A Parliamentarian is an expert in rules of order and the proper procedures for the conduct of meetings of deliberative assemblies. Parliamentarians often assist organizations in the drafting and interpretation of bylaws and rules of order, and the planning and conduct of meetings. As a member of the Governance Committee, the Parliamentarian assists ComSoc in drafting and interpreting bylaws, specific to the needs of ComSoc. In this month President’s Page, I am pleased to introduce Dr. Zhi Ding, the ComSoc Parliamentarian, to share some perspectives.
Dr. Zhi Ding holds the position of Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of California, Davis. He received his Ph.D. degree in Electrical Engineering from Cornell University in 1990. From 1990 to 2000, he was a faculty member of Auburn University and later, University of Iowa. He has coauthored over 400 technical papers and two books. He currently serves as the Parliamentarian of the IEEE Communication Society’s Board of Governors. He is a Fellow of IEEE and has been an active member of IEEE, serving on technical programs of several workshops and conferences. He served both as a Member and also the Chair of the IEEE Transactions on Wireless Communications Steering Committee from 2007–2001. He was the Technical Program Chair of the 2006 IEEE Globecom and the General Chair of the 2016 IEEE International Conference on Acoustics, Speech and Signal Processing (ICASSP). He served as an IEEE Distinguished Lecturer (Circuits and Systems Society, 2004–2006, Communications Society, 2008–2009). He received the 2012 Wireless Communications Recognition Award and the 2020 Education Award from the IEEE Communications Society.
“Mr. Chairman: I strongly oppose my dear colleague’s opinion that we should move this year’s annual conference to another city.” “Point of Order, Mr. Chairman.” “… .” “Order! Order!”
It is not uncommon to hear these utterances at a meeting of a decision-making assembly where participating members may disagree with one another on a particular issue and are engaged in a spirited debate. How can we properly conduct a meeting in which differing opinions are expressed without causing paralysis or even chaos? The answer often lies in what is commonly known as “rules of order” by which a deliberative assembly governs its proceedings, i.e., meetings.
Per Section A.2.12.3 of the ComSoc Policy and Procedures (December 2022), there are “occasions when it may be essential for the Board of Governors (BoG) Chair to listen to suggestions being made by the Parliamentarian.” “Only on the most involved matters should the Parliamentarian actually be called upon to speak to the assembly.” Similarly, a member may also make a parliamentary inquiry, prompting the Chair to check with the Parliamentarian. It is therefore evident that when ComSoc BoG meetings are conducted smoothly without controversy, one would hear few interjections from the Parliamentarian.
Let us review some basics on how to conduct an effective meeting in a Q&A fashion.
How to plan and start a meeting?
Within a decision-making body like the ComSoc BoG, it is very important to conduct meetings in an orderly, efficient, and transparent way. Hence, orders are essential in a meeting. Typically, the presiding officer (the Chair) should first organize and share with members an order of business known as the agenda sufficiently ahead of the meeting. Minutes from the previous meeting should also be distributed in advance. To start a meeting, the Chair should first establish which members are present and, importantly, whether or not a quorum of voting is present through a roll call. Upon establishing a quorum, the agenda should be adopted by the participating members with a simple majority. Once approved, the meeting should follow the order of the business on the agenda, unless members vote to amend the agenda (before or after) adoption by a simple majority.
What is a typical meeting agenda?
Call to Order by the Chair
Roll Call (To establish quorum)
Adopting the Agenda
Approval of Minutes
Reports (Chair, officers, committees, etc.)
Unfinished business (Unresolved business from the previous meeting)
New business (Members may introduce new motions)
How are decisions made?
In a democratic process, decisions are only made by passing motions when a quorum is met.
How to avoid endless discussions on a potentially controversial matter?
Since decisions are only made by the passage of motions, a good approach to reaching a resolution is for members to introduce motions. The motions may include “establishing an ad hoc committee,” or making a particular decision that may only have a majority, but not unanimous, support. Further, to prevent a small minority from killing a motion through endless debate, an assembly can vote to limit the total length or the number of times a member may speak on a pending motion. Finally, an assembly may “close debate” by a 2/3 majority vote on a subsidiary motion when a member “calls the question” which is seconded. A member typically makes this subsidiary motion after being given the floor by stating that “I call the question” or “I move the previous question”.
Where to find information on proper ways to conduct meetings?
Many of us have heard of bylaws and mostly likely, Robert’s Rules of Orders. Without dwelling on the interesting history of the origin and the author Major Robert, it suffices to know that the Robert’s Rules are commonly considered the gold standard on how to conduct a meeting to maintain good order for a vast majority of organizations. The simple fact is that bylaws have higher authority than Robert’s Rules. However, most organizations do not have bylaws that provide minute details, particularly on how meetings should be conducted. One such example is ComSoc’s own bylaws (accessible at comsoc.org). To tackle situations that are not addressed in organization bylaws, Robert’s Rules of Orders Newly Revised (https://robertsrules.com) are often relied upon. One may easily access its online edition at http://www.rulesonline.com.
By sharing some perspectives here about meetings, orders, and decision-making, my intention is to provide valuable insights for new and/or young members of ComSoc, helping them approach the deliberation process with confidence and encouraging their active involvement in serving fellow ComSoc members. It is important to remember that ComSoc, our professional community, relies on the contributions of both established and emerging individuals. Together, we shape the future of ComSoc, and it is in the hands of our enthusiastic new and young members to propel it forward. Thank you.