Faculty meetings, which all members of the faculty have the right and obligation to attend, take place a handful of times each semester.  They provide the opportunity for the formal dissemination of information, for discussion within the faculty and between the faculty and the administration, and for the official transaction of faculty business. 

Faculty meetings proceed according to parliamentary procedure. Parliamentary procedure has traditionally been used at Amherst to assure full debate and full expression of opinion.  The procedures may initially seem obscure or complex, but they have evolved to protect, in the context of a majority-rule system of decision-making, the rights of all members to express themselves and to have their opinions count.

Meetings of the Amherst faculty operate under Robert’s Rules of Order, a system that has been evolving since the late nineteenth century, as modified by the customs developed locally over time.  (As with any parliamentary body, the faculty controls its own procedure, and may adopt or amend its rules of order by a two-thirds majority vote.)  Robert’s Rules is a sprawling edifice, and no more than a small fraction of its procedures is in play during meetings of the faculty.  Some of the more common or important ones are explained briefly below.

A Concise Guide: Parliamentary Terms, Practices, and Procedures

  1. The agenda for each faculty meeting is set by the Committee of Six, the executive committee of the faculty.  By local custom (the “Romer-Hawkins Rule”), except in a grave emergency, the committee, in setting the agenda, will not include any motion on a constitutional matter or a matter of policy unless it has assured that the motion, and the reasoning considered by the committee for and against it, will reach faculty members in time (normally by the Wednesday before the Tuesday of the meeting) to allow reflection and informal discussion. 
    1. Members of the faculty may introduce main motions on the floor of the faculty meeting without giving advance notice (typically, under the agenda item “New Business”).
  2. A quorum is the minimum number of members of the faculty who must be present in order for the body to transact any business.
    1. The quorum for faculty meetings varies each semester according to a formula adopted by the faculty. 
    2. The quorum is announced each semester by the provost and dean of the faculty.
  3. During a faculty meeting, the chair (usually the president) rules on points of order, that is, on parliamentary procedure (with occasional consultation with the parliamentarian).
    1. A ruling of the chair on a point of order may be questioned (appealed), and an appeal is decided by a majority vote.
  4. Speakers are recognized by the chair.  They address the chair or the faculty as a whole and avoid engaging in direct exchanges with other members.
  5. Once a motion is made, by a speaker recognized by the chair, and seconded by another member, the motion is “owned” by the entire body and is subject to debate and amendment.
    1. The maker of a motion may ask for unanimous consent to withdraw a motion while it is under debate. (Unanimous consent is a device for moving business forward quickly when there is reason to believe there will be no opposition.) If there is no objection, then the situation is as if the motion had never been made. If there is an objection, any member can move that permission to withdraw the motion be granted.
    2. Any member can suggest that the maker of a motion request permission to withdraw it, which the maker may choose to do or not.
  6. An amendment to a motion (which can involve insertion, deletion, or substitution) may be offered by any member who has the floor. If seconded, it will be debated prior to the main motion which it seeks to amend.  Once the amendment is disposed of, debate will continue regarding the main (possibly amended) motion.  Amendments to amendments may be offered (but there can be no amendments of the third degree).
    1. The maker of a motion may ask for unanimous consent to modify a motion while it is under debate. If there is no objection, the chair states the question on the modified motion and debate continues.  If there is an objection, the modification may be proposed as a formal amendment.
  7. The motion to end debate on a motion—calling the question—is seldom proposed at Amherst when several members of the faculty have indicated they still wish to speak to the issue, especially when they have not yet spoken.  A call of the question may be made only after the maker is recognized by the chair.
  8. There are four ways to dispose of a motion on the floor, apart from calling the question and voting it up or down:
    1. Withdrawal: the maker, with the unanimous consent of the faculty, may withdraw the motion.
    2. Refer to committee: this motion takes the main motion off the floor for further discussion by a designated committee.
    3. Postpone to a definite time: this motion takes the main motion off the floor and specifies a particular time  for its reconsideration (usually, the next meeting).
    4. Postpone indefinitely: this motion takes the main motion off the floor and does not specify when or if it is to be reconsidered.  The main motion would return at a later meeting only after a vote to reconsider. (A motion to postpone indefinitely is used to put aside a question while avoiding a vote on the question itself.)
  9. The Committee of the Whole procedure is used at Amherst to allow for a more general and unstructured discussion of a motion (or topic) than might occur under regular parliamentary procedure.  It is used chiefly to determine sentiment before formal discussion, or to clarify a motion and refine its language and that of possible amendments.  Votes in the Committee of the Whole are informative rather than determinative.
    1. Unlike the rest of the faculty meeting, formal minutes are not taken of the discussion in the Committee of the Whole.  Notes are taken and kept as a record in the Office of the Provost and Dean of the Faculty; faculty members may request the notes if they wish.
    2. Upon entering the Committee of the Whole, the provost traditionally assumes the role of chair.
  10. Faculty meetings take place on announced Tuesdays, from 7:30 to 9:30 P.M., in the Cole Assembly Room, which is located in Converse Hall.  In order to conduct business beyond 9:30 P.M., a motion to extend the meeting is required. Such a motion is usually adopted by unanimous consent; otherwise, a two-thirds majority is required.
  11. Questions before the faculty may be decided by unanimous consent, voice vote, or electronic ballot if requested by a faculty member.  (Should an electronic ballot not be possible, a paper ballot may be used in its place.)

Summary of Often-Encountered Motions and Their Characteristics

Motion

Needs Second?

Debatable?

Amendable?

Vote?

Main Motion

Yes

Yes

Yes

Majority

Amend

Yes

If motion to be amended is

Yes

Majority

Call the question

Yes

No

No

2/3

Postpone to a definite time

Yes

Yes

(But confined to this motion’s merits.)

Yes

Majority

Postpone indefinitely

Yes

Yes

(Debate can concern main motion as well.)

No

Majority

Extend the meeting

Yes

No

Yes

2/3

Refer pending motion to a

committee

Yes

Yes

(But confined to this motion’s merits.)

Yes

Majority

Appeal chair’s ruling

(In order when another has the floor.)

Yes

No

No

Majority

 

Request for information

(In order when another has the floor.)

No

No

No

Not voted on