Academic Senate Sturgis Guidelines

General Guidelines for Conduct in the Academic Senate
(or, Sturgis in a Nutshell)

Prepared by Gloria D. Urban, Chair of the Academic Senate, 1996-1997

Table of Contents

  1. Philosophy
  2. Basic rights of members
  3. Types of motions
  4. Main motions
  5. Specific motions
  6. Subsidiary motions
  7. Privileged motions
  8. Incidental motions
  9. Precedence of motions
  10. Two basic rules of precedence
  11. When a motion can interrupt a speaker
  12. When a motion is debatable
  13. When a motion can be amended
  14. When a motion can be renewed
  15. Necessity for a quorum
  16. Flexibility in the order of business
  17. Member's conduct during debate
  18. Presiding Officer’s Duties During Debate
  19. General consent

It is true that parliamentary law can be used to obstruct the will of the majority, as well as to implement it – but this can happen only when a majority of the members are ignorant of their parliamentary rights. (p.3.)

In an effort to make parliamentary procedure more accessible and less mysterious to Senators, short sections from Sturgis, the parliamentary style adopted by the Senate, have been excerpted to illustrate the basic philosophies and procedures. Quotation was chosen rather than paraphrasing, in order to reflect the tone of Alice Sturgis’ writing, and to avoid the injection of any bias or misunderstanding by the Chair.

Each of the quotes contained herein are from Sturgis, A. (1988). The standard code of parliamentary procedure (3rd ec.). New York: McGraw-Hill. This is a very readable book and Senators are encouraged to review it.


In the introduction, the Revision Committee of the American Institute of Parliamentarians described Sturgis’ philosophy:
Alice Sturgis considered principles more important than rules; she stressed the need to understand the “why” behind every procedure; and she held that when there is a conflict between common sense and archaic ritual, common sense should prevail. (p. xxiv)

Sturgis emphasized the principles of fairness and good faith:
Trickery, overemphasis on minor technicalities, dilatory tactics, indulgence in personalities, and railroading threaten the spirit and practice of fairness and good faith. If a meeting is characterized by fairness and good faith, a minor procedural error will not invalidate an action that has been taken by an organization. (p. 9)

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Basic Rights of Members

The presiding officer should be strictly impartial and should act promptly to protect the equality of members in the exercise of their rights and privileges. (p. 8)

Until the vote on a question is announced, every member has an equal right to voice opposition or approval and to seek to persuade others. After the vote is announced, the decision of the majority becomes the decision of every member of the organization. (p. 8)

[Note: Academic Senate Bylaws restrict debate at first reading of a motion to asking questions and gaining information. Full debate is allowed at second reading.]

Each member of the assembly has the right to speak freely without interruption or interference provided the rules are observed. (p. 9)

Members have the right to request information on any motion they do not understand so that they may vote intelligently. (p. 9)

Types of Motions

Attached is a table which summarizes principle rules regarding motions. This table provides information about when a motion requires a second, the type of vote needed, etc. The following section describes there classifications of motions.

Main Motion

Its purpose is to bring substantive proposals before the assembly for consideration and action. (p. 15)

[Motions may be made orally from the floor.]

The proposer of a lengthy, complicated, or important motion should prepare written copies of it and give them to the presiding officer and the secretary. The presiding officer may require that the maker of such a motion submit it in writing. (p. 13)

Specific Main Motions

There are three main motions that have specific names and are governed by somewhat different rules. (p. 15)


To enable an assembly to set aside a vote on a main motion taken at the same meeting…and to consider the motion again as though no vote had been taken of it. (p. 33)
…must be made during the same meeting or conference at which the vote to be reconsidered was taken. (p. 24)


To repeal (cancel, nullify, void) a main motion passed at a previous meeting. (p. 37)

Resume consideration (take from the table)

To enable an assembly to take up and consider a motion that was postponed temporarily (tabled) during the same meeting. (p. 39)

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Subsidiary Motions

Subsidiary motions alter the main motion, or delay or hasten its consideration. (p. 16)

Postpone definitely

To put off consideration, or further consideration, of a pending main motion and to fix a definite time for its consideration. (p. 52)

Postpone temporarily (lay on the table)

…defers the pending motion temporarily but specifies no time for its consideration and is not debatable. Its effect terminates at the end of the current meeting or convention, at which time the main motion dies if the assembly has not voted to resume consideration of it (or to “take it from the table”). (p. 53)

The argument against [the practice of killing a motion by tabling] is that the motion, being undebatable, permits a bare majority to kill a proposal without full discussion, which violates the principle that debate can be ended only by a two-thirds vote… To prevent misuse of the motion, a two-thirds vote should be required when the motion to table [postpone temporarily] is used to prevent discussion of a motion. (p. 64)

Close debate (to move the previous question)

To prevent or to stop discussion on the pending question or questions, to prevent the proposal of other subsidiary motions except to postpone temporarily, and to bring the pending question or questions to an immediate vote. (p. 58)

[requires 2/3 vote]

The correct way to bring a matter to an immediate vote is to obtain the floor and move to close debate. A common practice, however, is to call out “Question!” without obtaining the floor. This is clearly out of order when it interrupts a speaker, or when others wish to speak. However, when there is a lull in the discussion it often is merely an informal way of moving to close debate, and at the discretion of the chair may be treated as such. The chair may proceed by general consent (“The question has been called for. Is there any objection to closing debate on the main motion?”), or may take a vote. (p. 61)

Limit or extend debate

To limit or extend the time that will be devoted to discussion of a pending motion or to modify or remove limitations already imposed on its discussion. (p. 56)

Refer to committee

To transfer a motion that is pending before the assembly to a committee:

l. To investigate or study the proposal, make recommendations on it, and return it to the assembly, or

2. To conserve the time of the assembly by delegating the duty of deciding the proposal, and sometimes of carrying out the decision, to a smaller group, or

3. To ensure privacy in considering a delicate matter, or

4. To provide a hearing on the proposal, or

5. To defer the decision on the proposal until a more favorable time. (p. 50)


To modify a motion that is being considered by the assembly so that it will express more satisfactorily the will of the members. (p. 42) …must be relevant to, and have direct bearing on, the subject of the pending motion. (p. 44)

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Privileged Motions

Privileged motions have no direct connection with the main motion before the assembly. These are motions of such urgency that they are entitled to immediate consideration. (p. 16)


To terminate a meeting or convention. (p. 72)

A formal vote need not be taken…The chair, sensing that it is time to adjourn, may ask, “Is there any further business to come before the meeting?” [If not], the assembly has, in effect, voted by general consent. (p. 74)


To permit an interlude in a meeting and to set a definite time for continuing the meeting. (p. 70)

Question of privilege

To enable a member to secure immediate decision and action by the presiding officer on a request that concerns the comfort, convenience, rights, or privileges of the assembly or of the member, or permission to present a motion of an urgent nature, even though other business is pending. (p. 66)

Incidental Motions

Incidental motions…do not relate directly to the main motion, but usually relate to matters incidental to the conduct of the meeting. Incidental motions may be offered whenever they are needed, and have no order of precedence. Because of their very nature they may interrupt business and in some cases may interrupt the speaker, and should be handled as soon as they arise. (p. 17)

[Except for the first three motions to follow, incidental “motions” are really requests and do not require a second or a vote.]

Appeal from a decision by the chair [requires 2nd]

To enable a member who believe that the presiding officer is mistaken or unfair in a ruling to have the assembly decide by vote whether the presiding officer’s decision should be upheld or overruled. (p. 77)

Any decision of the presiding officer involving judgment is subject to appeal. (p. 78)

Consider informally [requires 2nd]

There are times when it is desirable to have discussion of a problem precede the proposal of a motion concerning it so that some agreement may be reached on the type and wording of the motion that is needed. There are also times when it is wise to set aside the formal rules governing discussion and debate. Both of these objectives may be accomplished by a motion to consider a particular motion, subject, or problem informally… [This] allows possible amendments and motions to be discussed together, and gives broader latitude in debate. (p. 120)

[Note: Generally the last item on the Senate agenda is reserved for this type of interaction. However, a motion to consider informally can be made if a motion is already being considered. In this case it is treated as an incidental motion, and requires a second and a vote.]

Suspend the rules [requires 2nd, 2/3 vote]

To permit an assembly to take some action that otherwise would be prevented by a procedural rule or by a program already adopted. (p. 80)

[This motion is used most often in Senate to allow a vote on a motion at first reading, rather than waiting to vote at the next meeting.]

Sometimes the parliamentary situation in a meeting becomes so confused that neither the chair nor the members can figure out how to proceed… The best solution may be to suspend the rules in order to get a fresh start. This version of suspension of the rules has been described as the “Gordian Knot” motion…[The motion can be phrased, for example, to cancel out everything that has been done on a motion and start over again from the beginning, permitting the motion to be resubmitted in whatever form the maker wishes. (p. 81)

Point of order

To call the attention of the assembly and of the presiding officer to a violation of the rules, an omission, a mistake, or an error in procedure, and to secure a ruling from the presiding officer on the question raised. (p. 83)

Whenever a member violates a rule, whether intentionally or not, the presiding officer should call attention to the violation and either require the member to conform to the rule or declare the member’s action out of order. The presiding officer is, in effect, raising a point of order. (p. 83)

If the presiding officer fails to enforce a rule, of the assembly or of parliamentary procedure, or does not notice an error made by a member, or if an error is made by the presiding officer, it is the right of any member to call attention to the violation by rising to a point of order. (pp. 83-84)

Parliamentary inquiry

To enable a member (a) to ask the presiding officer a question relating to procedure in connection with the pending motion or with a motion the member may wish to bring before the assembly immediately, or for information on the meaning or effect of the pending question; or (b) to ask the speaker or the proposer of the motion a question about the pending motion.

Withdrawal of a motion

To enable a member who has proposed a motion to remove it from consideration by the assembly.

Division of a question

To divide a motion that is composed of two or more independent parts into individual motions that may be considered and voted on separately.

Division of the assembly

To verify an indecisive voice or hand vote by requiring the voters to rise and, if necessary, be counted. (p. 94) [Usually a show of hands is adequate in Senate.]

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Precedence of Motions

Precedence means the priority or order in which motions must be proposed, considered, and disposed of… From the highest ranking to the lowest ranking the order of precedence is:

Privileged Motions

1. Adjourn

2. Recess

3. Question of privilege

Subsidiary Motions

4. Postpone temporarily (or table)

5. Close debate

6. Limit debate

7. Postpone definitely

8. Refer to committee

9. Amend

Main Motions

10.  The main motion and specific main motions

Incidental main motions have no order of precedence. Since they arise incidentally out of the immediately pending business at any time and must be decided as soon as they arise, they present no problem of precedence. (pp. 20-21)

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Two Basic Rules of Precedence

1. When a motion is being considered, any motion of higher precedence may be proposed, but no motion of lower precedence may be proposed. (p 21)

2. Motions are considered and voted on in reverse order of their proposal. The motion last proposed is considered and disposed of first. (p. 21)

[For example, if a main motion is made, then a motion to amend is made, the vote is taken first on the proposed amendment, then on the main motion (as amended, if the amendment is passed.)]

When a Motion Can Interrupt a Speaker

Two types of motions, because of their urgency, can interrupt a speaker. The first are those motions that must be proposed and decided within a specific time limit: to reconsider, to appeal, and division of the assembly. (p. 24)

The second are those motions that relate to the immediate rights and privileges of a member or of the assembly: question of privilege, point of order, and parliamentary inquiry. (p. 24)

To justify interrupting a speaker a parliamentary inquiry must relate to the speaker, to the speech, or to some other matter than cannot be delayed until the completion of the speech.

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When a Motion is Debatable

Some motions are open to full debate, others are open to restricted debate, and some are undebatable. The only motions that are fully debatable are: main motions, amendments to main motions, rescind, and appeal. (p. 25)

Five motions are open to restricted debate: to recess, to postpone definitely, to refer to committee, to limit debate, and to reconsider. Restricted debate means brief discussion confined to a few specific points, relative to the purpose of the motion itself. (p. 25)

All other motions are undebatable because they deal with simple procedural questions which should not need discussion. (p. 25)

When a Motion can be Amended

Some motions can be amended freely, some can be amended with restrictions, and some cannot amended. The only motions that can be amended freely are main motions and amendments. Four motions can be amended only within restrictions: to recess, to limit debate, and to postpone definitely can be amended only as to time or manner of restriction; to refer to a committee can be amended only as to the method of selection, size, duties, or instructions to committee. (p. 26)

When a Motion can be Renewed

As a general rule, when a main motion has been voted on and lost, the same, or substantially the same, motion cannot be proposed again at the same meeting… Parliamentary law recognizes, however, than an assembly may changes its mind. (p. 28)

In the case of a main motion…the matter can be brought before the assembly again at the same meeting or convention by the motion to reconsider… Approval of the motion to reconsider cancels the earlier vote and enables the assembly to discuss and amend the motion further, if desired, and to take another vote. (p. 28)

All motions that are procedural rather than substantive may be renewed at the discretion of the chair. (p. 28)

If a motion in question was adopted at an earlier meeting or convention it cannot be reconsidered. It may be repealed, however, by the motion to rescind, which nullifies the earlier decision. (p. 28)

If a motion was rejected at an earlier meeting or convention it may be renewed by being reintroduced. (p. 28)

A motion which has been carried also can be affected by a new main motion. Repeal by implication automatically results from the adoption of a motion that conflicts in whole or in part with another motion or motions previously adopted. The first motion is repealed only to the extent that its provisions cannot be reconciled with those of the new motion. (p. 28)

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Necessity for a Quorum

If there is any question as to whether a quorum is present at the time set for a meeting, the presiding officer should not call the meeting to order but should determine the presence or absence of a quorum by counting the members present. Until a quorum is present there can be no meeting. (p. 104)

It is the duty of the presiding officer to declare the meeting adjourned at any time it is apparent that a quorum is not present. If the chair fails to do so, it becomes the duty of any member who doubts that a quorum is present at a particular utime during a meeting to rise to a point of order and request that the members be counted. Or a member may ask the presiding officer whether a quorum is present. This question is in order at any time. (p. 105)

Flexibility in the Order of Business

The regular order of business should be followed, but should have reasonable flexibility. [Without objection the Chair may change the order of business.] If there is objection, a vote must be taken to authorize the variation… (p. 108)

Member’s Conduct During Debate

Debate must be fundamentally impersonal. All discussion is addressed to the presiding officer and must never be directed to the individual. A motion – its nature or consequences – may be attacked vigorously. But it is never permissible to attack the motives, character, or personality of a member either directly or by innuendo or implication…[or to be] discourteous in word or manner. (p. 117)

Arguments and opinions should be stated as concisely as possible. A speech is made not for the pleasure of the speaker or for the entertainment of others, but to assist the assembly in arriving at a decision on the question under discussion. (p. 118)

When a motion has been made, the maker of the motion should be recognized first, if he or she seeks the floor, to explain the reasons for the motion. From that point on, the first person to…address the chair generally should be recognized. When several members seek recognition, however, the chair should give preference to one who has not spoken previous…(p. 229)

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Presiding Officer’s Duties During Debate

The presiding officer has the responsibility of controlling and expediting debate. A member who has been assigned the floor has the right to the undivided attention of the assembly. It is the duty of the presiding officer to protect the speaker in this right by suppressing disorder, by eliminating whispering and walking about, and by preventing annoyance, heckling, or unnecessary interruption. (p. 118)

It is also the presiding officer’s duty to keep the subject clearly before the members, to rule out any irrelevant discussion, and to restate the question whenever necessary. (p. 118)

If there are aspects of the question that are being overlooked, the presiding officer may ask question which will stimulate discussion of those points. The chair should seek to draw out all facts that will contribute to a clear understanding of the motion and its effects. (p. 118)

General Consent

General consent is a way of saving time by avoiding votes on routine or non-controversial matters. It can be used only when there is unanimous agreement… By using the phrase, “if there is no objection” – which has been referred to as the “magic phrase,” because it permits almost any action to be taken – the chair is acknowledging the right of the assembly to make the decision. If any member objects, general consent does not exist and it becomes necessary to submit the question to the assembly for a vote. (pp. 230-231)

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Attached Table of Principal Rules Governing Motions