Note from Chris Minson on Parliamentary Procedures in the Senate

From: “Christopher Minson” <minson>

Hello Fellow Senators,

I apologize for not getting this out to you earlier. My plan is to place the following commentary on the Blog for comment, once I figure out how to upload a new posting. Since this is coming the day of the next Senate meeting, I thought it best to send it out via email. I do apologize for adding to your inbox and possibly breaking from standard procedure if I have done so.

Although I am a new senator, I previously served on the Senate from 2005-2007. There are a number of changes that I have noticed in the way Senate meetings are run that I believe need to be clarified to the entire Senate, as there seems to be some confusion on these issues.

  1. Voting Rules. At our last meeting, a senator (from Math I believe, but I might be mistaken) questioned what “two-thirds” means, in the context of a majority to pass a motion. I understood his questions to mean “two-thirds of what”? This could mean two-thirds of all Senators, two-thirds of those present, or two-thirds of those who voted. My understanding is that there are no absentee ballots allowed, and that the two-thirds majority is only of the senators of those who voted and are currently present. This could have been clarified, and I felt as though our fellow senator’s question was dismissed. A second issue here concerns abstention. Typically (I think) an abstention means your vote does not count at all, and does not go against a two-thirds majority, but this is not always the case. In my previous time on the Senate, we did allow abstention, and in many cases I think it is important to the individual as well as to the voting record (see additional comments below).
  1. Voting Transparency. As indicated in my point above, I also think there is a need for voting transparency. If we are to be considered a legitimate Senate, our voting record needs to accurately reflect how senators voted. A motion passing unanimously versus barely passing may be meaningful in future years, as well as to provide a more clear indication of the current thinking on campus on a certain topic. All votes should be counted by two people to confirm an accurate count (including abstentions, in my opinion) and it should be made clear how many senators are present and what constitutes a two-thirds majority. This should be articulated to the senators present, and recorded.
  1. Presentation of Motions. There does not appear to be a standard process by which motions are presented to the Senate. At our last meeting, two motions were presented to the Senate, and representatives from both attended the meeting. In one case, the Senate President read the motion to the Senate (with editorializing comments), and in the second, the group presenting the motion was allowed to present. I think there needs to be clarity on this issue and equal opportunity given to those who present a motion to the Senate.
  1. Role of the Senate President. I commented at our last meeting that it was my memory that the Senate President should allow the Senate Vice President (or someone else) to step in if the Senate President wishes to provide their own opinions on an issue, especially on a motion or topic that they hold a strong bias. This seemed to be standard protocol when I previously served on the Senate, and I believe it is essential to the keeping the process fair. This includes (as indicated above) the presentation of motions, managing the discussion of motions, and having a second person counting votes to determine whether a motion is passed. This is not to suggest I do not trust the Senate leadership, but is an attempt to increase transparency, maintain a fair process, and reduce the potential for any perception of bias by the Senate leadership.

Thanks for reading.


Christopher T. Minson, Ph.D.
Singer Professor of Human Physiology
University of Oregon
122 Esslinger Hall
Eugene, OR 97403-1240
Phone: (541) 632-4151
email: minson





One thought on “Note from Chris Minson on Parliamentary Procedures in the Senate”

  1. Sorry about this. We are still getting down our parliamentary protocol.

    My personal feeling is that there is a fine line between keeping a meeting moving forward productively and getting bogged down in parliamentary procedures. It would be all too easy to limit the effectiveness of the Senate by literal insistence on every provision in Robert’s Rules of Order. Nonetheless, these provisions do exist and we are bound by them. I’m certain I will make parliamentary mistakes moving forward, and I am happy to be corrected on them either in real time or after the fact.

    Our Parliamentarian has ruled that on bylaws changes, the proper vote for accepting a motion is at least 2/3 of the members present. However, the votes for both bylaws changes at the last Senate meeting surpassed 2/3 of the entire voting membership of the Senate, so regardless of the interpretation of the provision for voting on bylaws, the motions were approved.

Leave a Reply