including the academic world at large.
  • I used to think school was the worst thing on earth. At Shimer, the worst thing about each course was that it didn't last four years.
    • Bobbie Groth, quoted by Harold Henderson, "Big Ideas", Chicago Reader, 1988.
  • What clinched it for me was that the admissions director knew every student, knew their backgrounds, their histories. We’re a family here. We fight sometimes. But we love each other. And we take care of our own.
  • When you spend so much time together in class talking about the important questions of life…you can’t help developing the kind of friendships that will hopefully last for the rest of your lives.
    • Heather Lakemacher (2009 graduate), commencement address, quoted in "Congratulations Class of 2009", Fall 2009 Symposium.
  • We don't really have to fire very many teachers. The students do it for us. If the teacher lets them down, they let him know it, and they're not very subtle about it either.
  • I don't care if we only pay our way for a time, if we can ultimately have a school that will be appreciated.
  • We have to talk to people about design concepts that they might not be able to articulate. We have to help them by truly listening, and then figure out how we can help them. I spend a lot of my day writing. I have to be able to explain my arguments so that customers will understand and accept them. University of Chicago classes don’t teach those skills, but we used them every day at Shimer.


  • Listen. We've got a damn good community here, and we are going to keep it.
    • Professor, quoted by Anne Keegan, "End of Shimer brings tears, then resolution to carry on", Chicago Tribune, 1973-11-12.
  • To me it is inconceivable that they think we'd let Shimer die without a fight.
    • Faculty member, quoted by Anne Keegan, "End of Shimer brings tears, then resolution to carry on", Chicago Tribune, 1973-11-12.

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Shimer College