[AIS] Registering a university group

[AIS] Registering a university group

1. Writing a constitution

Universities generally require student groups seeking recognition (to use the school name, receive funding, etc.) to submit a formal constitution. This is meant to give long-term structure to the group by formally specifying its purpose, leadership, scope, and decision-making process. However, it can be difficult to write a formal constitution if you’re just getting started because you don’t really know how your group will function yet. We recommend, when starting out, not to worry too much about a good constitution—just submit something that fits the school’s requirements. It’s perfectly valid to come back and change it later.

You’ll need to find your school’s requirements. Most schools publish their own unique list of requirements that submitted constitutions must fulfil. This can generally be found online on the website of the Student Union, or whatever part of the university administers clubs. (The fastest way to find them is generally to Google “[university name] student group constitution”). Below, we’ve left an example constitution, which hopefully can be quickly edited to align it with your institution’s requirements.

The requirements list will generally specify some of these three things:

  • A required format – for example, Article 1: Name, Article 2: Statement of Purpose, etc.
  • Information that is required to be in these articles. We’ve tried to make our sample articles below fairly inclusive; however, there will inevitably be requirements our example does not cover. Go ahead and write these out yourself.
  • Required passages – for example, UC Berkeley requires all groups to state that “We will not haze according to California State Law.” Required passages can be copied and pasted from the requirements list onto the constitution in the appropriate place.

If your school doesn’t have any specific requirements for constitutions, that’s great news! You can just copy and paste the sample constitution, provided below, and submit it.

a. Sample constitution:

We’ve written a sample constitution as an example of the style and substance many universities desire. This will probably not fulfill your institution’s requirements; but it is a good place to start. This is just an example; if you wish to write your own constitution, go for it!

2. Getting a faculty advisor

Some universities require faculty sponsors for clubs. This can be a good opportunity for starting and strengthening your relationships with academics within your group.

a. Who to reach out to:

If you or your co-organisers have a good relationship with an academic, ask them first. Otherwise, try academics working on AI, or even better, on AI Safety specifically. If you’re reaching out to an academic focused on AI ethics, double-check that they don’t have previously expressed any strong negative opinions about AI Safety, as some academics in AI ethics can be confrontational about discussions of risks from advanced AI (see here for context).

b. How to reach out to advisors:

Start by emailing them, stating that you’d like to start a club focused on AI Safety, and ask for an in-person meeting. At the meeting, clarify what you want them to do (it might just be to sign some documents). Have a clear definition of the group's scope prepared, and be ready to explain what your group will do. If they don’t seem interested, then try to gracefully end the conversation — there are plenty of other academics to ask.

If possible, have an organizer studying the same academic subject reach out. Note that academics tend to look unfavorably at people who misunderstand or misuse concepts from their field.

3. Utilizing the Student Union

Get a copy of any booklet that the Student Union produces for clubs.

Find out what resources are available to you, for instance:

  • Rooms to meet in
  • Tables and chairs for publicity events
  • AV equipment
  • Printing and copying
  • Permanent email address for your group

See if Student Affairs organizes any events and/or awareness-raising weeks that you might be able to partner with. You may be able to get free publicity and resources through these.

Find out if there is a contact list for other groups. Contact like-minded groups and check their meeting and event times. You may want to attend events to meet people and casually recruit members, or you may want to team up with them for certain activities and events.

Check what sources of funding/grants are available for student groups.

Eventually, you may want to check if there are any committees on which it would be useful for your group to have input (e.g. campaigns, student activities, clubs and societies, or any that determine the distribution of funds), and consider encouraging members of your group to run for election to them.

4. Clubs fair

Your university’s clubs fair (also called Freshers’ Fair, Activities Fair and Orientation) is probably the best opportunity you’ll have all year to attract members. Some universities have them at the start of each academic year, and some hold them at the start of each intake, often two times a year. Go to this link for information about how to get the most out of it.