What You Need to Know to Navigate a Faculty Meeting: Robert's Rules of Order Prepared by W&L's Faculty Affairs Committee. Reviewed by University Parliamentarian, Erich Uffelman

In response to expressed faculty interest, the Faculty Affairs Committee collaborated with University Parliamentarian Erich Uffelman to prepare this introduction to Robert's Rules of Order. Summarizing more than 700 pages of content inevitably compromises nuance and requires editorial decisions. We selected the parts of Robert's Rules most commonly employed in deliberative assemblies, as well as elements that seemed most useful, pragmatically, and most informative about the spirit and general structure of parliamentary law.

We chose to convert masculine titles and pronouns in Robert's Rules to gender-neutral terms (e.g., chair rather than chairman, s/he rather than he). We also point out below several instances in which W&L faculty custom diverges from Robert's Rules in the interest of equity (e.g. not being required to stand while speaking).

We hope that faculty members will view this document as one resource among others. Some might wish to widen and deepen the information conveyed here by directly consulting Robert's Rules. Faculty are also always welcome to ask Parliamentarian Erich Uffelman, outside of faculty meetings, for guidance.

The most important ways of gaining needed information during meetings are to:

  • Make a parliamentary inquiry: a question directed to the presiding officer to obtain information on the rules bearing on business at hand (p. 293).
  • Make a request for information: a question directed to the presiding officer (or through her/him to another member) for information relevant to the business at hand (but not related to parliamentary procedure; pg. 294).

More information about these key inquiries appears below (see especially Section 33).

Parliamentary law is intended to respect the dignity and perspectives of all involved. It should, in Robert's words, "enable assemblies of any size, with due regard for every member's opinion, to arrive at the general will on the maximum number of questions of varying complexity in a minimum amount of time and under all kinds of internal climate ranging from total harmony to hardened or impassioned division of opinion" (lii).

Robert's Rules of Order, Newly Revised, 11th edition (2011)

Introduction (pp. xxix-li)


  • Brigadier General Henry Martyn Robert (1837-1923)
  • Robert perceived a need "to enable civic-minded people to belong to several organizations or to move to new localities without constantly encountering new parliamentary rules" (xiiii).
  • 1876, Pocket Manual of Rules of Order for Deliberative Assemblies (xliv)

Parliamentary procedure: parliamentary law as it is followed in any given assembly or organization, together with whatever rules of order the body may have adopted (xxx).
The rules of parliamentary law are based on a regard for the rights:

  • of the majority,
  • of the minority, especially a strong minority - greater than one third,
  • of individual members,
  • of absentees, and
  • of all these together (li).

Section 1: The deliberative assembly (pp. 1-10)


  • Deliberative assembly: the kind of gathering to which parliamentary law is generally understood to apply; a group of people, having or assuming freedom to act in concert, meeting to determine, in full and free discussion, courses of action to be taken in the name of the entire group (1).
  • Member: person entitled to full participation in its proceedings, having the right to attend meetings, to make motions, to speak in debate, and to vote (3) [cf. W&L Bylaws].
  • There may be the requirement of previous notice. Notice of the proposal to be brought up - at least briefly describing its substance - must be announced in the preceding meeting or in the ‘call' of the meeting at which it will be considered (4).
  • Call of a meeting: written notice of the time and place send to all members a reasonable time in advance (4).
  • Assembly of an organized permanent society: the highest authority (subject only to the provisions or the bylaws or other basic document establishing the organization); a body that acts for the total membership in the transaction of its business. Its bylaws usually specify that holds regular meetings at stated intervals and has a way of calling special meetings if necessary (6).

Section 2: Rules of an assembly or organization (pp. 10-19)

Types of rules

  • Bylaws: documents that contain a society's basic rules relating to itself as an organization rather than to the parliamentary rule it follows (12).
  • Rules of Order: written rules of parliamentary procedure formally adopted by an organization; relate to the orderly transaction of business in meetings and to the duties of officers; "the usual and preferable method by which an ordinary society provides itself with suitable rules of order is [that its bylaws include a provision] prescribing that the current edition of a specified ... manual of parliamentary law shall be the organization's parliamentary authority" (15).
  • Standing Rules: rules related to the details of the administration of a society rather than to parliamentary procedure that can be adopted or changed by an ordinary act of the society (e.g. time of meeting, 18).
  • Custom: a particular practice that has come to be followed. Sometimes an established custom is treated practically as if it were a prescribed rule. However, if a customary practice is in conflict with the parliamentary authority or any written rule, the custom falls to the ground, and the parliamentary authority or written rule must thereafter be complied with. Or if the organization prefers to follow custom, a special rule of order can be added (19).


  • Rules of Order used at W&L faculty meetings are subordinate to Washington and Lee University's Bylaws1(pp. 10-19).
  • No motion in a faculty meeting "is in order that conflicts with the corporate charter, constitution, or bylaws" or with federal, state, or local laws (pg. 111).
  • Motions cannot be ratified if they involve "actions taken by officers, committees, delegates, or subordinate bodies in excess of their instructions or authority" (pp. 124-125).

Section 3: Basic provisions and procedures (pp. 20-31)


  • Quorum: the minimum number of members who must be present at the meeting of a deliberative assembly for business to be validly transacted. A "provision of the bylaws should specify the number of members that shall constitute a quorum, which should be the largest number that can be depended on to attend any meeting" (except in bad weather or exceptional circumstances; 21).
  • Chair: a) the presiding officer and b) the station in the hall from which s/he presides (22).
  • Members bring business before the assembly by making a motion: a formal proposal by a member, in a meeting, that the assembly take a certain action (27).
  • Main motion: the basic form of motion (27). It may or may not grow out of/follow hearing a committee report (28).
  • Debate: any form of discussion of the merits of a motion (29)


  • Customs of formality that are followed by the presiding officer and members serve to maintain the chair's necessary position of impartiality (22).
  • Members address only the chair, or address each other through the chair.
  • First and second person pronouns, as well as personal names, should be avoided. "Mr. President, do I understand the member who previously spoke to say ...?" (23).
  • The presiding officer only speaks of her/himself in the third person (not "I" but "the chair", 23).
  • A member may rise to speak (24). Per W&L faculty custom, members are not obliged to stand in order to speak or to vote.

Meetings of permanently organized bodies usually follow an established order of business that specifies the sequence in which certain types of business are to be brought up (25). Although an organization has no binding order of business until it has either adopted its own or has adopted a parliamentary authority that specifies one, the following order of business has come to be regarded as usual or standard:

  1. Approval of minutes
  2. Reports of officers, boards, and standing ("permanent") committees
  3. Reports of special (temporary) committee
  4. Special orders [topics on which the body previously agreed to discuss at a particular time]
  5. Unfinished business
  6. New business (25-26)

To make a motion or speak in debate:

  • a member obtains the floor: is recognized by the chair as having an exclusive right to be heard at that time. To claim the floor, a member rises [or raises her/his hand, per W&L custom] when no one else has the floor and says, "Mr. President," "Madame Chair," etc. The chair must recognize any member who seeks the floor when entitled to it, and usually recognizes the person by name or title (29).
  • If two or more rise [or raise their hands] at about the same time, the member who rose and addressed the chair first after the floor was yielded is entitled to be recognized. A member cannot establish ‘prior claim' to the floor by rising [or raising a hand] before it has been yielded (30)
  • If the member who made the motion claims the floor and has not already spoken on the question, s/he is entitled to be recognized first (30).
  • No one is entitled to the floor a second time in debate on the same motion on the same day as long as any other member who has not spoken on the motion desires the floor (31).
  • The chair should let the floor alternate, as far as possible between those favoring and those opposing the measure (31).

Section 4: The handling of a motion (pp. 32-57)


  • A member makes a motion
  • Another member seconds it
  • The chair states the question on the motion. The motion is then pending, or "on the floor" and open to debate
  • If the assembly decides to do what the motion proposes, it adopts the motion. If not, the motion is lost or rejected (32).


  • A complicated motion should be prepared in advance of the meeting, if possible, and should be put into writing before it is offered (33).
  • If a motion is offered in a wording that is not clear or that requires smoothing before it can be recorded in the minutes, it is the duty of the chair to see that the motion is put into suitable form - preserving the content to the satisfaction of the mover - before the question is stated (39-40).
  • The chair can require that a motion be put in writing before s/he states the question (40).


  • It is not necessary to obtain the floor to second a motion.
  • If no member seconds the motion, after a pause the chair asks if there is a second. If there is not, the motion is not put before the meeting.
  • Seconding only means agreement that the motion should come before the meeting, not that the member necessarily favors the motion.
  • A motion made by a committee (at least two members of which represent the assembly) does not need a second (35-36).

Considering the Question3

  • The chair states the question: "It is moved and seconded that [repeat the motion]." S/he then asks for any debate (37).
  • Until the chair states the question, the maker can modify or withdraw it (40).
  • After chair has stated the question, it becomes the property of the assembly. While the motion is pending, the assembly can change the wording of it through the process of amendment (40).
  • Usually, in debate a member has the right to speak twice on the same question on the same day, but can't make a second speech on the same question if another member who wishes to speak seeks the floor (43).
  • Without permission of the assembly, no one can speak longer than permitted by the rules of the body or (if no established rule) 10 minutes. (43)
  • Debate must be confined to the merits of the pending question. Speakers must address their remarks to the chair, maintain a courteous tone, and avoid injecting a personal note into debate. They must never attack or many any allusion to the motives of members (43).
  • Except in committees or small boards, the presiding officer should not enter into discussion of the merits of pending questions (unless, in rare instances, he leaves the chair until the pending business has been disposed of, 43).
  • The presiding officer cannot close debate so long as any member who has not exhausted her/his right to debate desires the floor, except by order of the assembly, which requires a two-thirds vote (44).


  • When the debate appears to have closed, the chair may ask, "Is there any further debate?" If no one claims the floor, the chair makes clear the exact question the assembly is called on to decide (44).
  • Voting usually proceeds viva voce (in favor saying, "aye," opposed "no"; 44-45).
  • By W&L faculty custom, any member can request a vote by secret ballot. No reason must be given, and no second is needed. This request has been rarely made and consistently granted.
  • The chair reports the vote, declares the motion adopted or lost, and states the effect of the vote (48).
  • If the chair or any member doubts the result, s/he can call for verification of the vote by division (e.g. show of hands, standing, or ballots, 51-53).

Some motions can be adopted by unanimous or general consent (if of little importance, routine, or seem to have no opposition). "Action in this manner is in accord with the principle that rules are designed for the protection of the minority and generally not need to be strictly enforced when there is no minority to protect" (54).

Section 5: Basic classifications: order of precedence of motions (pp. 58-62)

"Only one question can be considered at a time; once a motion is before he assembly, it must be adopted or rejected by a vote, or the assembly must take action disposing of the question in some other way before any other business [except ‘privileged questions] can be introduced" (59).

Classes of motions

  1. Main motions
    1. Original
    2. Incidental
  2. Secondary motions
    1. Subsidiary
    2. Privileged
    3. Incidental
  3. Motions that bring a question again before the assembly (59)

Section 6: Description of classes and individual motions (pp. 62-79)

Privileged motions relate to the comfort of the assembly or important situations that must be decided immediately and so may interrupt pending business (66-67).

If a member thinks ...

  • the order of business is not being followed, the member can call for the orders of the day (requiring a schedule to be enforced, unless the assembly by two-thirds vote sets aside the orders of the day, 67; see sections 18 and 25).
  • a pressing situation is affecting the right of the assembly, the member can raise a question of privilege (e.g. noise, introduction of a confidential subject in the presence of guests, etc.). This motion interrupts pending business with an urgent request (67; see section 19).
  • a short intermission is needed, the member can move to recess for a specified length of time (67; see section 20).
  • the meeting should be concluded, the member can move to adjourn. Pending and unfinished business can be carried over to the next meeting or, if no meeting is scheduled in a quarterly time interval (generally understood to be three months4) it can fall to the ground and be introduced as new business at the next meeting (68; also see pp. 236-237 and section 21).
  • the meeting should be concluded and the next time to meet established, the member can move to fix the time to which to adjourn (68; see section 22).

Subsidiary motions apply directly to the pending motion and help the group arrive at a decision on it (62-63).

If a member thinks ...

  • an embarrassing motion has been brought before the assembly, the member can propose to dispose of the question without bringing it to a vote by moving to postpone indefinitely5. (63; see section 11).
  • a motion before the assembly might be more suitable or acceptable in another form, the member can move to amend it (63; see section 12).
  • too much time is needed to amend the main motion property or that additional information is needed, the member can move to commit or refer the main question to a committee (63; see section 13).
  • the motion would be better considered at a later time, the member can move to postpone (i.e., postpone to a certain time or postpone definitely, 64; see section 14).
  • that the time available in a meeting to debate a motion is too long or too short, the member can move to curtail or extend the limits of debate (64; see section 15).
  • the debate should be concluded and come to a vote, the member moves the previous question (64; see section 16)
  • a motion should be temporarily set aside and returned to when the majority decides to do so, the member moves to lay the motion on the table (64; see section 17).

Incidental motions generally deal with procedures and help the assembly process motions (69).

If a member thinks ...

  • the rules are not being followed, the member can make a point of order. Doing so requires the chair to make a ruling on the question involved (70; see section 23).
  • the chair's ruling to a point of order is incorrect, the member can move to appeal immediately after the chair's ruling. Another member must second the motion. Doing so requires the chair to submit the matter to a vote of the assembly (70; see section 24).
  • the assembly should take up a question or do something that would violate the rules, a member can move to suspend the rules (70; see section 25).
  • a motion that has been made but debating it would do harm, the member can raise an objection to the consideration of the question6. (70; see section 26).
  • a pending main motion has two parts that should be considered separate questions, the member can make a motion for division of a question (70-71; see section 27).
  • a pending motion contains several paragraphs or sections that should be considered separately, the member can make a motion for consideration by paragraph or seriatium (71; see section 28).
  • the results of a vote by voice are questionable, the member can demand a division of the assembly. A single member can thus require a standing vote (71; see section 29). By custom, faculty in W&L meetings are not required to stand to vote.
  • some information or clarification is needed, the member can make a request for information (or point of information, 72; see section 33).

Section 7: Standard descriptive characteristics of motions (pp. 79-80)

Section 8: Meeting, session, recess, adjournment (pp. 81-88)


  • Meeting: single official gathering of an assembly's members in one area to transact business, during which members don't separate except for a short recess (81)
  • Recess: short intermission or break (82)
  • Adjournment: termination of the meeting (81)

Section 9: Particular types of business meetings (pp. 89-99)


  • Regular meeting: periodic business meeting of a permanent society held at regular intervals (89)
  • Special meeting: separate meeting of a society held at a different time than its regular meeting, convened only to consider one or more items specified in a call of the meeting (91)
  • Adjourned meeting: a meeting in continuation of the previous regular or special meeting, scheduled at a particular time by the assembly's having adjourned until then (93)

Section 10: The main motion (pp. 100-125)

Section 11: Postpone indefinitely (pp. 126-130)

Section 12: Amend (pp. 130-167)

A member can propose to amend

  • a main motion (if pending); this results in a primary amendment
  • a primary amendment to a motion (if pending); this results in a secondary amendment, or an "amendment to the amendment" (131-132).

The secondary amendment cannot be amended (132).

Amendments can

  • Insert or add (words or paragraphs)
  • Strike out (words or paragraphs)
  • Strike out and insert (words in a single sentence, or occasionally two or more sentence that are part of a single paragraph)
  • Substitute (text in one or more paragraphs, 134-135)


  • An amendment must be germane: closely related to or having bearing on the subject of the motion to be amended (131).
  • No new subject can be introduced under the pretext of being an amendment (131; see also pp. 135-136).

Voting on amendments

  • The assembly votes first on the wording of amendments and then on the amended motions themselves.
  • "In stating the question on each motion in any series involving amendments, and again when putting the motion to vote, the chair should take care that the members understand which motion is under immediate consideration, as well as the effect of adopting or rejecting it." The chair may find it advisable to employ three steps:
    • state the question (‘It is moved and seconded that ...')
    • read the motion as it would stand if amendment were adopted (‘If the amendment is adopted, the main motion will read ...')
    • make clear once more that it is the amendment that is under immediate consideration (‘The question is on ..,').
  • After taking the vote on the amendment, the chair announces the result and states the question that consequently becomes immediately pending (e.g. ‘The ayes have it and the amendment is adopted. The question now is on the main motion as amended: [reads it]'; 142-143).

Section 13: Commit or refer (pp. 168-179)

Commit or refer: send a pending question to a small group or committee (168)

Section 14: Postpone to a certain time (or definitely) (pp. 179-191)

  • It is not in order to postpone a class of business composed of several items or subjects, such as reports of officers or committees, but each report can be postponed separately as it is announced or called for (184).
  • If it is desired to reach an item immediately but it falls at a later point in the regular order of business, the assembly, by a two-thirds vote or unanimous consent, can adopt either a motion to ‘suspend the rules and take up' the desired question, or a motion ‘to pass' one or more items or classes of subjects in the order of business (184).
  • After a question taken up out of its proper order by either of these methods has been disposed of, the regular order of business is resumed at the point where it was left off (184-185).
  • There are several ways to postpone a question or issue. A member can move, for example, "to postpone the question until after the guest speaker's address," or "to postpone the question to the next meeting and be made a special order" (189).7

Section 15: Limit or extend limits of debate (pp. 191-197)

  • A motion can limit debate by
    • reducing the number or length of speeches permitted
    • requiring that, at a certain time (e.g. 5 p.m.) or after a certain length of time (e.g. 30 minutes) in a meeting, debate shall be closed (191).
  • A motion can extend the limit of debate by adopting an order to take such action. For example, "I move that at 5 p.m. debate be closed and the question on the resolution put to a voted" (191).
  • If the motion receives a second, the chair states the question. It can be adopted by unanimous consent or a two-thirds vote; otherwise it is lost (196-197).

Section 16: Previous question (pp. 197-209)

  • The previous question: motion to bring the assembly to an immediate vote on the pending question (197).
  • Ordering the previous question immediately closes debate on (and prohibits amendments to) the pending question (197).
  • It requires a second and two-thirds vote (200).
  • Once the member gains the floor, makes the motion, and receives a second, the chair does not ask ‘Are you ready for the question?' but must put the question to the assembly: ‘Those in favor of putting the previous question on [the motion], rise ...' (207). This vote determines whether debate continues or whether the assembly votes on the pending motion (208).

Section 17: Lay on the table (pp. 209-218)

Section 18: Call for the orders of the day (pp. 219-224)

  • Call for the orders of the day: a privileged motion by which a member can require the assembly to conform to its order of business, unless two thirds of those voting wish to do otherwise (219).
  • A member may move that the rules be suspended and a desired question taken up (223).
  • The assembly by a two-thirds vote can set aside the orders of the day (221).

Section 19: Raise a question of privilege (pp. 224-230)

Section 20: Recess (pp. 230-233)

Section 21: Adjourn (pp. 233-242)

Section 22: Fix the time to which to adjourn (pp. 242-246)

Section 23: Point of Order (pp. 247-255)

  • When a member think that the rules of the assembly are being violated, s/he can make raise a point of order, calling on the chair for a ruling and enforcement of the regular rules (247).
  • A point of order takes precedence over any pending questions (247).
  • It must be raised promptly at the time the breach occurs (250).

Section 24: Appeal (pp. 255-260)

  • The presiding officer has the authority and duty to make necessary rulings on questions of parliamentary law, but any two members have the right to appeal her/his decision on such a question (255).
  • By one member making the appeal and another seconding it, the question is taken from the chair and vested in the assembly for final decision (256).

Section 25: Suspend the rules (pp. 260-267)

  • When an assembly wishes to do something during a meeting it cannot do without violating one or more of its regular rules (parliamentary authority , standing rules, or special rules of order), it can adopt a motion to suspend the rules interfering with the proposed action (260).
  • Suspension of some rules (e.g. parliamentary authority) requires a two-thirds vote; others (e.g. standing rule) require a majority vote (265; see tinted pages 26-27).
  • A motion to take up a question out of its proper order is an example (261). A member may move, for instance, to ‘suspend the rules and take up the report of the Building Committee.' If approved, when the matter taken up out of its proper order has been disposed of, the chair must return to the regular order or business (262).
  • Rules protecting a basic right of the individual member cannot be suspended. Rules cannot be suspended as to deny any particular member the right to make motions, speak in debate, or vote. These basic rights may be curtailed only by disciplinary action (taken by the assembly, 264; see section 61).

Section 26: Objection to the consideration of a question (pp. 267-270)

Section 27: Division of a question (pp. 270-276)

Section 28: Consideration by paragraph or seriatim (pp. 276-280)

Section 29: Division of the assembly (pp. 280-282)

Section 30: Motions relating to methods of voting and the polls (pp. 283-286)

Section 31: Motions relating to nominations (pp. 287-289)

Section 32: Request to be excused from a duty (pp. 289-292)

Section 33: Requests and inquiries (pp. 292-299)

In connection with business in a meeting, members may wish to obtain information. These requests can be applied in reference to any motion or parliamentary situation out of which they arise. All are in order when another has the floor if they require immediate attention.

  • Parliamentary inquiry: a question directed to the presiding officer to obtain information on the rules bearing on business at hand (p. 293).
  • Request for information: a question directed to the presiding officer (or through her/him to another member) for information relevant to the business at hand (but not related to parliamentary procedure; pg. 294).

Section 34: Take from the table (pp. 300-304)

Section 35: Amend something previously adopted (pp. 305-310)

Section 36: Discharge a committee (pp. 310-315)

Section 37: Reconsider (pp. 315-335)

Section 38: Renewal of motions (pp. 336-342)

Section 39: Dilatory and improper motions (pp. 342-344)

A motion is dilatory if it seeks to obstruct or thwart the will of the assembly as clearly indicated by the existing parliamentary situation. Any motion that is frivolous or absurd is dilatory and cannot be introduced. It is the duty of the presiding officer to prevent members from misusing the legitimate forms of motions merely to obstruct business. If the chair becomes convinced that one or more members are repeatedly using parliamentary forms for dilatory purposes, s/he should either not recognize those members or should rule that the motions are out of order (343).

Section 40: Quorum (pp. 345-351)

  • A quorum in an assembly is the number of members who must be present in order that business can be validly transacted (345).
  • In a deliberative assembly whose bylaws do not specify a quorum, the quorum is a majority of all the members (346).
  • The prohibition against transacting business in the absence of a quorum cannot be waived even by unanimous consent (348).
  • If there is important business that should not be delayed until the next regular meeting the assembly should fix the time for an adjourned meeting and then adjourn (348).
  • If, instead, the members present take action informally in the absence of a quorum they do so at their own risk. Although the assembly can later ratify their action, it is under no obligation to do so (348).
  • Before the presiding officer calls a meeting to order, it is her/his duty to determine that a quorum is present (349).
  • If the chair notices the absence of a quorum, it is her/his duty to declare the fact, at least before taking any vote or stating the question on any new motion. Any member noticing the apparent absence of a quorum can make a point of order to that effect (349).
  • Debate on a question already pending can be allowed to continue at length after a quorum is no longer present until a member raises the point (349).

Section 41: Order of business, orders of the day, agenda or program (pp. 351-375)

  • The customary or ‘standard' order of business compromises the following subdivisions:
    1. approval of minutes
    2. reports of officers, boards, and standing committees8
    3. reports of special (select or ad hoc) committees
    4. special orders
    5. unfinished business and general orders
    6. new business (353).
  • In organizations that have adopted this book as parliamentary authority and that have not adopted a special order of business, this series of headings is the prescribed order of business for regular meetings (353).
  • Any particular item of business can be taken up out of its proper order by adopting a motion to suspend the rules by a two-thirds vote. An important committee report or an urgent item of new business can be advanced in order to assure its full and hurried consideration (363).
  • The chair himself cannot depart from the prescribed order of business, which only the assembly can do by at least a two thirds vote. This is an important protection in cases where some of the members principally involved in a particular question may be unable to be present through an entire meeting (364).

Section 42: Rules governing assignment on the floor (pp. 376-385)

Section 43: Rules governing debate (pp. 385-399)


  • Every member of the assembly has the right to speak to every debatable motion before it is finally acted upon; and subject only to general limitations on debate established by parliamentary law, this right cannot be interfered with except by a two-thirds vote (385-386).
  • In an organization that has no special rule relating to the length of speeches, a member can speak no longer than ten minutes unless s/he obtains the consent of the assembly (387).
  • Unless the assembly has a special rule providing otherwise, no member can speak more than twice to the same question on the same day. Merely asking a question or making a brief suggestion is not counted as speaking in debate (388).


  • When a question is pending, a member can condemn the nature or consequences of the proposed measure in strong terms, but s/he must avoid personalities and not attack the motives of another member. The measure, not the member, is the subject of debate (392).
  • Members of an assembly should not address one another directly, but must address all remarks through the chair (392).
  • As much as possible, the use of names of members should be avoided in a debate (393).

Presiding officer

  • If the presiding officer is a member of the society, s/he has - as an individual - the same rights in debate as any other member; but the impartiality required of the chair in an assembly precludes her/his exercising these rights while s/he is presiding. Normally, especially in a large body, s/he should have nothing to say on the merits of pending questions (394).
  • On certain occasions - which should be extremely rare - the presiding officer may believe that a crucial factor relating to a question has been overlooked and that it is her/his obligation as a member to call attention to the point outweighs her/his duty to preside at that time. To participate in debate, s/he must relinquish the chair; and in such case s/he should turn the chair over (394-395).
  • The presiding officer who relinquished the chair should not return to it until the pending main question has been disposed of, since he has shown himself to be a partisan as far as that particular matter is concerned. Indeed, unless a presiding officer is extremely sparing in leaving the chair to take part in the debate, s/he may destroy members' confidence in the impartiality of his approach to the task of presiding (395).

Section 44: Bases for determining a voting result (pp. 400-406)

Section 45: Voting procedure (pp. 406-429)

  • It is a fundamental principle of parliamentary law that the right to vote is limited to the members of an organization who are actually present at the time the vote is taken in a regular or properly called meeting, although it should be noted that a member need not be present when the question is put.
  • Exceptions to this rule must be expressly stated in the bylaws.
  • An organization should never adopt a bylaw procedure in which the votes of persons who attend a meeting are counted together with ballots mailed in by absentees. The votes of those present could be affected by debate, by amendments [etc.], while those absent would be unable to adjust their votes to reflect these factors. Consequently, the absentee ballots would in most cases be on a somewhat different question than that on which those present were voting, leading to confusion, unfairness, and inaccuracy in determining the result (423).
  • For some years, W&L faculty have allowed for an absentee ballot procedure in meetings.

Section 46: Nominations and elections (pp. 430-446)

Section 47: Officers (pp. 447-468)

  • The term the chair refers to the person in a meeting who is actually presiding at the time, whether that person is the regular presiding officer or not (448).
  • The same term also applies to the presiding officer's station in the hall from which he or she presides, which should not be permitted to be used by other members as a place from which to make reports or speak in debate during a meeting (448).
  • In assemblies where committee chairs or others will require a lectern for their papers, another lectern on the side of the platform or on the floor at the front should be provided so that the chair can maintain her/his presiding location (449).
  • Whenever a motion is made that refers only to the presiding officer in a capacity not shared in common with other members, or that commends or censures him with others, he should turn the chair over during the assembly's consideration of that motion, just as he would in a case where he wishes to take part in a debate (451).
  • The practice in some organizations of permitting the chair of a committee to preside over the assembly or put the question to vote during the presentation and consideration of the committee's report violates numerous principles of parliamentary law related to the chair's appearance of impartiality and the inappropriateness of her/his entering into debate, not to speak of the regular presiding officer's duty to preside (453).

Section 48: Minutes and reports of officers (pp. 468-480)

Section 49: Boards (pp. 481-489)

Section 50: Committees (pp. 489-503)

  • Ordinary committee: a body elected or appointed by an assembly or society to consider, investigate, or take action on certain matters or subjects. Unlike a board, a committee is not itself considered to be a form of assembly (489).
  • An assembly can designate all of its members present to act as a committee, which is called a committee of the whole. In large assemblies, this is a convenient method of considering a question when it is desired to allow each member to speak an unlimited number of times in debate (489-490; see section 52).

Section 51: Reports of Boards and Committees (pp. 503-529)

Reporting member

  • The report of a board or committee to an assembly is presented at the proper time by a reporting member of the board or committee (506).
  • In the case of a committee, the committee chair is the reporting member unless - because s/he does not agree with the report or for any other reason - s/he does not wish to give it, in which even the committee chooses another one of its members (506).
  • If a report contains a recommendation, the reporting member usually makes the necessary motion to implement it. No second is required (507). The issue is then treated as a main motion subject to debate etc. (509).


  • Committee reports should usually be submitted in writing. They should be worded in the third person (509).
  • If a written committee report is of considerable importance, it should be signed by all members concurring. Otherwise, the committee can authorize its chair to sign the report alone, in which case s/he adds the term chair after her/his signature. By so signing, the committee chair certifies that the report has been adopted by the committee (512).
  • The use of the term respectfully submitted is no longer customary (512).
  • If the order of business has made no provision for committee reports, the reporting member should obtain the floor when no business is pending and, addressing the chair, inform the assembly that the committee has agreed on a report that s/he is prepared to submit. The chair can direct the member to proceed or, if anyone objects to the report's reception, puts the question to the assembly (‘Shall the report be received now?' aye/no; majority vote). If the vote is in the negative, a later time for the reception of the report should be set (513).
  • In some cases, a minority report is prepared. It expresses views of committee members not concurring with the committee report (or any part of it). A minority report may begin: ‘The undersigned, a minority of the committee appointed to ... not agreeing with the majority, desire to express their views in the case ..." A minority report may conclude with proposed action (e.g. recommend rejection or amendment of the resolution) or be for information only. It is customary to receive the minority report immediately after the report of the committee. The assembly can refuse permission to hear the minority report if it wishes only to hear conclusions of the majority (527-528).

Section 52: Committee of the whole and its alternate forms (pp. 529-542)

Committee of the whole

  • The committee of the whole enables the full assembly to give detailed consideration to a matter under conditions of freedom approximating those of a committee (529).
  • Any member can speak in debate as often as s/he is able to get the floor but (as under the regular rules of debate) cannot speak another time on the same question so long as a member who has not spoken on it is seeking the floor (529-530).
  • A committee of the whole is suited to large assemblies (100 or more members, 530).
  • Any votes taken are recommendations to, not final decisions of, the assembly (530).
  • While in a committee of the whole, a chair of the committee is appointed and the regular presiding officer leaves the chair so that, being disengaged from any difficulties that may arise in the committee, s/he is in a position to preside effectively during final consideration by the assembly (530).
  • The process of going into a committee of the whole is the same as committing a matter to a regular committee (motion, second, majority vote; chair of the assembly appoints a chair for the committee; 531-534).
  • When the committee of the whole has completed consideration of the matter referred to it, when it wishes to bring the meeting to an end, or when it wishes the assembly to take an action, the committee rises and reports. On a motion or by unanimous consent, the presiding officer of the assembly resumes the chair position; the committee chair reports to her/him (for example): ‘The committee of the whole has had under consideration ... and has directed me to report ...' (535)

Quasi committee of the whole

  • convenient in meetings of medium size (about 50-100 members, 530).
  • This arrangement is the same as a committee of the whole except that the presiding officer of the assembly remains in the chair and presides (530).

Informal consideration

  • suited to small meetings or ordinary societies (530).
  • It removes limitations on the number of times members can speak in debate (530).
  • The presiding officer remains in the chair, and the results of votes taken during informal consideration are decisions of the assembly (not voted on again, 531).
  • When it is desired to consider a question informally, a member makes the motion, ‘I move that the question be considered informally' (second; 540).
  • Informal consideration can be brought to an end through majority vote on a motion that the ‘regular rules of debate be in force' or that ‘the question be considered formally' (541).

Section 53: Mass meetings (pp. 543-553)

Mass meeting: single gathering of an unorganized group (543).

Section 54: Organization of a permanent society (pp. 553-561)

Section 55: Merger, consolidation, and dissolution of societies (pp. 561-564)

Section 56: Content and composition of bylaws (pp. 565-591)

Section 57: Amendment of bylaws (pp. 592-599)

Section 58: Conventions of delegates (pp. 600-607)

Section 59: Organization of a convention of an established society (pp. 607-640)

Section 60: Conventions not of a permanent society (pp. 640-642)

Section 61: Discipline of members and guests (pp. 643-650)

The chair

  • Under no circumstances should the chair attempt to drown out a disorderly member or permit him/herself to be drawn into a verbal duel (645).
  • If a member commits only a slight breach of order - such as failing to confine his/her remarks to the merits of the pending question - the chair simply raps lightly, points out the fault, and advises the member to avoid it. The member can then continue speaking (645).
  • If the offense is more serious - as when a member repeatedly questions the motives of other members whom s/he mentions by name, or persists in speaking on completely irrelevant matters in debate - the chair normally would first warn the member (645-646).
  • In cases of obstinate or grave breach of order by a member, the chair can, after repeated warnings, ‘name' the offender. Before taking such action, when it begins to appear that it may become necessary, the chair should direct the secretary to take down objectionable or disorderly words used by the member. This direction of the chair, and the words taken down pursuant to it, are entered into the minutes only if the chair finds it necessary to name the offender (646).
  • If the member denies having said anything improper, the words recorded by the secretary can be read to him/her (647).

The assembly

  • With or without a warning from the chair, any member can all another ‘member to order' (646).
  • If the offender had the floor, the chair should clearly state the breach and put the question to the assembly: ‘Shall the member be allowed to continue speaking?' (646)
  • Although the chair has no authority to impose a penalty or to order the offending member removed from the hall, the assembly has that power (646).
  • On the demand of a single member (except the named offender) a vote on imposing a penalty must be taken by ballot, unless the penalty proposed is only that the offender be required to leave the hall for all or part of the remainder of the meeting (647-648).

Section 62: Removal from office and other remedies for dereliction of duty in office or misconduct (pp. 650- 654)

  • If the chair at a meeting acts improperly, a point of order may be raised, and from the chair's decision an appeal may be taken. This procedure enables the majority to ensure enforcement of the rules (650).
  • If the chair ignores a point of order that is not dilatory, the member can repeat the point of order a second and third time. If the chair still ignores it, the member, standing in her/his place, can immediately put the point of order to a vote without debate. The question may be put to the assembly as ‘Is the point of order that ... well taken?' (650-651)
  • If the chair fails to act in accordance with the assembly's decision on an appeal (or on a point of order submitted to a vote of the assembly) or otherwise culpably fails to perform the duties of the chair properly in a meeting, the assembly may employ measures temporarily to replace the chair with another presiding officer expected to act in accordance with the will of the assembly (651).

Section 63: Investigation and trial (pp. 654-669)

Charts, tables, and lists: Tinted pages following page 670


2Robert's Rules prescribe use of the third person and communication through the chair. In practice, W&L faculty meetings do not always hew to these expectations. While clearly favoring formality, Robert's Rules also acknowledge potential benefits and drawbacks, saying that a chair "should never be more technical or more strict than is necessary for the good of the meeting. Good judgement is essential. The assembly may be of such a nature, through its unfamiliarity with parliamentary usage and its peaceable disposition, that strict enforcement of the rules, instead of assisting, would greatly hinder business. But in large assemblies where there is much work to be done, and especially where there is likelihood of trouble, the only safe course is to require a strict observance of the rules" (456).

3In debate, members should speak for or against the motion. They may also make a point of inquiry (requesting information) or move to amend the motion.


5Subsidiary motion to postpone indefinitely, Section 11, pp. 126-130. A member cannot make this motion while another has the floor. It must be seconded. It can be debated, but cannot be amended. A majority vote is required to adopt this motion. It can only be voted on in the affirmative (Tinted appendix pp. 22-23)

6Incidental motion objecting to the consideration of a question: a member can make this motion while another has the floor (until debate has begun or a subsidiary motion other than lay on the table has been stated by the chair). It does not require a second, is not debatable, and is not amendable. Two-thirds must vote against consideration to sustain the objection. It can only be voted on in the negative (see ‘sustaining the objection,' tinted pages 20-21).

7Orders of the day

  • General order: regular item for business (364)
  • Special order: an order of the day made with the stipulation that any rules interfering with its consideration at a specific time be suspended (with some exceptions, like preceding special orders or questions of privilege, 364-365).

8Following a committee report, the chair may offer to entertain questions. Members can make points of inquiry; if the committee chair made a motion, members may speak in favor of or opposition to it, or move to amend it.