The European concept of student action is one which is unfortunately foreign to Harvard. We envision ourselves as scholars isolated from the banal world of national and international affairs. We are above such trivia.
The efforts of the National Student Association to remedy this condition so far have been flushed and frittered and piddled away. Our Student Council seems interested mainly in the material advantages to be derived from such an organization, and when no such benefits are forthcoming, the Council throws the issue up to an apathetic student body. The students in their turn are ill-informed and disinterested--to them there is no issue at stake, no burning questions, nothing which involves their wallet or their ethics.
For this condition the NSA propagandists are partly at fault. They have not succeeded in showing that their group, containing 329 member schools with a 750,000 enrollment, is the only real national association of students. As such it is the most effective vehicle for expressing student opinion and obtaining student interests. Even though the NSA does not maintain a Washington lobby, it does have considerable influence on national legislation. For example, in the past few years, the NSA has been instrumental in keeping appropriations for Fulbright scholarships at a high level. The NSA, while it represents a generally voteless segment of the population, has repeatedly requested increased tax deduction for students, and the institution of a federal scholarship program. Equality of opportunity for students of all races in American universities has constituted another successful NSA campaign. Through membership on the American Council of Education and the National Education Association, the NSA can work to implement these goals far more efficiently than any isolated student association could.
Although NSA membership is valuable for its national benefits, Harvard has traditionally found itself less apathetic toward the international program of the organization. Harvard students, in fact, were responsible for establishing the NSA International Commission in 1947. Four of the organization's nine international vice-presidents have come from Harvard, which has been the most influential member in deciding international policy.
One of the major areas of international activity is membership in the International Student Conference, which vigorously combats the great influence of international Communist student organizations. One of America's five delegates to this Conference was from Harvard, as were four of the eight people NSA sent on a tour to aid foreign students last summer.
The International Commission has also worked to further the foreign experience of American students by operating both a low-rate foreign travel service and the International Student Relations Seminar which is held in Cambridge each summer. Many who attend this Seminar become interested in Harvard and enroll in graduate schools here.
Ending Harvard's membership in NSA would mean that the Seminar would be moved elsewhere, as would be the office of the International Commission. Harvard's withdrawal would not only stifle Harvard activity and leadership in the International Commission, but would end all hopes of bringing Harvard out of apathy, would deprive Harvard students of the benefits of NSA membership, and it would lessen the power of an organization which is, in itself, worthy of support.
The $150 membership dues the Student Council pays to NSA are well-spent and one of the most worthwhile appropriations of the Council. If required, this is all that need be appropriated; if necessary, the delegates to the National Congress could pay their own expenses as do many throughout the country. A full delegation should be sent to the National Congress, where it can help express student opinion at the University, and regional conferences should be attended more regularly.
NSA opportunities should be made known to the student body; and interest in proposed NSA scholarships for foreign students at Harvard should be shown. Membership in NSA should by all means be continued at Harvard, but the Council would do well to make it the active membership it was in the 1946-1953 period, not the apathetic one it has been in the last three years. Participation in NSA can be a useful function of the Student Council, and one which should be subjected to periodic referendums. In this way Harvard students would become not only better informed about NSA, but more interested in developing its potentials. Harvard might profit even more than NSA, and trivia be transformed.