"Whereas." The Myth


At the last Academic Senate plenary session, an issue emerged during the voting on resolutions that called into question the status of the Whereas statements of resolutions: specifically, are these statements subject to amendment as are the body sections of resolutions, the resolved clauses?

A resolution was put forward that the delegates generally favored but that had a Whereas statement that many felt was objectionable, even insulting. Here is the resolution as presented-with the offending Whereas statement in bold:

Whereas, the Academic Senate has published three papers on the topic of professional ethics and integrity in 1988, 1994 and 2002;

Whereas, Some faculty may not fully understand or be aware of the impact of their actions or lack thereof, nor have current tools and information to effect change in their students, themselves, and their institutions; and

Whereas, California Community Colleges are still struggling with academic integrity and what are acceptable standards of morality,

Resolved, That the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges engage local senates in discussions of professional ethics and integrity and provide them with examples of effective procedures to empower local senates to model ethical behavior;

Resolved, That the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges offer a session on professional ethics at the Leadership Institute; and

Resolved, That the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges urge administrators to support ethics and integrity procedures developed by local academic senates.

The third Whereas statement suggested that our whole system is sailing the seas of morality rudderless -which may be true, but seemed unflattering to dedicated faculty, and not a condition they wanted published in resolution form, so there were loud demands to eliminate that statement. The conflict was that the Academic Senate had not in the memory of anyone present amended a Whereas statement.

To fully appreciate this problem we need to review the rules and traditions, being careful to separate the two. According to the Senate rules, resolutions come to the floor in three different ways. First pre-session resolutions are proposed by the Senate Executive Committee. Second, pre-session resolutions are proposed by areas in their pre-session area meetings. Areas may also propose amendments to pre-session resolutions from the Executive Committee. And third, resolutions are proposed by an author who can persuade five voting delegates to sign on as supporters. These resolutions must come to the Resolutions Committee Chair by 5:00 p.m. on the Thursday of the plenary session (except for resolutions that the Executive Committee agrees are "urgent"). Amendments to resolutions may be submitted by Friday of the plenary session.

Now for the rules about voting. On Saturday of session, delegates vote on all of the proposed resolutions and amendments. If a delegate wants to divide a proposed resolution that has more than one part, that delegate may move to divide and have the session delegates vote that motion (to divide) up or down. Thus we may vote on parts of a proposed resolution, adopting or rejecting each in turn. However, no one in recent times has moved to divide out a whereas statement-as happened at the Spring Session.

The chair (President Kate Clark), citing "past practice" in the absence of any written rule on this subject, ruled that the Whereas statements were not subject revision by division and subsequent separate vote are parts of the resolved statements. This ruling firmly rested on the idea that only the resolved statements are significant because only those are published. This reasoning has also been used by others (myself included) to dissuade anyone from submitting a timely amendment to a Whereas statement. Whereas clauses are in fact changed but only when the Resolutions Committee makes a suggestion to do so (usually for the sake of logical consistency, economy of phrasing, etc.).

Now back to the voting action at Spring Session. Someone formally challenged the ruling of the chair, the session sustained this challenge, the offending Whereas was promptly divided out and overwhelmingly defeated-leaving a resolution that was unanimously supported. This story demonstrates a fundamental principal of Parliamentary procedure as enshrined in Robert's Rules of Order: the will of the body may not be thwarted. Past practice and-yes, even rules-may be "set aside" or amended if two-thirds of the voting delegates agree to such action.

But how should we handle such issues at future sessions since there are no explicit rules governing amending Whereas statements? Following the session, President Clark asked me as Resolutions Chair to recommend a response to that question. First, we must understand that the idea often repeated at Senate gatherings that the Whereas' are not printed and somehow "fall off " resolutions is pure myth. If you look at the resolutions archived on the Senate website, you will note that all are in tact, complete with identification of the author and the Whereas statements. The printed resolutions that go to CEOs, the Board of Governors, and others contain Whereas statements. These statements function much like intent language in bills passed by the Legislature; they provide the rationale for a resolution. Then where did the idea originate that Whereas statements are not published? A look back at Senate papers reveals that papers written through 1997 included complete resolutions when they were referenced, but in 1998 papers began to include only the resolve statements, and after 2000, Senate writers, for the sake of brevity, began referencing resolutions without their prefacing Whereas statements (with one or two exceptions). Thus was born the idea that "The Whereases don't matter." But certainly they mattered to a number of delegates at Spring Session, and we would all agree that the rationales expressed in these statements are useful when we need to understand why a particular resolution was adopted.

I suggest that we allow any part of a resolution to be amended through the same processes we apply to the Resolved clauses, observing our policy that "Amendments to resolutions may be submitted by Friday of the plenary session." Of course this clarified policy may extend our time preparing, debating and voting on resolutions, but we need to provide delegates the opportunity to make their resolutions truly reflective of the ideas of their authors and those who vote to adopt them, and that includes their rationales.