Teach-in + 50

Commemoration through emulation

Fifty years ago a dedicated group of University of Michigan faculty and students struck a spark that helped ignite the movement to end the Vietnam War. This week a similar group of Michigan faculty and students hopes to ignite a new movement to end what they’ve termed “the war against the planet.”

“We believe climate change is one of today’s most pressing issues,” says Theresa Ong, a graduate student in ecology and evolutionary biology. She and her colleagues are calling upon U-M faculty and students to once again take up the banner of sociopolitical activism, just as they did in the civil rights and peace movements of the 1960s and the anti-apartheid movement of the ’80s and ’90s.

“We’re trying to recall the strength that campus activism has had in the past,” says Ong, “particularly at the University of Michigan. We want to reduce the despair that leads to apathy and remind students and faculty that we have the privilege and power to learn, educate, and instigate meaningful change.”

In the beginning

Teach-in sign, 1965.

The format of the teach-in encouraged students to speak their minds, debate professors, and question authority. (Image provided by Alan Glenn.)

Fifty years ago the idea that sociopolitical change could emerge from educational institutions was highly controversial. In early 1965, when a small group of conscientious Michigan professors announced they were going to hold a teaching strike and cancel classes for one day as a protest against President Lyndon Johnson’s escalation of the fighting in Vietnam, the resulting backlash was swift, loud, and vituperative.

Former U-M professor and sociologist Jack Rothman recounted the events in a 1972 article he wrote for the journal Social Theory and Practice:

“An announcement had gone out to the press and the kind of reaction some of us had expected was not long in coming. The strike was publicly condemned by the president of the University. A resolution of censure was introduced in the state senate. Governor Romney called for disciplinary action. Newspaper editorials throughout the state lashed out at this irresponsible and unpatriotic band of ivory tower intellectual troublemakers. Deans and department chairmen called in those of us who had given strike pledges to consider together the morality and legality of meeting assigned classes. Most disheartening of all, faculty and colleagues closed ranks in opposition. A climate of hostility and tension pervaded the campus and the avalanche of criticism continued unabated. Somehow we had set off a bombshell.”


The fury and hostility directed against the strikers caused many in the group, especially those without tenure, to have second thoughts. As the loose coalition threatened to dissolve, an emergency all-night meeting resulted in a new plan: Instead of canceling their regular classes, the professors would hold lectures and discussions about Vietnam outside of conventional hours. In fact the program would run all through the night, from 8 p.m. on March 24 through 8 a.m. of March 25.

The faculty group called their brainchild a “teach-in,” after the popular and effective sit-ins that had been a staple of the civil rights movement for many years — and it was an instant success. Suddenly the tide of public opinion turned. President Harlan Hatcher applauded the switch and offered the University’s full support. Women students (most of whom had curfews in those days) were granted permission to stay out all night so they could attend. A flood of additional faculty pledged to participate. Student and civic groups offered assistance. University regents, state legislators, and newspaper editorialists reversed course and added their voices to the praise.


The night of March 24, 1965, more than 3,000 people packed the auditoriums of Angell Hall to listen as learned experts presented a picture of the situation in Vietnam — a country that many attendees had hardly heard of — entirely at odds with that being put forth by the U.S. government. The fact that the proceedings took place outside of normal class hours gave many students the courage to speak up and debate openly with their professors. Eyes were opened not only to what was really taking place in Southeast Asia but also to an exciting new approach to education.

“A group of University of Michigan professors protesting U.S. policy in Vietnam showed Thursday that retreat can be turned into triumph,” the Detroit Free Press reported.  “The Wednesday night assembly may well have been the largest bull-session in U.S. college history and to many students, it was a living example of what a university is all about. This was no panty-raid lark. Some kooks and a handful from the left and right fringes were attracted, but for the most part the session was peopled by students with a strong yearning to learn and an almost desperate desire to overcome helplessness with action.”

Almost immediately teach-ins began to appear on other campuses and the movement against the war kicked into high gear.

“The first teach-in’s historic significance is difficult to over-state,” says Professor Howard Kimeldorf of U-M’s Department of Sociology. “It created a model for locally based, active learning that proliferated across the country and was later applied to issues other than the Vietnam War. Long before the Internet, it demonstrated that local citizens, drawing on their own expertise, could provide an alternative and independent source of information about pressing matters facing our nation. It fueled demands for accountability from government sources and a mostly uncritical corporate-dominated media. It reminded us all that, in the modern information age, knowledge truly is power.”

A serious threat

Earth Day image, 1970

The original teach-in inspired subsequent events, like this 1970 gathering on Earth Day. (Image courtesy of U-M’s Bentley Historical Library.)

That’s why Kimeldorf and his colleagues have prepared a “commemoration through emulation” called Teach-In + 50: End the War Against the Planet. The new teach-in will focus on climate change, which the organizers regard as one of the most serious threats now facing the world.

Explains Theresa Ong: “Teach-In + 50in many ways echoes the same moral issues students expressed when analyzing the imbalance of power and overexertion of force used in Vietnam. Fifty years later, we face the same power imbalances, though the face of that power may have changed. War, inequality, poverty, and hunger are intricately tied to the demands we as human beings place on the planet. To solve the problem of climate change we need to address the complex socioeconomic issues that are tied to the ecology of our Earth.”

Teach-In + 50kicks off at 4 p.m. on Friday, March 27, with a panel discussion in Angell Hall Auditorium A. Participants include former U-M faculty members William Gamson and Marshall Sahlins, who were both part of the planning committee for the original 1965 teach-in. Today Gamson is a professor of sociology at Boston College; Sahlins is professor emeritus of anthropology at the University of Chicago. They will be joined by author Amy Goodman, host of the award-winning independent news program “Democracy Now!”

Later that evening a series of discussions will focus on the science and politics of climate change, led by faculty from U-M’s School of Natural Resources and Environment (SNRE). Prominent environmental activist Bill McKibben will appear via live feed. Friday night’s events will continue at 10 p.m. with an open meeting sponsored by Science for the People, a student group with links to the anti-war movement of the 1960s. In the spirit of the original teach-in, no end time is specified.

A uniting issue

The organizers of Teach-In + 50did consider programming panels, discussions, and speeches throughout the night, as was done in 1965, but ultimately decided against it.

“Because this is partly a commemoration, many of the guests would not be able to attend an all-night event,” explains Julie Herrada, curator of the University’s Joseph A. Labadie Collection. “Also, the post-9/11 environment restricts 24-hour access to most campus buildings. We may have been forced to find an off-campus venue, which would then have destroyed the sense of place that we hope to engender.”

Teach-In + 50picks up again Saturday morning with a series of discussions on potential solutions to the problem of climate change, from the global to the local levels. Participants include political activists and Michigan alumni Tom Hayden, ’61, and Harvey Wasserman, ’67, among other scientists, authors, and experts.

The event concludes Saturday afternoon with a series of student-run workshops aimed at promoting a more responsible approach to the environment.

Ong believes creating a broad-based activist coalition is crucial to saving the planet’s delicately balanced ecosystem from destruction.

“I’m inspired by the collaboration of many diverse student groups on Teach-In + 50,” she says. “The Native American Student Association and SNRE Envoys are two examples of student groups focused on diversity that are helping us plan the teach-in. Climate change is a truly uniting issue that affects people of all races, ethnicities, gender, and sociopolitical backgrounds.”


  1. Kathleen Weremiuk - 1968

    I attended the first teach in in 1965. It was truly an educational experience, and opened my mind about the war in Vietnam. I was amazed over the next several years how this and other efforts opened the minds of the first the university community and then later moved the majority of the american electorate to oppose the war. Hopefully Teach-In plus 50 will have the same positive impact on the environment.


  2. harvey wasserman - 1967

    WOW! i’m so excited and honored to come to this. i remember the Vietnam teach-in so every well and am thrilled to be part of this one….
    NO NUKES/NO WAR….see you in SOLARTOPIA….


  3. Pete Winer - 1961

    After Googling the qualifications for each of the listed speakers participating in Environmental Teach-In, it appears that all, but one, have significant expertise and extensive experience with environmental issues to provide meaningful value-added to the teach-In.
    I wish those highly qualified speakers the very best as they participate in what, I trust, will be a responsible, well organized, and objective discussion of environmental matters that is worthy of the University’s reputation as an outstanding institution of higher learning.
    I question, however, why Tom Hayden, UM 1961, is listed as a speaker/participant. There is nothing in his bona fides that indicates he has any expertise or experience, what so ever, with the environment, or how to go about saving/improving the environment in the future in an economic, legal, or technically responsible manner.
    Therefore, other than the facts that he graduated from UM (in my class), was editor of the Michigan Daily, founded the SDS, was involved in instigating a number of social activist movements (sometimes violent) regarding Civil Rights and the Vietnam War in the ’60s and ’70s, and that he recently donated his papers to UM; I feel obligated to question what, if any, value-added the organizers expect Tom to provide to a Teach-In focused on the environment.
    I would hope that the members of the UofM faculty and student body organizing next week’s Teach-In have the requisite sophistication and awareness of how to implement solutions to the environmental issues at hand, that they do not need Tom’s knowledge of 1960s activist techniques, nor Tom’s “marquee value”, to make next week’s event a success.
    I would suggest, therefore, that Tom be encouraged to stay home this weekend and, over a smooth drink, ruminate about his perceived accomplishments of the past…. Thus, allowing the current generation of UM faculty and students to use their skills and common sense to resolve the complex environmental issues at hand without Tom’s “help”.


    • Charlotte Wolter - 1967

      In his comments about Tom Hayden, Pete Winer misses the fact that dealing with environmental issues requires more than just technical knowledge. Leadership and organization, both amply represented in Tom’s resume, are needed to bring it all together.


      • Lynn Swanson - 1976

        I agree with Ms. Wolter. Organizing effectively is crucial and Mr. Hayden is able to provide that.


    • Steve Kline - 1974, 1976

      Well said Pete.
      An objective look at the weather would be appropriate–as would an objective analysis of what happened to southeast Asia after America left South Vietnam.
      It seems ironic to do this at Angell Hall–with its quote from the Northwest Ordinance. (I am a distant relative of UM President James Angell.)


    • John Goodreau - 1966

      One fact missing from Tom Hayden qualifications- he was once married to one of the nations true patriots-Hanoi Jane.


    • Kathleen Dow - MLS, 1993

      Pete Winer, and others in the comments section, do a great disservice to Tom Hayden by defining him solely by their perception, and disapproval, of his activism during his years at Michigan and into the 1970s. Instead of pigeonholing him, coupled with the reactionary SDS! Violence! Anti-War! Hanoi Jane! mentions, it would be a good idea to pay attention to the later portions of the story of his life. Hayden served in the California legislature for 18 years advocating for education reform, solutions to environmental issues (e.g., air pollution, groundwater contamination), and yes, still taking an anti-war stance and advocating for peace. He chose to go through the difficult process of becoming an elected official — he chose to try to work within the system based on the courage of his convictions. We should applaud this, and give him credit for a broad and deep knowledge of many issues that still face this country, and not just California, including environmental issues. Tom Hayden was and is much more than an “organizer” or a specialist in Teach-In techniques, he brings knowledge and expertise in areas that are of grave concern to many people, especially many young people who are working towards a better future.


  4. Kevin Atkins

    The caption to the first illustration says in part: DEBATE PROFESSORS, AND QUESTION AUTHORITY – how ironic. Today it is a brave student indeed who would question anything about which they disagree with what a professor says. Toe the orthodox line and do not be the first one to stop clapping. There will be no toleration of ‘false consciousness’ here!!
    Tom Hayden as a speaker? Yes, perfect sense. Green is the new red!!


  5. Richard Glassman - 1985

    Having been a small child at the time of the teach in, I would be interested in reading any comprehensive accounts, whether by a participant, journalist, etc. Any ideas?


  6. Mike Mulcahy - 1983

    The bad news: UofM has become a seminary for the priests and acolytes of anthropomorphic global warming. The good news: After the East Anglia debacle, only the delusional will be in attendance for this bacchanal.


    • G.M. Freeman - 1950

      I wish I had your skill in depicting events so colorfully.
      Many universities today are promoters of values espoused by the far left and can easily be debunked by informed analyses.
      Do we send young people to the U of M or any other University for an education or to be propagators of leftist propaganda developed by leftists profs?


  7. Derek McCalmont - 1983

    “Teach In” or indoctrination?
    A review of the biographies of the speakers suggests that any interest the organizers and UM have in diversity ends with a diversity of opinion. Whatever happened to informed debate? Oh, that’s right, we already have all the answers. Once you have answers then facts become irrelevant.
    “Our speakers are experienced in addressing general audiences; you will not be weighed down with technical jargon or endless tables and charts.” How comforting that no actual thought or consideration of the evidence is needed. It’s like an episode of “Real Time” with Bill Maher with an overlay of academic trappings.
    Clearly anyone with an alternative opinion or research findings that don’t fit into computer models is a “Climate Change Denier” and has no place at the UM. According to the program an entire lecture is devoted to this topic. The UMs long history of such intolerance seems little changed.


  8. Pete Winer - 1961

    Charlotte, the point of my last paragraph is that if the current cohort of UM students and faculty needs to rely upon Tom Hayden to provide guidance and instruction on leadership and organization, then we have bigger issues to deal with than the environment…. I prefer to think that the current UM community is fully capable of figuring out how to lead and organize effectively without Tom’s “help” at a Teach-In.


  9. Rick Lutowski - 1970

    Vividly do I remember my days at the U of M in the late 60s when anti-Vietnam activists bombed the ROTC building, breaking most of the windows. My mistake at the time was dismissing these radicals as a bunch of kooks, while studiously hitting the books without counter-protesting their anti-American, pro-communist agenda. Now, almost 50 years later, the same socialist/communist/progressive/liberal kooks (Nancy Pelosi, John Kerry, etc) are running — and ruining — what was the greatest nation in history. My Michigan experience taught me well; it taught me to no longer stay silent in the face of socialist/communist kooks.
    Thus do I write to protest the “war against the planet” teach-in, which is yet another socialist/communist kook-inspired and led movement. With an MS in Ocean Engineering, I know that global warming is indeed real, but also know that ANTHROPOGENIC (i.e., man-made) global warming is a hoax. The so-called “war against the planet” is in reality a war against capitalism, with the false mantra of anthropogenic global cooling/warming/climate change (it has been labeled all of these, in that order) as a mechanism for seizing money — and with it, power and control — from the free market economy. Michigan students, learn this — for socialist/communist kooks, “The issue is NEVER the issue, the issue is ALWAYS the [communist] revolution.” In this particular case, the issue is NOT planetary climate change; the issue is socialist/communist domination of the planet, especially America. You Michigan students who choose to attend this ’50th anniversary’ teach-in are being played for fools or, in the communist vernacular, you are playing the role of “useful idiots” (communist technical term — look it up).
    For detailed information on the true nature of the “global warming” (alias “climate change”, “green”, and “war against the planet”) movement, see http://www.jreality.com/poli/warming.html


    • Anne McClorey - 1984

      Your entry, Rich, and the itinerary of the event demonstrate that language is much more important than evidence in achieving these subversive goals, and will even be the subject of the workshop on Wednesday, “Climate Change Communications: How to Win the Debate and Influence Decision Makers” (What “debate” is there if, as we keep hearing, “the science is settled”?) I believe the phrase currently in vogue is “climate disruption.”
      What sounds more likely to capture the attention of the useful idiots, “Capitalism is bad” (for a lot of boring and debatable technical reasons) or “HUMANS ARE BURNING UP THE PLANET!!”?


  10. Donald Eagling - 1955

    Observable data that should be addressed at the teach in;
    1) No global warming for the last 18 years
    2) No acceleration in sea level rise in the last century
    3) Greenhouse hot spot has not developed in the Troposphere.
    4) Global land ice has increased over the last decade
    5) Arctic sea ice is near normal, not disappearing as predicted
    6) Antarctic sea ice is increasing, not decreasing
    7) Extreme weather events have decreased over the last 10 years
    8) Computer model predictions have totally failed to match reality


    • Kevin Atkins

      Donald, as I pointed out in my earlier post, there will be no such demonstrations of false consciousness as is your post!
      Seriously, the facts are not important, just the end. Think about property and how insistence on the need to preserve the environment from our sins – whether real or illusory – can be used to usurp the right to property. Now you know why Red has found a cozy home in green.


    • Mr. PC - 2000

      Actuaily, each Statement 1-8 is completely wrong! If you wanted to create a list of uninformed, dumb statements about climate change, you couldn’t do better (and the Kock Bros couldn’t buy better).


  11. Tanja Rindler-Daller

    “Also, the post-9/11 environment restricts 24-hour access to most campus buildings. We may have been forced to find an off-campus venue, which would then have destroyed the sense of place that we hope to engender.”
    Are we living in a repressive country ? If we can’t question or challenge such laws, how shall we challenge the nation’s policies on the pressing environmental problems we’re facing ?…
    Anyway, I look much forward to the events ! Let the “closing hour” not spoil your enthusiasm 🙂


  12. Don Reeves

    Too bad the pro-policy folks were not allowed to speak at the so-called Teach-in. Another example of free speech at U-M — as long as you agree with Bill Ayres or Tom Hayden. Sounds like Dr. Schlissel has learned the mantra — the outreach programs are the key to diversity.


  13. PALLINE PLUM - 69,77

    I was there that night, and remember the passion and excitement of the large and small events of the day.
    Mostly I remember the sense of hope we had, mixed in with fear and horror at what our country was doing to our own young men as well as the peoples of Southeast Asia.
    Oh how I miss the sense of hope.


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