As readers may know, I also on occasion blog at the Huffington Post. So do a variety of folks from across higher education, in the effort to elevate the discussion of our "Sector.' Or, in the effort to be public intellectuals. Perhaps even, presidents do it to keep their hand in in the realm of writing. Or, perhaps, they (we) do so as part of the effort to slowly but surely raise the visibility of our colleges. Shimer needs that. Likely some of the other campuses represented on Huffington Post by their presidents do as well.
But simply being visible cannot explain the phenomenon. The other reasons matter.
I write about different topics there -- on topics that are somewhat more -- or somewhat differently -- of national interest. Recently, I wrote there about declining diversity in higher education. In doing so, I was not making an argument about the place of racial ethnic diversity, class diversity, or even gender diversity at any given school, or within any given sub-sector of higher education. Rather I was writing about shifts in the overall landscape of higher education, or, to put it another way, in the ecology of higher education. I argued that there has been a decline in the range of kinds of institution within higher education. In doing so, I spoke of single sex institutions, religious institutions, coordinate colleges, and micro colleges. (The latter are tiny colleges, of which Shimer, where I lead, is one. Truth in advertising.)
Is this general theme relevant to Chicago? How?
I believe it is in two senses. First, Chicagoland is actually the site of a wide variety of kinds of educational institutions, despite the fact that we all too often hear about only a very limited array of those schools from media -- traditional and nontraditional alike. When I think about who is reported on, it seems to me to mainly be large public (think University of Illinois or UIUC) or privates (Northwestern, DePaul, University of Chicago). And yet, there are many other KINDS of institution in Chicagoland. For example: there are micro-colleges (yes, Shimer is one, but we are not the only educational institution with a population of students below 600 in Chicagoland. Another example might be the Institute for Clinical Psychoanalytic Social Work.). There are, as far as I know (correct me please) no longer any single sex institutions (many still mourn for Mundelein). And, there are for profits these days emerging. There are research one universities, there are publics and privates, there are community colleges. And more. Do we always know this? No. Ought we? Yes.
The theme is also relevant for the reasons articulated in my Huffington Post piece. There are shifts occurring in the kinds of colleges (and universities) -- and in the kinds of higher education -- available in Chicagoland. As noted, it is a highly diverse set of institutions. And yet, as my comment about Mundelein indicates, it may be a less diverse ecology of higher education than it once was. What do you think?