Retracing the Course of National Student Association at the University of Utah

By Sophia Jeong

The United States National Student Association (NSA) that operated from 1947 to 1978 was an organization of college and university student governments. The first conference was at the University of Wisconsin in 1947. It established the first headquarters in Madison. It was conducted by college student body members who were elected by each school’s students. Margery Tabankin was the first woman president of the NSA in 1971. In 1978, the Association merged with the National Student Lobby (NSL) and newly established the United States Student Association (USSA). (Angus, pp. 9-13)

With the membership of NSA, university student governments could connect with national and international affairs. NSA had relationships with “Students for a Democratic Society, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Young Americans for Freedom, and the National Student Lobby,” wrote J. Angus Johnston, in a dissertation published in 2009. (p. 10) The purpose of the Association included “academic freedom, academic responsibility, and student rights,” according to Sue Scoffield in a Daily Utah Chronicle article published April 16, 1963. From the University of Utah, five elected delegates went to NSA Congress to discuss educational issues with more than 1,300 students from other schools’ delegates. For example, “the impact of aggression in Koreans upon students” was one of the topics, wrote Martin M. McLaughlin in a journal article titled “National Student Association” published May 1951. (p. 260)

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ASUU’s encouragement for the students to participate in the panel discussion of April 1961 concerning the retention of National Student Association membership. Used by permission, The Daily Utah Chronicle.

However, the opponents to the National Student Association argued that NSA took sides on several national and international issues that several member schools would disagree with. Front-page articles in Daily Utah Chronicle stated that the Association could not represent every school because “every student government does not belong to it” from the article titled “Student’s Decisions” published in February 1961. Along with the conflicts, students made various opportunities to share their thoughts on NSA.

The National Student Association was highly criticized after the formation of Big Eight. Big Eight refers to eight different schools that chose not to correspond with NSA’s decisions. The group included the University of Colorado, University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State University, University of Nebraska, University of Kansas, Kansas State University, University of Missouri, and the University of Iowa. In October 1960, Daily Utah Chronicle announced that NSA was severely criticized during the National Student Congress in Minneapolis. NSA was criticized for its “lack of representativity,” according to the article.

In 1961, there was voting on the retention of University membership in the Association at the University of Utah. In April 1961, Daily Utah Chronicle announced the time and place of the election. There had been intense discussions on the issue. For example, John Bennion, Associated Students of the University of Utah (ASUU) president, encouraged students to attend “Kennedy ‘Peace Corps’ Panel-Forum” to discuss the campus committee for the National Student Association. “All students are encouraged to attend and to participate in the discussion,” reported in a Daily Utah Chronicle article published April 20, 1961. Daily Utah Chronicle reported on April 26, 1961, about the vote result, that “Utes favored maintaining membership in NSA with a vote of 1,454 to 368.”

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Legislators listening to the chairman of the Utah Region of NSA, suggesting the University of Utah withdraw from the organization in November 1960. Used by permission, The Daily Utah Chronicle.

The United States National Student Association (NSA) set the example of possible conflicts and issues that emerge in the process of constructing the national scale of a college student organization. Its purpose was not stable enough to satisfy all the members. Daily Utah Chronicle reported on December 5, 1963, explained that IVY League schools such as Yale and Dartmouth decided not to maintain the membership of the National Student Association. Zane Miskin’s article included in Daily Utah Chronicle on November 11, 1965, says that Jim Moss, the president of ASUU suggested an idea of joining Associated Student Governments (ASG) instead of NSA because “NSA bypasses student government and deals directly with the student while ASG deals with student government.” The University of Utah maintained the membership until the reform. The Association changed its frame into the United States Student Association (USSA) by merging with the National Student Lobby (NSL). Still, it had created huge impacts on colleges in the United States. (Angus, p. 263)

Sophia Jeong is a senior at the University of Utah. She is studying communication and film and media arts with a minor in documentary studies.

Primary Sources

“NSA What is the Story?” Daily Utah Chronicle, November 17, 1954, 2.

“NSA Draws Fire from Big Eight,” Daily Utah Chronicle, October 13, 1960, 2.

“Regional NSA Chairman Addresses Student Senate,” Daily Utah Chronicle, November 3, 1960, 1.

“Student’s Decision,” Daily Utah Chronicle, February 17, 1961, 2.

“Utes Vote Today on Offices, Referendums,” Daily Utah Chronicle, April 19, 1961, 1.

“Kennedy ‘Peace Corps’ Panel-Forum in Offing,” Daily Utah Chronicle, April 20, 1961, 3.

Jackie Back, “Students Affirm NSA, Class Officer Proposal, “ Daily Utah Chronicle, April 26, 1961, 1.

“What is NSA?” Daily Utah Chronicle, April 16, 1963, 14.

“Ivy Schools Drop NSA,” Daily Utah Chronicle, December 5, 1963, 3.

Zane Miskin, “ASG or NSA; Which to Join?” Daily Utah Chronicle, November 11, 1965, 5.

Secondary Sources

McLaughlin, Martin M. “National Student Association,” The Journal of Higher Education 22, no. 5, (Spring 1951): 258–286.

Angus, Johnston, J. The United States National Student Association: Democracy, Activism, and the Idea of the Student, 1947–1978. PhD diss.