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Comments from the Floor

What belongs in the minutes?

November 1, 2020 | Tyler Silvestri, Secretary for Academic Governance

Some members of the Faculty Senate, University Council, and Steering Committee have expressed concerns about the content of minutes. Specifically, some would prefer that they include summaries of the debate surrounding motions, as well as summaries of remarks given by the president, provost, chairperson, and others. 

But the content of minutes is not a matter of personal preference. The purpose of this policy statement is to explain what Robert’s Rules of Order requires secretaries to include in minutes, along with the process for changing the standard content therein. 

Section 8.1 of the Bylaws for Academic Governance states, “The academic governance bodies established by these Bylaws shall follow the current edition of Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised unless otherwise specified in these Bylaws.” The Bylaws make no mention of the content of minutes. Therefore, Robert's Rules of Order controls. 

Robert's Rules are clear: “The minutes should contain mainly a record of what was done at the meeting, not what was said by the members.[1]

The minutes I have prepared since becoming secretary comply with the requirements found in Robert's Rules. Moreover, “The name and subject of a guest speaker can be given, but no effort should be made to summarize [their] remarks.”[2] 

Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised - In Brief (3rd ed.),[3] the official companion to Robert's Rules, sums it up nicely:  

Frequently, secretaries make unneeded work for themselves by putting far more into the minutes than is required or appropriate. The most frequent mistakes are trying to summarize the reports offered and arguments made in debate. . .. The minutes do not include the contents of the reports of officers or committees, except as may be necessary to cover motions arising out of them.


Per Robert's Rules of Order, “To modify the rules governing what is regularly to be included in the minutes requires adoption of a special rule of order, although a majority vote may direct the inclusion of specific additional information in the minutes of a particular meeting.”[4]  

Furthermore, adopting a special rule of order “requires either (a) previous notice and a two-thirds vote or (b) a vote of a majority of the entire membership.”[5] 

Following a valid directive from an academic governance body, Office of Academic Governance staff will happily change the standard content of minutes they prepare. As I explained at the October 13, 2020 University Council meeting,  

In the absence of a directive to the contrary, we are moving toward more edited transcripts that take a while and are resource- and staff-intensive but are better for the historical record, while simultaneously making our minutes comply with Robert's Rules of Order, because all of our happenings have to comply with Robert's Rules of Order.  I wanted to bring it up because I know it is an issue for some people that they feel strongly about, and so I wanted to make sure that my office’s plan for minutes was clear to the body. And because you can adopt a special rule of order saying, “No, we want you to do your best to summarize.” That is an option you have. But I wanted to make you aware of my office’s plan currently. And you could make a motion today. You could make a motion at the next meeting. You could, at any time, change your mind. But I wanted to make you aware of why things are the way they are currently and your ability to tell me to do something else.[6] 

[1] RONR (12th ed.) § 48:2 (emphasis in original).

[2] RONR (12th ed.) § 48:5(6).

[3] Pages 148 and 150 (emphasis mine).

[4] RONR (12th ed.) § 48:3).

[5] RONR (12th ed.) § 2:22.

[6] (Cleaned up) See 1:42:27 – 1:43:35 of the video of that meeting.