Notes on Meetings and Minutes
These notes are intended to give some guidance about the formal aspects of running a departmental committee. The purpose of these formalities is not to generate extra paperwork! It is to ensure
(a) that committee decisions are clearly understood and recorded by all members of the committee,
(b) that decisions are implemented in a timely way, and not forgotten, and
(c) that committee proceedings are accessible to all tenure-line faculty members.
These are the principles that should guide any administrative structure that we set up.
Description of the “committee cycle”.
One week or so before the committee is to meet, an agenda should be circulated to all committee members. This should contain, at a minimum, a notice of the date, time and place of the next meeting, and the following agenda items
- Minutes of last meeting (a copy should be circulated with the agenda). One should ask for approval of these minutes as an accurate record, and note any corrections. At the same time the committee should approve the posting of the minutes to the secure faculty documents page. If a redacted version rather than the full version is to be posted, this should be noted here.
- Matters arising. Under this heading one should review any items designated as “for action” in the minutes of the previous meeting. Thus if the previous minute contains the statement “it was agreed that Professor X should carry out a certain task”, then Professor X should report back to the present meeting on how s/he has carried out this agreement.
- Specific items of new business (if any). It is helpful, though not essential, for such items to be supported by a briefing paper circulated with the agenda.
- Committee chair/department chair other business – a place to bring up last minute items.
- Any other business – hopefully there is not any, but if committee members have items that cannot wait they can mention them here. Committee members should be encouraged instead to notify the chair of matters they wish to raise so that they can be included on the regular agenda.
- Date and time of next meeting – should be agreed at the previous meeting if possible.
Conduct of meeting/compilation of minutes
The purpose of a committee (or of any administrative structure) is to take action. Lengthy discussion is often an important component of this process, since a group cannot act until most of its members understand and buy in to the proposed plan. But discussion is not an end in itself, and it is the responsibility of the committee chair to move the group from discussion to action. Often this can be accomplished by saying, “So, what we have decided to do (or, are proposing to do) is XXX”. If there is disagreement on the committee it may be necessary to put XXX to a vote. Knowing when to do this is a judgment call. By convention, a vote concludes discussion of the item in question. Thus one should ensure that everyone feels that they have had a fair chance to put their case, before moving to a vote. But one should not waste time ventilating intractable philosophical differences.
The minutes of the committee should reflect its action orientation. Thus, the most important part of the minute is something like: “It was agreed to do XXX, and Professor Y was charged with implementing this decision and will report back at the next meeting.” Or “By a vote of 6 to 2 it was agreed …” Next in importance to record are factual details like “The committee considered a letter from the dean proposing to establish a new professorship” or “The associate head reported that we admitted 916 graduate students this year.” Of least importance to record in detail are the specifics of any controverted discussion (in particular, it is usually not a good idea to attribute the points raised in such a discussion to a specific member). Here is an imaginary minute to illustrate these points.
“The Committee considered a report from the Working Group on Calculus which recommended that final examinations in Math 140 and 141 should be replaced by one-on-one interviews in which students were asked to evaluate their attitudes to differentiation and integration by using the Myers-Briggs personality inventory. Extensive discussion followed. Some members of the committee felt that the proposed changes would help the Department become more student-centered, while others suggested that a student’s feelings about the processes of calculus might not be a reliable guide to his/her ability actually to carry out these processes. On a vote, the recommendation was defeated, 6 to 3, and it was agreed that assessment processes in Math 140 and 141 should remain unchanged.”
After the meeting
The minutes should be circulated in draft form to committee members soon after the meeting (within a week). This has two purposes: (a) to allow corrections while the memory is still fresh, and (b) to serve as a reminder of the agreed action steps. Committee members should be reminded to read the minutes when they arrive and immediately to begin carrying out action items that are their responsibility.
The minutes of meeting (n-1) should have been approved at meeting n, and they are now ready for “publication”. Minutes are published by adding them to the secure faculty documents page at http://www.math.psu.edu/head/faculty-docs, which is maintained by Rosemary. In general the minutes should be published in full (and they should be written with this in mind). However, on occasions it will be necessary to “redact” (edit) the minutes to avoid revealing sensitive financial or personnel information. When this is to happen, the committee chair is responsible for preparing a redacted version for publication on the faculty-docs page.
It is advisable to maintain a “for next meeting” file into which one puts items that will need the Committee’s attention as they arrive. Then, when the time comes to prepare the next agenda, one need only open that file to see what it contains.
JR May 18, 2007