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Draft a Constitution



A constitution is designed to establish a long-term structure and scope for your group as approved and should outlast your current members.  Required components are below. Add other items as appropriate but remember that all items must be approved by the university before implementation. Additionally:

  • All recognized student organizations are expected to faithfully follow all aspects of their approved constitution, including purpose and scope of activities. Expansion of activities and scope is not guaranteed and can only occur after review and approval by the university.
  • We expect transparency about how your organization is run. All organization constitutions are open to the Stanford community.  Additionally, your constitution and membership requirements must be posted on your website.

Constitution Requirements

Article 1 - Name

Any recognized voluntary student organization (VSO) can use the Stanford name. Your name cannot duplicate that of an existing group nor should it be confused for a university department or other Stanford entity. Your name should clearly indicate your group’s purpose and activities.

Article 2 - Purpose

This serves as your public description and mission statement for students and others to learn about your group. Be brief and succinct about your org's main purpose, goals and activities. Clearly distinguish yourself from other groups. Be short and clear. 

Article 3 - Activities and Scope

Briefly describe the general activities of your group as approved by the university.  Your activities should draw from your university letter of approval and new org proposal. Existing groups updating their constitution should stay true to their original purpose and scope.  The university will also refer to this section when questions about the scope, scale or activities of your group arise.

Please note that organizations cannot change or expand their scope without prior university consultation and approval. Changes to your group's approved activities and scope must first be reviewed and approved by the university through OSE.  Depending on the desired new scope, a re-application with a careful review of your proposal by the Organization Review Committee, may be required.

Article 4 - Membership Requirements

General membership requirements. For additional info please see: Membership.

  • Membership in a university recognized voluntary student organization must be broadly open and welcoming to all Stanford students that are interested in supporting the mission of the student organization. Recognized student organizations are expected to develop recruitment and membership practices that ensure open and easy access to their group's membership and activities with transparency.
  • A member is a student who is active, involved, attends meetings and routinely participates in your org's planning and activities.  Students who simply sign up on a mailing list are not considered members.
  • Remember that university policy governing student groups requires that only currently enrolled Stanford students be members of a student organization. Faculty, staff, post-doctoral scholars (postdocs) and other non-student community members may participate in activities but cannot serve as leaders, members or engage in group decision-making in any way. Also, they cannot represent the group or the university.
  • You must have and maintain ten active members who are currently enrolled Stanford students.
  • In seeking members your group may ask for brief bio information such as name, email, phone and class/work schedule so that you can keep track of your members.
  • You may not ask students to fill out an application, submit GPAs and references, or to be interviewed. All such practices are against University policy.
  • A group may have additional requirements for leaders provided that they are clear, objective and fair (see the officer section, below).
  • The University requires that every organization track its members regularly in a manner that all members can readily access.

Requirements for maintaining membership.

Organizations may have a short list of requirements of members in order to remain in good standing. All such requirements must be based on the member's activities and contributions with the group and must be applied consistently to all members. Maintenance requirements are useful for groups that want to ensure active and committed members.  Possibilities include:

  • Meeting attendance.
  • Work responsibilities, such as attendance at events, commitment to org's mission, hours of community service, etc. If used, these should be clear, measurable and documented.
  • Dues or other financial commitments. Student groups may charge dues for members. If so, groups must document any requirements in their constitution and make the information and payment process available to all members. Organizations must also have a well-documented refund procedure that is included in the constitution and on any group website.

All practices should be clearly documented in your constitution and approved by the university through OSE before implementation. 

Article 5 – Leadership Structure/Officers

A. Job Descriptions .  Describe the structure, titles, and responsibilities of your leadership roles.

  • Authorized representatives. The University requires that all orgs have three different authorized representatives that represent the organization to the University and others.  While you have latitude in what you name these three positions they should include: 1) a president or chair, 2) a co-president, co-chair or vice-president and 3) a financial officer. All three must be different people. These three positions must also be chosen democratically, either by election or consensus of members, every year.
  • Others.  Many groups chose to have a variety of other leadership positions including a leadership corps, board, event chair or secondary financial officer.  In all cases your constitution should include the names of each position, the position's responsibilities and the total number of positions. For example, if you have a leadership corps, your constitution would include the number of students who serve.  Also, your leader and officer corps should be small enough that there are opportunities for active membership and involvement in your organization for interested students. 
  • How other leaders/officers are chosen. The three authorized representatives must be elected by the group membership. While the University prefers that all leaders/officers are elected, other positons may be selected if they follow University guidelines. Selection may occur via an application and interview—but keep in mind that requesting resumes and transcripts is still prohibited. An application process is possible if your org uses a selection committee comprised of at least 5 members of the group and representing a variety of class years. Only short-term, ad-hoc positions can be appointed by the org's president.

B. Elections.  Describe how, by whom and when officers are elected. For additional info please see Leader/Officer Selection.

  • Include all criteria for officer election and length of term. You may choose to indicate a desire for previous experience with your group or a specific activity but we suggest that this is done as a "recommendation" rather than a "requirement."
  • The three authorized representatives must be elected (by a vote of majority, 2/3 majority, or consensus) from your entire group membership in order to ensure a fair, equitable and democratic process, although these positions may have specific criteria provided they are documented in your constitution.
  • Indicate who is responsible for oversight of elections. This cannot be your advisor.
  • Groups that have a co-presidential structure may permit (maximum) two people to run as a slate. If an individual does not wish to run with a partner, the individual may run on their own. Elections of other positions as slates are not permitted.
  • Other positions should be filled using a democratic and fair process and can include elections, assignment by consensus or an application. An application process should be managed by a team of members that broadly represents your organization's membership, including multiple class years.  If such a selection process is followed, the "selection team" must include at least five members of your organization, representing different class years. Any application should be brief and may not ask for GPAs and transcripts, which is against University policy.
  • Only short-term, ad-hoc positions can be appointed by the organization's president;  for example, a webmaster or an event chair for a new or small event.
  • At no time should an individual student (e.g. outgoing president) make a unilateral selection of their successor.
  • Your constitution should state when elections occur. We recommend that all elections and transition be done well before the end of Spring Quarter in order to ensure a smooth transition. We also recommend to state an exact timeline, (e.g. by Week 5 of Spring quarter)

C. Officer and Member Removal.  A removal procedure should include fair due process and respect for the individual under consideration.

  • Removal should be based on objective criteria included in your constitution. It must ensure due proccess for the individual in question by providing them with an opportunity to present a written statement or speak to your organization before a decision is made. 
  • The process should be fair, respectful and considerate of all those involved.

D. Transition.  

  • Explain who is responsible for ensuring an effective leadership transition, when the transition occurs, and what type of activities are important for leadership transition. Such activities include participating in leadership transition workshops, completing any internal training, and meeting new people.

Article 6 – Decision-Making Process

Describe how group decisions (e.g. budget, programs, policies) are made and who is involved. Although there are many models you can follow, decision making should be based on democratic ideals.  Other points to consider:

  • If you are affiliated with a national organization please describe how your chapter works with the national org, ensuring that your Stanford group makes locally autonomous decisions.
  • If you work closely with an advisor, advisory board or department, describe the relationship. Student organization leaders have the ability and autonomy to select their advisor.
  • Presidents cannot make unilateral decisions. Student organizations are here to serve the student body and involve their members broadly.

Article 7 - Dissolution of Organization

Describe what should happen to your group’s remaining funds or equipment in the event it dissolves or becomes inactive. Since you are operating in the name of Stanford, money and property must remain within the University. You can name any registered student organization or University department as the beneficiary but this must be included in the constitution so that unspent funds can be forwarded to another Stanford entity.

Article 8 - Procedure to Amend Constitution

Describe the process for proposing and adopting changes to this constitution. The adoption process should be by a vote. Different groups have different thresholds: majority, super-majority (two-thirds), consensus.  Once drafted and approved by your members, final approval from OSE is required.

Final Constitution Checklist

  • Succinct purpose statement.
  • Clear scope of activities consistent with your university approved activities.
  • Clear, definable membership requirements.
  • Officer job descriptions.
  • Election process that is democratically run and includes a specific timeline. Remember, your three key leaders must be elected by your general membership. 
  • Process for removal of officers that provides meaningful due process.
  • Leadership transition process.
  • If applicable, relationship to your national affiliated organization.
  • If applicable, relationship to your advisor and/or advisory board.
  • Dissolution plans for any of your org's property and funds in the event it becomes defunct.  Any beneficiary must be part of Stanford University.

Sample Constitution Draft

You may choose to use OSE's constitution template and modify it according to your organization's specific needs and structure. To do so, click on the "File" tab and choose "Make a copy." You will be able to edit the new copy.