Due process (29 Jan 2016)

My previous Senate blog posting provided a due process critique of the administration of university senate. While the nominal topic was about awarding of honourary degrees, the leitmotif was that the chair and clerk of senate failed to follow rules of order in approving an honourary degree recipient. In particular, I had reported the chair and clerk did not allow for any debate of the motion and did not obtain a waiver of the 10-day notice requirement.

Let me start today by discussing substantive issues. First, my heartfelt thanks to the chair of senate who conceded that the opportunity for debate can occur before the nominee’s honourary degree is conferred. That is a truly gracious gesture on her part. Thank you. Second, to my naïve eyes, the nominee seems like a superb candidate for an honourary degree. Based on substance alone, I support their nomination. Therefore, in the short-term regarding this one honourary degree nominee, the chair of senate has done the right thing, which is truly impressive.

While substantive problems have now been remedied, unfortunately due process foibles have gotten worse since my previous posting two days ago, with at least three additional major due process gaffes.

The first new due process problem concerns appeals of rulings by the chair. Immediately after my previous blog posting, I formally appealed the ruling of the chair to senate:

I hereby appeal the ruling of the chair regarding debate on the nomination of an honourary degree recipient to the full Senate because (1) the Annex to Senate Rules of Order – Motions in Order at a Senate Meeting clearly implies that the opportunity to debate main motions is required and (2) Senate did not waive the ten-day notice of motion requirement per article 7 of the Senate Rules of Order.

Proper procedure is to refer an appeal of a procedural ruling by the chair to the full senate for an immediate vote without debate. The chair of senate, who is also the university president, did not do this, but instead sent a letter to all senators stating that debate will be allowed at the next in-person meeting of senate, a debate that would occur minutes before the honourary degree is conferred [her letter is not appended herein because it repeatedly identifies the nominee]. The chair should not have such prerogative. Appeal of a ruling by the chair needs to go to an immediate vote, which in this case should have been via e-mail.

The second problem is that the chair of senate still refuses to call a vote to waive the 10-day notice requirement for motions. Senate Rule of Order article 7 is quite specific that, “A Senator may place a motion before Senate without proper notice (see Rule 6) only if all of the following conditions are met…” There is only one exemption for this waiver, namely, “Procedural and courtesy motions do not require advance notice.” The motion to award a degree is neither a procedural nor courtesy matter. Why have rules if the chair of senate defies them, even when challenged?

The third problem is that the chair in her e-mail insinuates that the original motion to award an honourary degree was somehow not a “main motion”. Given that it was the only motion that she and the honourary degree committee proposed, how could it not be a main motion and therefore how could the chair have ever precluded debate on the motion?

The chair of senate attempted to justify not following the Senate Rules of Order by reporting 47 votes in favour and only one opposed to her original (main) motion. Unfortunately, this was a procedurally-flawed vote, lacking a waiver of the 10-day notice requirement in which several senators (including me) declined to vote because of the lack of debate. The purpose of rules of order is to provide minority rights, be it rights of the one dissenting senator or rights of the multiple senators who refused to vote because of the lack of debate and abrogation of due process.

While I cannot discuss closed sessions of senate, current and former senators should recall past debates about nominees for honourary degrees and ask whether such debates have ever mattered.

Having been critical of due process gaffes by the chair of senate, while being positive with regards to substance, I should further mitigate my criticisms by admitting that both the chair of senate and the clerk of senate have so many important tasks that due process is probably very low priority for them. Senate does not have legal counsel advising it and has no parliamentarian. One long-term solution for this would be for senate to appoint a parliamentarian from its ranks – not the chair, clerk, secretary, nor anyone from the administration, but a regularly elected member of senate or somebody from outside of senate and from outside of management. The parliamentarian would only provide advisory opinions, nothing binding on senate. Credibility of the parliamentarian would be earned over time based on the wisdom of their opinions. We should earn respect of our peers, not simply be appointed to privilege. Please let me know if any sitting senator would like to second such a motion for appointment of an advisory parliamentarian. And please join me in thanking the chair of senate for allowing the right to debate the current honourary degree nominee, even if it is a right that nobody ends up invoking.



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