Amending The Constitution and Bylaw
—Paul LaFollette, Faculty Senate Vice President and Associate Professor of Computer and Information Sciences, College of Science and Technology
Paul LaFollette ,
Faculty Senate Vice President
Where we are and how we got there
In May, 2009, we were suddenly made aware that the quorum requirements specified in the Bylaws of the Faculty Senate were unworkably large. Apparently, for many years nobody had bothered to check what constitutes a quorum, and we were blindly assuming that all was well.
All was not well. As we learned last May, the Bylaws at that time specified that a quorum for the University Senate consisted of 25% of its members, in excess of 600 people, and that a quorum for the representative senate consisted of 50% of its members. This amounts to 75 people plus half of the ex officio members. We have never met in a room that could accommodate 600 people, and have never in my memory had more than 100 members present at a University Senate meeting. It was therefore clear that there was no reasonable prospect of the University Senate conducting business. Furthermore, getting as many as the 80 or 90 Representative Senators together at once, while not impossible, was going to prove difficult. We concluded that it was necessary to amend the Bylaws to provide for more reasonable, attainable quotas.
Before I discuss the process we followed to achieve this, let me briefly discuss the structure of the Faculty Senate. There are, in fact, three nested bodies that represent all of the full-time faculty at Temple University. The University Senate consists of all tenured and tenure track faculty, as well as all full-time non-tenure track faculty who have been at Temple as full-time faculty members for the previous three years. Everybody who satisfies these criteria is automatically a University Senator. Each school or college at Temple is also permitted to elect a number of Representative Senators based upon the number of faculty in each school or college. There are a total of 150 Representative Senators, and they comprise the Representative Faculty Senate. Finally, the Faculty Senate Steering Committee is comprised of one member elected by each school or college. It also has four officers: a chairperson (who also serves as President of the Faculty Senate), a vice-chairperson (who also serves as Vice-President of the Faculty Senate), a secretary (who also serves as the Secretary of the Faculty Senate), and the immediate Past President of the Faculty Senate. Normally, the Steering Committee meets weekly, the Representative Faculty Senate meets monthly, and the University Senate meets once each semester. The University Senate has the power to undo any action taken by the Representative Senate.
If the Steering Committee wishes to attempt to amend the Bylaws, it can include a statement of the proposed amendment in the announcement of a regularly scheduled meeting of the Representative or University Senate. Under these circumstances, the amendment may be voted on at that meeting, and will go into effect if it is passed by 2/3 of those voting.
The Steering Committee began discussing the form of the changes that we wanted to make in our Bylaws in email. More substantial discussions continued during our regular meetings in the fall of 2009. We eventually decided to proceed in two steps. First we would propose an amendment to allow the kind of electronic balloting that we have been using for the past few years in place of mail ballots. There was considerable discussion about balancing the goal of inclusivity with the sense that the most knowledgeable voters are those who are present to hear and participate in debate. The final motion that we proposed attempted to find a compromise between these matters. It was presented to the University Senate at the September meeting, and passed.
The text of the motion which was passed is:
Motions to amend Senate Bylaws:
(Language proposed to be added to the current bylaws is underlined. Language proposed for removal from the current bylaws is shown [bracketed in red]. The complete Senate Constitution and Bylaws can be found at the Senate web site: http://www.temple.edu/senate/)
ARTICLE V MEETINGS Section 1:
The Senate shall meet regularly at an hour and day each month from September through May prescribed by the Steering Committee. The December and May meetings shall be meetings of the University Faculty Senate.
The Secretary shall send notification to every member [through the University post office] at least one week before the prescribed day. The December and May meetings shall be meetings of the University Faculty Senate. The Representative Faculty Senate shall meet monthly in between those sessions.
ARTICLE VI - ORDER Section 4:
The Steering Committee, either in preparing the agenda or in the meeting, may at its discretion determine that a written ballot, a mail ballot, or an electronic ballot shall be taken on any [question] matter. For any vote taken on any matter during a meeting, a [A] written ballot must be taken if requested by any senator. In the event of a mail or electronic ballot, a short statement summarizing critical arguments for and against the matter shall ordinarily be included.
Explanation (not part of the motion): These amendments are coming before the Representative Senate from the Faculty Senate Steering Committee. These amendments are updating the bylaws to reflect how the Steering Committee and Senate have been conducting business. Therefore, it is the intent of the Steering Committee that these amendments be submitted to the Representative Senate for a second reading and vote.
At this point, we began discussion of the actual proposed changes to the quorum. After considerable study of Robert's Rules of Order and some research into the ways in which other bodies choose a quorum, we came to the following conclusions.
We must choose a number of members who can be regularly expected to attend meetings, even if this turns out to be a fairly small percentage of the total number of eligible voters. Robert's Rules supports this point of view. It is better to specify a number than a percentage. Whether or not a particular number of members be present is easy to determine by counting. A percentage of the number of members may not be well defined.
We studied the attendance records of the Representative and University Senate meetings over the past four or five years. We chose for our quorums those numbers that represented our best estimate of expected attendance. We brought the proposed amendment to the Representative Senate in December of 2009.
The actual text of the motion was:
Motion to amend Senate Bylaws:
(Proposed language added to the current bylaw is underlined. Proposed language removed from the current bylaw is shown [bracketed in red]. The complete Senate Constitution and Bylaws can be found at the Senate web site: http://www.temple.edu/senate/)
ARTICLE V – MEETINGS Section 6:
A quorum of the University Faculty senate shall consist of [25%] 40 of the eligible members. A quorum of the Representative Faculty Senate for [the conduct of business] shall consist of [a majority of the] 25 eligible members. It shall be assumed, upon the call to order, that a quorum is present: the minutes shall be presented; but if, after presenting and before approval of the minutes, any member shall suggest the absence of a quorum, the [secretary shall call the roll.] presiding officer shall determine whether a quorum be present. [In the case of the University Faculty Senate a head count may suffice.] If no quorum be present, the [meeting] presiding officer shall determine [by majority vote] either to wait for the appearance of a quorum or to adjourn to a day not more than two weeks hence. In the event a quorum cannot be obtained, at the presiding officer's discretion, the meeting may continue informally for purposes of debate or discussion, but no formal action may be taken. A member may at any time after the approval of the minutes suggest the absence of a quorum, but the presiding officer may rule said suggestion out of order if, in the presiding officer’s opinion, a quorum is present.
Explanation (not part of the motion): This amendment is coming before the Representative Senate from the Faculty Senate Steering Committee. The purpose of the change is to insure that the Senate can conduct its business. The amendment (1) updates the bylaws to reflect typical Representative Senate and University Senate meeting attendance, (2) places the responsibility of determining quorum with the presiding officer. S/he may determine quorum through a head count, show of hands, roll call or any other method deemed appropriate. In the event a member of the meeting disagrees with the presiding officer’s ruling, Robert’s Rules specifies that the member may challenge the ruling. This challenge is voted on by those present and if the vote carries, the presiding officer’s ruling is set aside. This is applicable to any ruling from the presiding officer, not just rulings about quorum. It is not necessary to include this language in the motion because it is already in Robert’s Rules, which we must follow for any matter upon which our bylaws and constitution are silent.
This amendment was approved by the Representative Senate and is now a part of the Bylaws.
Where we are going
This exercise made us realize that it has been quite a long time since anybody carefully examined our governing documents. The Steering Committee has formed a committee to look at our Constitution and Bylaws and recommend changes which may modernize some of our procedures, resolve certain ambiguities and unclear passages, and reflect the changes that have taken place at Temple University during the years since last this exercise was undertaken. The Senate Handbook Committee is scheduled to begin meeting again soon, and we expect that there will be communication between the Constitution and Bylaws committee and the Handbook committee.