Governance

A brief guide to committee terminology

Here are some common terms used in committee work.

Ad hoc committee
An ad hoc committee is established for a specific limited purpose and ceases to exist when its job is done. These days the term is rarely used - such a committee is usually called a working party.
Agenda
An agenda provides details of the items of business to be considered at a meeting.
Apologies for absence
Members who are unable to attend a meeting are normally expected to give their apologies to the Executive Officer or his/her assistant (by email or phone) as soon as possible before the meeting. For most committees, apologies received are recorded in the minutes.
Addendum
Addendum (plural: addenda) means much the same as "appendix"(see below). UWA normally uses the term "attachment" in preference to "addendum".
Appendix
Appendix (plural: appendices) means 'subsidiary matter at the end of a book or document' (from the Oxford Concise Dictionary). UWA normally uses the term "attachment" in preference to "appendix".
Attachment
Attachment simply means 'thing attached'. Attachments to agendas (and sometimes minutes) provide information additional to that provided in the agenda/minute item. Attachments to agendas/minutes are labelled (for example, Attachment A) for easy reference when reading the documents.
Constitution
A committee's constitution sets out its functions, reporting line, membership, Chair, quorum and frequency of meetings.
By invitation
A person who attends a meeting "by invitation" is not a committee member, but has been invited because she/he has some contribution to make to the meeting. For example, he/she may give a report or make a presentation. The person may be a regular ("standing") invitee or simply an invitee for a particular item or items.
Casting vote
Some committees make provision in their constitutions for the chair to have a "casting" (that is an extra vote, which he/she may use if there are equal numbers 'for' and 'against' when a vote is taken. It is traditional (but not imperative) for the Chair to use the casting vote in favour of the status quo (where appropriate).
Chair
UWA's Senate resolved early in 1993 that the term "chair" be used in all official and formal University communications to describe the person who is elected or appointed to chair a committee. This reaffirms University policy on the use of non-sexist language.
Co-opted member/co-optee
Most committees make provision in their constitutions for one or more co-opted members -that is members who are invited by the other members to join the committee. A committee will usually co-opt members who provide expertise missing in the other members, or who balance the membership in some way (gender, academic discipline, and the like). Co-opted members are full members of a committee, with full speaking and voting rights.
Executive power
If a committee has "executive power" in a particular area, it has the authority to make decisions and take action in that area.
Ex-officio member
An "ex officio" committee member has membership by virtue of his/her position or office. In agendas and minutes ex officio members should be referred to by position title; for example, "The Deputy Vice Chancellor advised ..."
In attendance
A person who is 'in attendance' at a meeting attends because of the position he/she holds, normally to be kept informed and/or to provide information. For example the Executive Officer to the Vice-Chancellor attends Senate meetings in order to be fully informed on Senate business.
Minutes
The minutes are the written record of what took place at a committee meeting. They are final only when they have been confirmed at a subsequent meeting.
Modus operandi
"Modus operandi" means method of operation.
Motion
A motion is a formal proposal for discussion and action.
Motion on notice
A motion on notice is an important item of business, which requires prior notice before being moved at a meeting. The actual wording of the motion is given in the agenda and allows members to prepare and inform themselves about the issue.
Nem con
Nem con is an abbreviation of a Latin term meaning "with nobody dissenting." When a motion is passed unanimously, it is recorded in the minutes as "RESOLVED (nem con)".
Mover
The person who proposes a formal motion is referred to as "the mover".
Other business
Some agendas include an "Other Business" item at the end of the agenda to allow members to raise matters not otherwise included on the agenda. The use of "Other Business" is not generally favoured at UWA, since the general principle applying to committee business is that members must be properly informed in advance (via detailed agenda items) about any matters they are to discuss, So, if "Other Business" is used at all, it must be restricted to very minor matters which do not require prior consideration' for example, matters of information.
Point of information
At a meeting, a member may call out "point of information" to the chair, if he/she wants to clarify a question of fact relevant to the debate.
Point of order
A member may call out 'point of order' to the chair if it appears there has been a breach of procedure or an irregularity in the proceedings. The chair then rules on the matter.
Observers
The broad term "observers" covers various categories of people who attend committee meetings but are not members of those committees. Observers may be at a meeting "in attendance", or "by invitation", or may be "visitors" simply learning about a committee's procedures. As they are not committee members, observers do not have voting rights and do not normally have speaking rights (though the Chair may invite them to speak in appropriate circumstances). The way in which their attendance is recorded in agendas/minutes depends on their role at the meeting.
Proposer
The proposer of a motion moves the motion and puts forward arguments for it; also known as "the mover".
Proxy vote
A proxy is a person formally authorised to act on behalf of another person, and some organisations provide for "proxy" votes at meetings. UWA does not use a proxy system. The only circumstance in which a person who is not normally a member of a committee can attend and vote at a meeting is when the person is formally acting in a post which has ex officio membership of a committee. The member in the acting role votes according to his/her views, and is not bound to vote on the instructions of the office holder they are acting for.
Quorum
The quorum for a committee meeting is the minimum number of members required to make the meeting valid. If a meeting is inquorate, it cannot make decisions on behalf of the committee. It can hold discussions and make recommendations for later confirmation or rejection by the committee.
Resolution
A resolution is a decision reached through a vote at formal meetings (that is; when a motion is passed).
Seconder
The committee member who formally seconds (supports) a motion moved by another member is referred to as "the seconder." While there is no absolute requirement to have a seconder for a motion, it is a useful device for ensuring that there is at least some support for a motion before debate begins.
Secretary's note
A secretary's note may be included in minutes to provide members with relevant information which was not available at the meeting, or to report on relevant activity since the meeting.
Sine die
"Sine die" means "with no appointed date". If business is adjourned "sine die" it is adjourned for an indefinite period.
Standing committee
A "standing committee" is one which has an indefinite term of existence.
Standing orders
Some committees, such as the Senate, have "Standing Orders" which set out the "rules" on the way in which their business is conducted -for example, rules of debate, methods of voting, powers of the chair, etc. If a committee does not have its own standing orders or if these orders are silent on some point, it is UWA's practice to follow the Senate's standing orders.
Sub-committee
A sub-committee is one appointed by a larger committee to undertake a specified task. Some committees have standing sub-committees which deal with specific tasks which arise annually.
Terms of reference
"Terms of reference" define the specific task of a working party, or ad hoc committee.

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