A First Teach-In: 1965
In 1965, President Johnson’s escalation of the war in Vietnam became a catalyst for increased protest and resistance on campuses around the country. Teach-ins had gained popularity among students as this town-hall format fostered debate and open discussion in an increasingly factious national environment.
On November 12 of that same year, with the support of Plattsburgh State’s International Relations Club and the campus branch of the Student Education Association of New York State, Students for a Democratic Society organized a highly anticipated first teach-in to be held in the College Union. Hundreds of people, from both on and off campus, attended the lively inaugural event.
“I am unwilling to accept the view that the undeclared war has to continue”
Once Dr. Angell had opened the proceedings, the speakers animatedly presented their respective arguments.
Chris Koch of WBAI Radio Pacifica, one of the first American journalists to report from North Vietnam since the end of Second World War, sociology student Patricia Noonan, and Plattsburgh State professors Dr. Saïd Shah (humanities), Maximos S. Papadopoullos (science and math), and Dr. Arthur Newgarden (humanities) made up the panel opposed to the war. Dr. Gerald Steibel of the Research Institute of America, Plattsburgh State professors Dr. Paul Bernstein (social sciences), Dr. Richard Bjork (liberal arts), Dr. Charles Kelly (humanities), and student Ira Riddle offered a defense of American military action in Southeast Asia.
Ms. Noonan was the only woman on the panel. Her rousing speech expounding on the unconstitutionality and immorality of the war, as well as her response to the criticism of antiwar activists as unpatriotic, was met with thunderous applause.
“…a return to the principles of the Geneva Accord of 1954 would cost us nothing but the assumption that we are god almighty”
Passions ran high throughout the evening and while the atmosphere remained as cordial as could be expected, exchanges eventually became more heated, especially as the floor was opened to questions from the college community and the public. Certain audience members accused Chris Koch of disparaging the Air Force, and when a discussion of a recent flag burning became tense, the moderator, Dr. Eugene Link (social sciences), was forced to intervene.
Years later, in a 2012 interview with Thanh Niên News, Mr. Koch remembered his experience at Plattsburgh, stating that he had been forced to surreptitiously exit the building as he was being shouted at by audience members.
In addition, Big Stink lamented that the evening
…turned into a trial where the SDS members were indicted of being “traitors,” “communists,” and anything else the mob of some seven hundred packed into the College Union could have thought of that night…
-November 2, 1968.
While opinions about the efficacy of the event varied, the format did continue to be used as a way of prioritizing intellectual examination as an integral part of the antiwar platform.