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Harvard and the NSA


The Leverett House Committee has recommended that college delegates to the annual Congresses of the United States National Student Association be elected by campus-wide referendum. Presently Harvard's four voting delegates and four alternates are chosen by the Council for Undergraduate Affairs; the Graduate School Council and Radcliffe each have their own representatives.

This is an excellent suggestion and we urge its adoption by the Council. First of all, such a referendum would be more democratic than the process currently employed, which provides only devious representation for undergraduates.

More important, a referendum might generate interest in USNSA among Harvard students. At present the burden for informing the University about USNSA falls on the committee within the HCUA selected for that purpose. Heretofore its efforts at publicity have been spotty. Very few Harvard students are aware of the numerous opportunities for study, social service, political action and travel which the NSA provides. Few, indeed, know what the organization is or appreciate the fact that it represents the student governments of some 400 American campuses, with a total membership of over 1.5 million.

The widespread ignorance about USNSA has led to much ill-founded criticism of the organization. The principal charge leveled at USNSA in recent years has come from conservative groups, such as the Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) which claims that the "liberal" stands taken by USNSA are not representative of the American student community. This is indeed true, but only because most of the college students in this country are oblivious to the political issues which USNSA considers important. If the Association merely parroted their views, it would seldom deal with problems of a higher order than parking regulations.

USNSA's major function is neither to mirror student opinion nor to lobby for student interests. Its chief business is political education, and the Association generally goes about it unencumbered by the exigencies of pressure politics.

Ideally, USNSA seeks to confront American students with questions about the world beyond the academic community. The debates which flare every summer at NSA congresses are intended to serve as starting points for discussion at member schools during the ensuing year. And though this ideal is not always fulfilled, USNSA has generated vigorous debate on a number of issues (the House Un-American Activities Committee, student civil rights and educational policy).

Clearly, Harvard does not need USNSA to make it aware of world problems; indeed, for some students the problem is finding a place to forget them. But in view of the service which NSA does nationally and in recognition of its past involvement with Harvard (Harvard students have often led the organization), the recommendation of the Leverett House Committee should be supported: NSA delegates should be selected on a college-wide basis.

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