On March 24th, 1965 at 8:00PM, about 3,500 faculty and students at the University of Michigan launched the first ever “teach in,” despite bomb threats and condemnation by the Michigan state legislature and Governor George Romney. For twelve hours, participants attended lectures, debates, and performances to protest the War in Vietnam. Along the way, they established a model that would be replicated at over 120 campuses across the United States before the end of the war.
Fifty-two years and one week later, on March 31, 2017, the Office of Academic Innovation launched the University of Michigan Teach-Out Series, The first teach out, “Democratic to Authoritarian Rule,” was taught by Arun Agrawal of the School of Environment and Sustainability. Ford School alum and Associate Vice Provost James DeVaney (MBA/MPP ’05) says it’s the university’s historical connection to teach ins, which focused on confronting the controversies of the day through education and discussion, that informed the new teach out program.
“After the election, many of our faculty wanted to… build on the academic innovation we’re pursuing on campus to elevate the public discourse,” says DeVaney. “As we engaged in that deep conversation, we looked at the history of the teach in.”
While teach ins were focused on activating public concern and raising awareness of the issues of their era, DeVaney views teach outs as an opportunity to engage more deeply.
"Today, we see our role as elevating the discussion, and not distorting it in an age of 'alternative news,' he says. "With the teach out series, we're reimagining the 21st century public square. We want to create an open and compassionate space for people around the world to share ideas, listen to each other, and uncover new modes of engaged citizenship."
The Office of Academic Innovation is at the center of the university’s efforts to engage learners online; one of its major responsibilities is designing and implementing Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs)--free, online courses on timely topics taught by prestigious U-M faculty members. On how the teach outs differ from other MOOCs, DeVaney says, “Many view enrollment rates as being one of most important parts of MOOCs, but as I think about success of the teach outs, I’m most focused on engagement of learners with those who don’t share their same point of view.”
“If we’re able to get people to talk to people they wouldn’t otherwise, I think that would be a great success,” he says. “Especially in this age of political polarization. We want to create an opportunity to better understand all perspectives, and what those perspectives mean for us in a pluralistic society.”
DeVaney credits his time at the Ford School with helping him to better understand the national and global contexts of the issues that the teach out sessions will confront.
“The Ford School experience gave me the tools I needed to critically asses different points of view and stakeholders, to perform cost benefit analyses, to think about the roles and relationships between different actors in an era of globalization, and to recognize trends in the global economy and how they affect the institutions that make up the fabric of our democracy,” he said. “Along with my business degree, it helped me to understand the range of actors that make decisions in today’s world.”
The University of Michigan Teach-Out series is free and publicly available, with upcoming sessions on:
- “Fake News, Facts, and Alterative Facts,” April 21, 2017;
- “Reach Out and RELATE: Communicating and Understanding Scientific Research,” May 5, 2017; and
- “The Future of Obamacare: Repeal, Repair, or Replace?” May 12, 2017.