Ann Arbor, Mich. It was on the front steps of the Student Union building at the University of Michigan, on an October day in the campaign of 1960, that John F. Kennedy first described the Peace Corps. The spot where he stood has a marker sunk in the cement, and to the left of the main doors the old red brick Union there hangs a bronze plaque memorializing the occasion. It was also at the University of Michigan, in the spring of 1965, that the first "teach-in" against the war in Vietnam was conducted. Thus there was a special appropriateness out the almost exhaustingly massive ‘teach-in on the environment" held here March 11-14.
Ecology has become a very important issue on campuses this season, and this teach-in was the forerunner–a kind of model–for thousands of college and high school colloquia to be held on April 22, dubbed "Earth Day" by the sponsors. The beleaguered environment is the kind of issue, some think, that might capture me idealistic spirit and the concern of young people as did the Peace Corps and Vietnam.
And it is an issue whose political potential has already, and obviously, been recognized by politicians. "We got calls from so many politicians who wanted to speak at the teach-in that we just couldn’t possibly accommodate them all,” said Douglas Scott, a 25-year-old graduate student from Portland, Ore., who was one of the co-chairmen of the Michigan program. Several political figures did make it to the stage, however, they included Sens. Edmund S. Muskie and Gaylord Nelson, the two leading Democratic environmentalists and two of the more attractive spokesmen for a party that these days, does not find itself hip-deep in magnetic Presidential possibilities. Both were quite warmly received, except for a bit of low-key heckling from SDS-style radicals.
The Republican Governor of Michigan, William Milliken, appeared on the bill; the Nixon Administration was represented by C. C. Johnson, consumer protection chief in the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, and the House Government Operations Subcommittee on Conservation and Natural Resources, headed by Rep. Henry Reuss (D., Wis.), even held a hearing at which student teach-in participants told of their environmental research. "How can you declare such charming feminists out of order?" Reuss asked, turning on IES own charm, when a band of coeds interrupted the hearing to chant a grisly song in support of legal abortions. The attractiveness of environment as a political issue is fairly obvious. An uncompromising stand against dirty air and for clean water should win votes, and hardly hits the same mark on the con- controversy scale as does taking a strong position on Vietnam. But, as also became plain during Ann Arbor’s four-day siege of seminars, speeches and demonstrations, environment could turn out to be a tougher proposition for the politically ambitious than it first appears. In their speeches, both Muskie and Nelson recognized what is perhaps the chief misgiving young people have about their own enthusiasm for the issue. That is a concern that environment may divert attention and political commitment away from more sensitive issues such as Vietnam, race and poverty. Edwin Fabre, a black law student, told the opening night rally that blacks generally were boycotting the teach-in because it was a diversion, just a "new toy,” that helped white middle-class students ignore the fact that fewer than 1,000 of Michigan’s 35,000 (students are black. And some of the most vigorous applause of the whole four days went to James Shapiro, a ‘brilliant 26-year-old Harvard geneticist, who was a member of the team that recently announced it had isolated a pure gene from a bacterial virus.