In a newly refurbished classroom in Goldspohn Hall, Stuart Patterson, chair of Shimer Great Books School, appreciates the tall windows, abundant sunlight and view of Old Main Plaza. All serve as a bright backdrop for a distinctive octagon-shaped table designed for deep discourse—and as an appropriate metaphor for the opportunities ahead.
“Shimer disciplines students’ reading, writing and thinking in a way that frees them and opens up possibilities that weren’t there before,” explained Patterson, one of seven Shimer faculty members who joined North Central College. “Shimerians need and want to get at the deeper layers of things, and they develop a more sophisticated view of the world around them.”
The acquisition of critical assets of Shimer College was announced in early June and the full integration of the program means that students and faculty will continue their great books pedagogy beginning fall term. Shimer staff in the offices of admission and student affairs will provide support.
“This opportunity adds a distinctive and differentiating academic offering to the North Central campus and provides a location where the Shimer model of education can flourish,” said President Troy D. Hammond.
The acquisition allows North Central College to create the Shimer Great Books School within the College’s academic structure, which will attract students who are voracious readers of primary texts. Classes in the Shimer Great Books School follow the Socratic Method, where professors ask questions that challenge students to articulate and support their ideas.
“One of the most appealing aspects of North Central is the facilities. I’m looking forward to accessing resources for fitness and wellness, and I’m also excited about meeting people here.”
Antonio Ruiz ‘18
Students choose from among three areas of concentration within the great books major—humanities, social sciences and natural sciences. Now as part of North Central’s community, they can also explore a wide range of academic and cocurricular offerings and campus amenities.
Incoming student Antonio Ruiz ’18 is anticipating all the possibilities of a larger campus. Previously, Shimer rented space from Illinois Institute of Technology but remained a largely separate academic program on that campus. “One of the most appealing aspects of North Central is the facilities,” said Ruiz. “I’m looking forward to accessing resources for fitness and wellness, and I’m also excited about meeting people here.
“I’m confident that Shimer will continue to function as a community, and that people at North Central College are interested in seeing Shimer succeed.”
The great books pedagogy based on dialogue dates as far back as the Jewish method of discussing the Torah with elders in a shul and to the question-and-answer method developed in ancient Greek city states. The University of Chicago first implemented a great books curriculum in the 1930s, believing that all students should be generally educated before they specialized in graduate school. Patterson himself is a graduate of the great books curriculum of St. John’s College, which, like Shimer’s, also originated at the University of Chicago.
Shimer students typically build close ties as they tackle primary texts by writers and philosophers like Plato, Homer, Locke and Shakespeare. Every opinion is valued and everyone around the table participates. Yet Patterson sees value in the close-knit community integrating into a larger campus. “I’m excited for students to speak in a variety of different ways with a variety of different people,” Patterson said. “And I’m excited for them to be in the broader community and in the world.”
Graduation from the program requires a thesis and the topics are typically focused on issues that are “worldchanging.” Patterson describes Shimer graduates as hopeful and reflective, team players who might be quiet at first. But that’s because they know how to listen and reflect before they speak.
“They come out (of Shimer) unafraid and confident they can take things on. They can communicate with people they may or may not like, and they have a deep reservoir of ideas to draw upon.”