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Shaping ACS governance through unit bylaws

by Donna Friedman, Chair, Committee on Constitution & Bylaws
June 26, 2020 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 98, Issue 25


Photo of Donna Friedman.
Credit: Courtesy of Donna Friedman
Donna Friedman

Unit bylaws are the legally binding rules that govern an American Chemical Society unit (i.e., division, local section, or international chemical sciences chapter). These bylaws guide officers and executive committees and dictate how the unit should conduct its meetings and business, including elections.

During this COVID-19 pandemic, the Committee on Constitution and Bylaws(C&B) has been asked by a number of division and local section officers if they could hold virtual business meetings. The answer to this question lies in each unit’s bylaws. If virtual business meetings are permitted, your unit may hold a meeting to conduct governance business using a means by which attendees can read or hear the proceedings as they occur, for example, by using Zoom, Webex, GoToWebinar, or another teleconference program. In addition, check with your members with disabilities and ensure beforehand that the meeting is accessible. For meetings of a unit, written notice, which may be sent by email, must be sent to all members and affiliates before the meeting, for which a quorum is required as specified in the unit’s bylaws.

Another common question is “Are we allowed to vote by electronic means?” In some cases this is not permitted, especially if the unit’s bylaws specify that voting must be done by mail or that the ballot must be included in an envelope. Otherwise, your unit might be able to conduct its elections using an electronic balloting service. Voting by email is not permitted. C&B would be happy to check your bylaws for you. Contact us at

A number of unit bylaws are out of date and have not been updated since the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. You can check the certification date of your bylaws at; click on the appropriate link beneath Unit Bylaws on that web page. The certified versions are available on the web page but we are happy to send a Word document of your current bylaws to the unit’s chair or secretary.

If you would like to update your unit bylaws, we would be happy to work with you.

Your unit’s bylaws should be updated at least every 7–10 years to ensure that they are consistent with the ACS governing documents (the society’s charter, constitution, bylaws, standing rules, schedule of membership, and regulations). This is particularly important now because in 2019 many changes were made to the society’s constitution and bylaws in conjunction with the formation of the standing rules. More changes to the ACS governing documents were made this past spring when the Council Policy Committee voted ad interim for the council to approve the Petition on Benefits and Dues and the schedule of membership. Because the changes in the ACS governing documents affected the model bylaws and the charter bylaws for units, C&B will work with the committees responsible for these bylaws (Committee on Divisional Activities, Committee on Local Section Activities, and the Committee on International Activities) to update them.

If you would like to update your unit bylaws, we would be happy to work with you. Model bylaws and options for updating are available at or by emailing

Whether you use the model bylaws or the questions document to update your bylaws, the outcome will be the same. It is a matter of selecting the one that will be easier for you to use. If there are any provisions in your current bylaws that you would like to include in the updated bylaws, please add that text. We will check to ensure that these additions are consistent with the ACS governing documents. After your executive committee or board approves changes proposed by C&B, the bylaw changes would then need to be approved by a vote of your members in accordance with the unit’s current bylaws. Either the chair or the secretary must send the vote results and other required information to C&B. We will then complete the certification process and issue newly certified bylaws on behalf of the council.

If you are thinking about submitting a petition to amend the constitution, bylaws, or standing rules, we would be happy to walk you through the process. Guidelines for amending each of the documents are available at C&B can give you tips and suggest how you might word your petition to meet your intent, and give you next steps to meet prescribed deadlines. We urge you to send your draft to C&B for a quick review before you formally submit it. If you would like to propose changes to the schedule of membership, the changes must be sent to the Committee on Membership Affairs at least 5 weeks prior to the committee’s next official meeting. Amendment information for all documents can be found in the ACS governing documents at

If you are a councilor and interested in learning about how you can shape the governance of the society, consider joining C&B. The committee meets on Sunday during ACS national meetings and all ACS members are invited to attend its open meetings. We welcome your questions and comments. Please contact us at You can also call 202-872-4071, or 800-227-5558, ext. 4071.

Views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of C&EN or ACS.


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