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Notes on Robert's Rules of Order

Prepared by Penny Gold, Chair Pro Tem, January 2010

Purpose of Robert's Rules

To promote fair and effective action in large deliberative bodies.

Origin of and Rationale for the Rules

Robert's Rules (1876) were based on parliamentary procedure as it was developed in England and brought over to the United States. The Rules are a set of procedures designed for a wide variety of non-legislative bodies.

The rules are democratic in origin and intent. They aim:

  • To protect the right of the minority to be heard while maintaining the right of the majority to decide;
  • To provide a structure for fairness in consideration of contested issues;
  • To guide full, open, and orderly discussion of issues.

While some of what we do in the faculty meeting is "informational," the point of the meeting, and the point of the rules, is to promote effective action; information provided is to this end. For example, we need the reports of officers and committees in order to have an informed base for action.

If you keep these principles in mind, then it is easier to understand the specifics of the rules. E.g., "calling the question" (moving the previous motion) has to pass by 2/3 because it is cutting off debate.

A "good" meeting is not necessarily characterized by fixation on the minutiae of the Rules, and some flexibility, particularly when things are going smoothly, is permissible. "The Rules were established in order to make meetings fair and equitable, while controlling time and relevance so that the work of an organization could be accomplished with a minimum or discord and a maximum of productivity."

But when the rules "are either too strictly enforced, or enforced to advance the agenda of only side in a debate, they can be a destructive tool. It is therefore recommended that the rules of Parliamentary Procedure always be accompanied by two basic attributes:

  • A strict adherence to fairness
  • Simple, basic, common sense."
    (Slightly adapted from Parliamentary Procedure, Based on the Principles of Robert's Rules of Order, 4.)

Meeting Basics