When Tom Hayden arrived at the University in the late ’50s and became a voice on campus through his reporting in The Michigan Daily, Al Haber, an older student and campus activist, knew he had to recruit Hayden for his social justice group. Together, Hayden and Haber worked to further Students for a Democratic Society, becoming icons for ’60s liberalism that in many ways began at the University.
Haber would go on to participate in the first teach-in ever to be held, while Hayden made his name by protesting the Vietnam War through his leadership in rallies in the ’60s, particularly those outside the Democratic National Convention in 1968.
Hayden, Haber and other activists will reunite today to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the teach-ins, which came into existence at Angell Hall in 1965 and have since then been scattered throughout the University’s history when activists have desired a forum to express their beliefs or encourage dialogue on government policies or social injustices. Today’s teach-in will feature University professors, as well as a few participants of the original teach-in 40 years ago, who will talk about topics ranging from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to mass media and corporatism.
While the first teach-in was supported by the administration, in that they saw it as a trade-off to discourage a faculty strike, some students, activists and faculty members have expressed discontent in what they see as the administration and faculty’s lack of support for today’s teach-in and the overall shift from the atmosphere of progressivism that existed on campus.
Hayden said part of the reason that the climate on campus has changed is because the momentum of the war protests in the ’60s was driven by the draft and the fact that young men could be drafted without having voted for their representatives, since the voting age was 21 at the time. With no draft right now, the reaction is not as dramatic because it does not as directly affect this generation, many professors said.
But most attributed the change to a lack of interest among faculty. The original teach-in took place when faculty members threatened to cancel class so that they could debate Vietnam policy with their students. Even with government pressure that the professors were in violation of their contracts, then-University President Harlan Hatcher agreed to allow University buildings to stay open after-hours to appease the faculty and allow campus-wide dialogue on the topic.
The administration has always been against teach-ins and for the status quo, but this type of faculty support that existed for the first teach-in is not the same now, said Women’s Studies Assistant Prof. Andrea Smith.
“In the ’60s, there were professors coming out with more accountability. People have become more career-oriented and less focused on social justice, expect for in a more abstract way,” she said.
Students echoed Smith, saying that faculty support would help their event achieve more success. LSA senior and teach-in organizer Emily Hilliard said students organizing such events must overcome additional hurdles without the support of faculty.
“Mostly the older generation that we talked to expected this (lack of support from the University community),” Hilliard said. “When the older generation doubts us, it doesn’t help.”
But some have focused their criticism on the administration. Among these critics is Haber, who said he has sent letters to University President Mary Sue Coleman, inviting her to support the teach-in and encourage students who wish to “challenge the future,” rhetoric from Coleman’s own speech.
“(My letter urged her to be proud of the students for holding this (teach-in) that was developed at the University of Michigan. I thought the administration would be glad to say that the students are looking at the world in a critical way,” Haber said. “But they’re nothing like that, they’re silent. They’re not willing to express a warm affirmation, a support for student initiative or anything that is politically controversial. That’s too bad,” he added.
Hayden agreed that acknowledgement from the University would be a fitting gesture; while student organizers said they found the University’s silence to be hypocritical because the administration had previously taken a stance on political issues. In the last year, Coleman has opposed divestment from Israel, as well as passage of the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, which would end affirmative action in Michigan and has stood by offering same-sex benefits to University employees.
But Gary Krenz, special counsel to Coleman, said the University does not take political positions and therefore financial support of the teach-in would be inappropriate. “This is not an official University event, we just don’t get directly involved in things that are not official activities of the University,” he said. Krenz also added that Coleman’s support of same-sex benefits was a policy issue, not a political one.
“There is a difference because (same-sex benefits are) a University policy. It’s the presidents right and responsibility to articulate and facilitate the University’s policy,” he said.
The concept of the University showing public support for the teach-in is one that others also find problematic. Some faculty have expressed support for a more academic teach-in anniversary celebration taking place tomorrow, while others have questioned whether the University should publicly support an event that it believes does not necessarily have a balance of viewpoints. The first teach-in included representatives from the State Department who could defend the administration’s position on Vietnam, said Psychology Prof. Richard Mann, who was present at the first teach-in and will speak at today’s.
“Is (the teach-in) establishing dialogue? Is anyone from the Ariel Sharon government represented?” Mann asked. The pro-Palestinian stance of some speakers at the teach-in is one reason some students, like event organizer LSA senior Oren Goldenberg, speculate the University does not want to be associated with the teach-in. Both Haber, as well as Teddy Katz, a speaker today, have supported Palestinian causes, but teach-in organizers said they have invited members of the Israeli military, as well as Israeli organizations.
Another criticism of the administration has been its refusal to waive fees for facilities being used for the teach-in, according to teach-in organizers. Goldenberg said they requested that the University provide “financial support and the waiving of any costs for us to utilize University facilities” for the teach-in as a symbolic show of support.
Goldenberg, who initially approached the University for help, said the e-mail response he got said financial help would not be possible. The president’s office concluded that “it would not be appropriate for our office to provide financial support for the (teach-in). The University supports our campus community’s ability to express diverse points of view, but policy does not allow the administration to become involved in promoting or funding specific agendas of this nature.”
Despite this response, Krenz said he requested that the Office of the Dean of Students consider the organizers’ request for waiving the renting fee, and according to Dean of Students Sue Eklund, LSA cancelled the fee. But both Goldenberg and Hilliard said they never received notification of the waiver. Instead, they appealed to faculty members to help them find facilities and with the help of RC director Thomas Weisskopf, reserved the space in Angell Hall through the Residential College.
The University has shown support for the anniversary celebration taking place tomorrow, which is sponsored by the Center for Southeast Asian Studies. Chris Sullivan, coordinator of the event, said the two teach-ins were “two separate reactions to a little piece of Michigan history.” He added that the teach-in tomorrow has been designed with students and faculty in mind and is not just for academics.
While tomorrow’s celebration will provide a more historical perspective to the period of time when the teach-in took place, may of today’s speakers plan to focus on future activism for the current generation.
Hayden said he plans to focus on the Iraq War and its effects.
“The question is whether the War on Terrorism has laid the foundations for an American Empire and what are the implications of that on (this) generation.”
Hilliard and fellow organizers were ecstatic at the news that Hayden would be attending.
“I think it can be a good bridge between the two generations. It will help us to assess where we stand in new forms of protest that need to happen.