Parliamentary Procedure:
Toward the Good Order of the University

Advice from Dr. John A. Cagle,
Parliamentarian of the Academic Senate
and Professor Emeritus of Communication
at California State University, Fresno

The parliamentary authority for California State University, Fresno is Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised (11th ed.).

This website is provided as a community service. The homepage provides basic instruction on important topics in Parliamentary Procedure, an opportunity to ask a real Parliamentarian questions, and a link to Questions & Answers I have received and given. I have tried to make this a user-friendly environment. This homepage contains all the instructional material and while it takes longer to load, moving from place to place within it is easy and quick.

iPad & iPhones:  Rick Turton at Pacific Leisure and I have created an alternative site adapted for iPad, iPhone, and similar mobile devices. 
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This website was last edited 21 April 2021.


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Cagle's Answers

If you would like to read answers to common questions and problems, click on the   area you'd like to know about:

Abstentions and Effect on Voting

Conflict in Meetings and Organizations

Organizing, Reorganizing, and Renewal

Appointed Positions


Preventing Hostile Amendments

Board of Directors vs. The Members

Invalid Motions



Meeting rules, Proper Notice of Bylaw Amendment

Robert's, Sturgis, and other manuals

Calling the Question


Tie Votes

Can the chair debate and vote?

Minority Report

Voting, majority v. 2/3, proxy voting

Changing Things Previously Adopted


Voting, confidentiality, and executive session

Use at your own risk. If internet or these principles mess up your meetings or organization, please don't blame cyberme.

List of topics

Making Meetings Work

1. Effective meetings require planning in advance, both on the part of the person who chairs them and of the people who participate.

2. Do not have a meeting unless it is necessary.

3. Don't engage in political game playing or parliamentary maneuvering. Members must commit themselves to the group purpose.

4. Listen to what others at the meeting have to say.

5. Make sure you understand the reason for a meeting and do your homework in accordance with this understanding.

6. Actively engage in the discussion.

7. Recognize that five kinds of knowledge are all needed for a successful meeting participant:

8. Be sure the purpose of each meeting, and each item on the agenda, is clear to the members:

9. Be sensitive to the physical, informational, and social needs of others.

10. Suggest committee work when an issue is too big for the group or the group hasn't adequately considered the topic. Demand hard work and good reports from the committee.

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Basic Principles

1. Parliamentary procedure exists to facilitate the transaction of business and to promote cooperation and harmony.

2. All members have equal rights, privileges, and obligations.

3. A quorum must be present for the group to act.

4. Full and free discussion of every motion considered is a basic right.

5. Only one question at a time can be considered at any given time.

6. Members have the right to know at all times what the immediately pending question is, and to have it restated before a vote is taken.

7. No member can speak until recognized by the chair.

8. No one can speak a second time on the same question as long as another wants to speak a first time.

9. The chair should be strictly impartial.

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Handling a motion.

Three steps by which a motion is brought before the group

1. A member makes a motion.

2. Another member seconds the motion.

3. The chair states the question on the motion.

Three steps in the consideration of a motion

1. The members debate the motion (unless no member claims the floor for that purpose).

2. The chair puts the question to a vote.

A. The chair restates the question.

B. The chair takes the vote:

"All in favor of the motion, say aye."

"Those opposed, say no."

3. The chair announces the result of a vote. A complete announcement should include:

A. Report on the voting itself, stating which side prevailed (and giving the count if a count prevailed).

B. Declaration that the motion is adopted or lost.

C. Statement indicating the effect of the vote or ordering its execution.

D. Where applicable, announcement of the next item of business or stating the question of the next motion that consequently comes up for a vote.

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Basic Methods of Voting

Voice vote A vote by voice is the regular method of voting on any question that does not require more than a majority vote for its adoption.

Rising vote Used principally when a voice vote has produced an inconclusive result and as the normal method of voting on motions requiring a two-thirds vote, members indicate their vote by standing.

Show of hands As an alternative to the voice vote or as a way to verify an inconclusive result, members show their vote by raising their hand. A vote by show of hands should be limited to very small meetings.

Other methods which may be ordered:

Ballot Voting by ballot is used when secrecy of the member's votes is desired. Voting by ballot is sometimes required in certain cases by the bylaws of an organization. Any vote relating to charges or proposed charges against a member or an officer should always be by ballot.

Roll call A roll call vote has the effect of placing on record how each member votes. It should not be used when members are not responsible to a constituency.

Bases for determining a voting result

Majority vote The basic requirement for approval for action, except where a rule provides otherwise, is a majority vote. The term "majority" means "more than half," excluding blanks and abstentions, at a properly called meeting with a quorum.

Two-thirds vote Two-thirds vote means at least two-thirds of the votes cast, excluding blanks and abstentions, at a properly called meeting with a quorum.


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Rules Governing Debate

The term debate applies to the discussion on the merits of a pending question.

[Note that less formal rules apply to boards and committees. Also, smaller groups may relax the formality of these rules.]

1. A member may not speak until recognized by the chair.

2. When no special rule relating to the length of speeches is adopted by the group, a member can speak no longer than ten minutes unless the consent of the group is obtained.

3. Rights in debate are not transferable. A member cannot yield an unexpired portion of his/her time to another member (the chair controls who speaks) or reserve any portion of time for later.

4. No member may be allowed to speak more than twice to the same question on the same day.

5. Proper decorum in debate must be observed:

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Boards and Committees

The rules for small committee and board meetings are different from the rules which apply to large meetings of assemblies or plenary bodies. The Associated Students Senate is a board of directors and probably its business is best transacted normally using the rules for boards. On the other hand, the Fresno State's Academic Senate is a much larger body and operates normally under general plenary rules, as would many student organizations (such as fraternities and sororities) at meetings.

1. Members are not required to obtain the floor before making motions or speaking, which they can do while seated.

2. Motions need not be seconded.

3. There is no limit to the number of times a member can speak to a question, and motions to close or limit debate generally are not allowed. [Note: In practice, even these motions are in fact usually allowed.]

4. Informal discussion of a subject is permitted while no motion is pending.

5. The chair can speak in discussion, make motions, and usually votes on all questions.

6. Sometimes, when a proposal is perfectly clear to all present, a vote can be taken without a motion's having been introduced. Unless agreed by general consent, however, all proposed actions of a committee must be approved by vote under the same rules as an assembly.

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Making Committees Work

A committee, as understood in parliamentary law, is a body of one or more persons, elected or appointed by an assembly to consider, investigate, or take action on certain matters or subjects, or to do all these.

To function effectively, a committee, and especially its chair, needs to have

1. A list of committee members.

2. A copy of the motion or problem referred to the committee.

3. Special instructions to the committee, if any. These instructions should include a statement of exactly what the committee is expected to do, and whether the question is referred to it for discussion, study, hearings, investigations, recommendations, or action.

4. A statement of the powers and duties of the committee.

5. Copies of all papers or correspondence relating to the subject assigned to the committee.

6. Copies of any rules, policies, or decisions of the organization relating to the subject.

7. Information on the type of report desired and the date set for its presentation.

Reports from committees should minimally contain

1. A statement of the charge to the committee

2. A statement of the methods employed by the committee in accomplishing its charge.

3. A summary of information gathered or work done.

4. A statement of conclusions or findings.

5. A specific recommendation, together with a rationale for that recommendation.

6. The names of the members on the committee.

7. A summary (often called an "executive summary" at the beginning of the report is helpful for long reports.

The next section elaborates the nature and content of committee reports.

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The Committee Report

By whom should the report be prepared? Usually a member of the committee (often the chair or a recorder, but it could be anyone) prepares a draft of the report. All members of the committee should be given opportunity to review and revise the dra ft before it is submitted. It is not the drafter's work product, but the product of the entire committee.

To whom should be report be made? In most cases the committee is addressed to the appointing or supervising authority. Occasionally, particularly at the direction of the authority, a report may go to other individuals or organizations.

What form should the report take? There is no universally mandatory form, but some principles help guide us. Reports should go forward with a written and an oral report; both should be planned carefully to be effective. Exactly what goes into each depends on a large number of factors: the audience, the nature of the problem and the solution, time available, how much information is needed by the higher authority for decision making, and so forth. The report should be prepared and organized to accomplish two ends: (1) to persuade the higher authority to adopt the report & its recommendations and (2) to facilitate the decision-making of the higher authority. A reports need not necessarily be long (being too long may discourage anyone from reading it), but needs to be long enough to competently and persuasively present the plan and justify it to the higher authority. Whatever format is decided upon, the report should meet high professional standards: typed, spell and grammar checked, etc.; a computer and printer makes this easier.

What content should the reports contain? The report should be written to have an impact on those who read it. After reading the content, the reader must be convinced the conditions the proposal seeks to remedy are serious enough to justify action , understand the details of the proposal and how it will remedy the problem conditions, and be assured that the proposal is practical, reasonable, and will bring no undesirable side outcomes. The reader must also believe the proposal is the best alternative. Although the content and organization of the content is flexible and should be adapted to each situation, several content elements are usually "necessary" to fulfill the functions of a report:

Executive Summary. Especially in longer reports (probably over 8 pages), it is a good idea to have an Executive Summary in which the whole report (including purpose, problem, solution, rationale, and recommendations) is summarized in a few paragraphs, not to exceed one page in length. Explain the purposes of the report. Is it an interim or final report? Is it to outline factual findings, conclusions, or recommendations? Is it to summarize actions of the committee or does it propose a project or program in solution to a problem?

Preamble. A preamble or introduction contains boilerplate information (such as the name of the committee and the names of the members), a statement of the charge or mission given to the committee (making the organizational context of the report clear), and a review of the procedures used in the problem solving process.

Background. The report should give needed background on the nature of the problem indicating a need for a solution. Succinctly and objectively, the committee's factual findings and conclusions about the nature of the problem, its causes, its effects, and related matters should be presented. Appropriate documentation should be given. If there is a large amount of material as a result of the committee's work, often this material is best summarized briefly in the report with supporting documents p laced in an appendix.

Proposed solution. The report should give a detailed presentation of the solution to the problem, including an implementation plan, organizational chart, and budget. An implementation plan can include such things as

1. Goals and objectives. Goals point to the qualitative ideals or values the solution supports; they inspire motive and enable unity of action. Objectives are the statement of particular activities which, if achieved, result in the accomplishment of the goals.
2. Statement of personnel. From goals and objectives, we derive particular tasks that can be done by particular individuals. Often an organization chart makes clear the various task roles and their interrelationships. Reports should make clear w hat people will be assigned to which tasks and task roles.
3. Space, materials, and logistics. The proposal must make clear what resources are needed, including facilities, communications, computers, telephone, mailing, etc.
4. Finances and budget. Linked to the above, the costs of the program (personnel, materials, mailing, gasoline, etc.) should be clearly and accurately projected. If possible, the plan should also indicate the source of funds.
5. Time. The report should project a timetable for the accomplishment of the various objectives and tasks to facilitate the operation of the plan. Who is to do what by when?
6. Evaluation and impact. Proposals are more likely to be approved if the higher authority has a clear idea of how to tell if the investment of time and money was worth it. Explain how to evaluate the success of the program. Specify who will be affected or inconvenienced by the new program.

Rationale. The report should make an argued defense of the proposed solution, generally including (1) how the plan will meet the need; (2) why the plan is desirable in light of relevant absolute and/or relative criteria; and (3) why the plan has advantages and fewer disadvantages compared to alternative responses to the problem, including doing nothing.

Recommendation. The report should clearly present a request for the higher authority to take some action on the work of the committee; sometimes this function is done in the Preamble. For example, if the committee's function is largely advisory, then the report should request that the committee be informed of actions or decisions on the matters covered in the report. If the committee's role was to provide information, then the request might be that the receipt of the information be acknowledged. If the committee's role was decision-making or action-taking, then the request should be for feedback to guide future work.

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1. Minutes are the official record of the proceedings of a deliberative assembly, board, or committee.

2. Robert’s says that minutes “should contain a record of what was done at a meeting, not what was said by the members.” 

3. As with other parliamentary rules and devices, minutes should serve the needs of the organization and its special character.  While the parliamentary rule advises not to put the flow of discussion and debate into minutes, in practice many organizations do in fact do just that.  In the minutes for an Academic Senate and many of its committees, for example, the minutes record not only the decisions (motions) but also the flow of discussion points, so that the rationale for decisions may be clear in the future.  The amount of such detail in minutes depends on the nature of the group and its custom.  Similarly, the minutes of many groups include comments and humorous remarks; while not technically correct, the “spirit of the group” may be enhanced and nourished by giving a personality to the minutes.

4. Who does the minutes?  Of course, the answer to this question varies with the group.  Normally a person is formally designated as the secretary or recorder to prepare the minutes.  In some groups, a staff member performs this function.  In some committees, the chair of the committee prepares the minutes. 

5.  The minutes are the property of the assembly, board, or committee.  As such, after the minutes are submitted to the members at a meeting, the members approve the minutes (by a formal vote or by consent as when the chair says, “If there are no corrections or objections, then the minutes will be approved as distributed”).  In practice often a draft of minutes is circulated among the members and interested parties (such as a person who presented a report at a meeting from a subcommittee) for corrections and improvements before the final and official minutes are distributed and acted upon by the group.

6.  The format should be appropriate for the group.  Each minutes should have the name of the group (board or committee), the date, time, and place of the meeting, the name of the chair and recorder for the meeting, a record of those attending the meeting, and whether the minutes of the previous meeting was approved (as read or as corrected).  The body of the minutes should contain a separate paragraph for each subject matter.  Motions and decisions should be clearly stated.  The secretary or recorder signs the minutes (especially the official record).

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Frequent Things You Want to Do

Objective Appropriate motion
Present an idea for consideration or action Main motion or Resolution; Consider subject informally
Improve a pending motion Amend; Division of the question
Regulate or cut-off debate Limit or extend debate; Previous question (vote immediately)
Delay a decision Refer to committee; Postpone definitely ; Postpone indefinitely (kills motion)
Suppress a proposal Object to consideration; Postpone indefinitely; Withdraw a motion
Meet an emergency Question of privilege; Suspend rules; Lay on the table
Gain information on a pending motion Parliamentary inquiry; Request for information; Question of privilege; Request to ask member a question
Question the decision of the chair Point of order; Appeal from decision of chair
Enforce rights and privileges Division of assembly; Division of question; Parliamentary inquiry; Point of order; Appeal from decision of chair
Consider a question again Resume consideration; Reconsider; Rescind
Change an action already taken Reconsider; Rescind; Amend motion previously adopted
Terminate a meeting Adjourn; Recess

This table was based on a table in Alice Sturgis's The Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure (3rd edition), but modified for motions in Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised.

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Table of Rules related to Motions

John A. Cagle, 2014 -- Based on Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised
Excel version for printing Table of Rules


MOTION (by order of precedence) Interrupt Second Debatable Amendable Vote
Adjourn No Yes No No Majority
Recess No Yes Sometimes Yes Majority
Question of Privilege Yes No No No Chair
Personal Privilege Yes No No No Chair
Parliamentary Inquiry Yes No No No Chair
Request for Information Yes No No No Chair
Orders of the Day No No No No Chair
Lay on the table No Yes No No Majority (2/3)
Previous Question No Yes No No 2/3
Limit or extend debate No Yes No Yes 2/3
Postpone to a certain time No Yes Yes Yes Majority
Refer to committee No Yes Yes Yes Majority
Amend No Yes If motion is Yes Majority
Postpone Indefinitely No Yes Yes No Majority
MAIN MOTION No Yes Yes Yes Majority
RECONSIDER Yes Yes If motion is No Majority
RESCIND No Yes Yes No 2/3 (majority)


MOTION (no order of precedence) Interrupt Second Debatable Amendable Vote
Appeal from decision of chair Yes Yes Sometimes No Majority
Suspend the rules No Yes No No 2/3
Object to consideration Yes No No No 2/3 against con.
Point of order Yes No No No Chair
Withdraw a motion Yes Yes No No Majority
Division of question No Yes No Yes Majority
Division of assembly Yes No No No None

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