Monday, November 26, 2007

UFOs go to College

A letter from the Syracuse police chief helped start the year 1975, as he informed me per my request that his office would be sure to pass UFO information along to me. It never really worked out that way, though. Several years later, when Central New York experienced a wave of numerous and impressive UFO sightings, the chief's department went bonkers, put off or refused requests for information from other organizations, and bit itself in the butt with intense in-fighting that spilled out into the streets and into the clutches of a very attentive media. (The late) Chief Sardino himself, outraged, was depicted as a controversial cartoon figure in association with UFOs on a quickly produced t-shirt, a garment quickly snapped up from the entrepreneurs who gladly distributed them locally for some fast cash. The Syracuse Police Dept., then as now, has a proud reputation, but the appearance of UFOs -- assumed a law enforcement responsibility ever since the breakup of the Air Force's Project Blue Book -- simply blew that official entity and others in Central NY into a frenzy, with little direction and absolutely no tools to prepare for UFO investigations. I plan to explore this era in a future blog entry.

For me, 1975 was significant mostly for preparing to write for some national magazines and, more important, for the chance to teach an introductory UFO course at a college. Non-credit though it was, at least this gave the UFO subject more credibility. Having spoken about UFOs at high schools and the like in the past, the opportunity to actually prepare and receive payment to teach a course now was definitely a step up. Mine wasn't the first UFO-related course offered at the college or university level, and other programs had been available for credit elsewhere in the country, but my own "UFOs: An Introduction" was certainly one of the very few ever attempted by 1975. Several sessions were successfully taught between 1975 and 1976, until I eventually went on to other things. At some point I wrote an article describing the course for Argosy UFO, and because I included a post office box number I received a wealth of letters from the U.S. and other countries, some from researchers intent upon the initiation of UFO history courses in their own areas. In the framework of mine, slides and audio presentations were included, and I obtained permission from the major UFO organizations to reprint specific material as handouts for my students. One student, incidentally, was the very pleasant father of one of the best known UFO skeptics (perhaps too mild a word, but I try to be kind) in the U.S. Yes, it was a tad awkward on those occasions when I condemned the skeptics and debunkers by name in the classroom.

As you peruse (that's one of those hundred-dollar words some writers use when we want to make you believe we're brilliant or derived from royalty -- so, is it working?) the letters displayed here, you'll also find a handwritten note from Coral Lorenzen. She and Jim were very helpful with my attempts to write for magazines, and in her note she also references a UFO conference at Fort Smith, Arkansas -- one of the more significant UFO discussion sessions of that year, as I recall.