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Student Organization Advisors

Alyssa Keehan, Esq.
October 2020
Key questions for determining whether to require advisors for student organizations at your higher ed institution

Student groups and organizations play an important role on campus and in a student’s education. Faculty and staff advisors can help keep these organizations on track and serve as important mentors and sounding boards to participants. Consider these key questions when deciding whether to require advisors:

Which Organizations Need Advisors?

Some colleges and universities require all recognized or registered groups to have a faculty or staff advisor. It is a good practice to require an advisor if the student group’s activities involve a heightened risk of injury or harm and the group is closely connected with or funded in whole or in part by your institution. Depending on the group’s complexity, some institutions allow graduate assistants or others in the campus community to serve as advisors if they meet the necessary qualifications.

Requiring advisors may increase the potential liability of an institution for injuries or wrongful acts of student organizations. This is especially the case if the advisor acts within the scope of his or her employment and fails to take reasonable steps to prevent the negligent or wrongful acts. However, many institutions will prefer to have advisors to positively influence student behavior and prevent harm from occurring.

What Is the Advisor’s Role?

Providing good advice is a balancing act between allowing students to take ownership and ensuring that the group acts in your institution’s best interests. In some instances, the faculty or staff member will need to intervene or report misconduct to your institution. In other cases, the advisor should help the group think an issue through and allow the students to make their own decision. Ultimately, advisors represent your institution and are expected to ensure that the group follows campus policies.

What Is the Advisor’s Personal Liability if Something Goes Wrong?

Faculty and staff members are understandably concerned about whether they can be held personally liable for the student group’s actions. This is an important issue; discuss this with your liability insurance carriers in order to provide guidance to advisors. Frequently, the insurance carrier will agree to provide coverage with your institution’s consent as long as the advisors act within the scope of their assigned role, follow campus policies, and do not make false statements or withhold information.

What Policies and Training Are Needed?

Your institution may find it beneficial to train advisors on the following topics, which also should be included in a written policy:

  • Qualifications of advisors
  • Roles and responsibilities of advisors and student groups
  • Applicable school policies, including student organization registration, student travel policy, facilities use guidelines, and financial guidelines
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