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Quick Reference Guide

Guide to Being a Senator

What are the most important aspects of being a Senator?

  1. Engaged Attendance: Your presence at the monthly Senate meetings is essential, as we need a quorum to conduct our business. Likewise, we depend on engaged participation to ensure meeting discussions and votes accurately reflect faculty perspectives. Attendance in person is preferable, but it’s also possible to attend online. An agenda and any supporting materials are distributed in advance of the meeting, along with details on how to connect online. For more information on how meetings are run, see  Faculty Senate Meetings, above. 

    Senators’ attendance at special events is equally important. The Senate has an annual luncheon with the Board of Trustees where Senators, administrators, and trustees discuss a pre-selected topic. There are also two meetings of the Faculty Assembly, at which the University President reports on the state of the University and answers faculty questions.

  2. Committee service: Every Senator is expected to serve on at least one of the Senate’s twelve standing committees but may not serve on more than two. You will be asked at the beginning of the academic year which committee you would like to join. Much of the work of the Senate begins with careful consideration by one or more of these committees, which provide reports to the Senate as a whole. Committee chairs work with committee members and the Senate staff to hold regular meetings online or in person throughout the year.

    Committee business ebbs and flows. Your committee may have pressing work to do one year, and less work the next. This is not unexpected or unusual.

  3. Communication and input: One of the essential functions of the Senate is to facilitate communication among faculty, and between faculty and the administration. In order to accurately represent the views of your constituents, it is important that Senators regularly obtain the input of colleagues in your home department and likewise report Senate business back to your department.

    Please speak to your chair about including Senate business as a regular feature of department meetings, if this is not already the practice in your department. With some rare exceptions, the issues discussed in the meetings of the full Senate are a matter of public record.

For an overview of your rights and responsibilities as a Senator, see “Senator Rights and Responsibilities Simplified.”

What are the rights and responsibilities of a Senator?

The effective functioning of the Faculty Senate depends on the quality participation of its members. Below is a simplified schematic of senators’ rights and responsibilities. 

This table outlines the rights and responsibilities of members of the Faculty Senate.
Rights Responsibilities

Be informed of the Senate meeting schedule for the full year, including regular meetings and events

Attend Senate meetings and events as scheduled

Receive meeting materials prior to regularly scheduled Senate meetings

Review all agenda materials carefully and come to meetings prepared to discuss and to vote

Be treated with respect and decorum by the presider and colleagues during Senate proceedings

Refrain from discourteous, ad hominem, or dilatory tactics during meetings

Vote on all matters according to one’s best judgment

Maintain an active discourse with one’s academic unit; solicit departmental colleagues’ wishes

Bring motions to the floor, including motions to add items to the agenda

Work with Standing Committees and route proposals through them or via private correspondence with Senate leadership

Participate in operations and vote on proposals of Standing Committee(s) of which you are a member

Participate in operations and vote on proposals of Standing Committee(s) of which you are a member

How are issues and topics introduced?

If any faculty member or senator would like to introduce a topic or issue, there are a number of avenues they may take within the Faculty Senate, including writing their senator, the Senate leadership (President Past President, and/or President-Elect), a standing committee chair, the Senate Secretary, or using the “Contact Us” portal on this very website.

Once raised via one of the above methods, the issue will typically be routed to the appropriate standing committee. From there, the committee will deliberate, potentially offer suggestions, and vote to send the issue to the Executive Committee, which sets the agenda for the full Faculty Senate meetings. Agenda items must be finalized at least one week in advance of the Senate meeting.

Senators and faculty members often underestimate the length of time the above process will take. The Senate’s deliberative process can take weeks or even months depending on the complexity of the issue. This is by design. Oftentimes the committee tasked with an issue must gather timely, accurate information and related data, and consult with relevant University administrators and stakeholders before deciding on an action. This ensures that any Senate action, including resolutions, is appropriate, necessary, and impactful.

Please keep this timeline in mind when introducing a topic or issue. The last quarter of the academic year is particularly crowded, as resolutions begun earlier in the year tend to come up for a vote.

Faculty Senate Meetings

Who may attend Faculty Senate meetings and where are they held?

Any member of the Northwestern community or the general public may attend a Northwestern Faculty Senate meeting. However, only Senators (and any non-Senators who appear on the meeting agenda) may speak at the meeting; and only Senators may vote on resolutions and other business raised at the meeting.

A non-Senator who is not on the agenda may be allowed to speak only if a Senator makes a motion and a majority of senators vote in favor of allowing the person to speak.

Meetings most often take place in Scott Hall’s Guild Lounge on campus, usually from 5-7 p.m. on the second Wednesday of the month. Food and refreshments are served beginning at 4:30 p.m. A Zoom option is also available for those who can’t attend the meeting in person, though Senators are encouraged to prioritize in-person attendance.

How are agenda items decided upon?

The meeting agenda is set by the Senate President in consultation with the Executive Committee. Agenda items may be suggested to the President via private correspondence at any time, brought by standing committees, or, where necessary, introduced at the Senate meetings during New Business or via formal motions.

While agenda items may be suggested to the President at any time, Senators are advised to contact the President at least a week in advance of a meeting to allow the Executive Committee time to vote on an item’s inclusion in the agenda.

In order to promote informed discussion and to allow Senators time to consult their constituents prior to voting on an issue, items raised via New Business or via formal motion will typically be considered for inclusion on the agenda at a future meeting or may be referred to a standing committee for further exploration. Exceptions to this timeline are usually reserved for extremely time-sensitive issues.

Does the Faculty Senate use parliamentary procedures to conduct meetings?

Yes, the Senate adheres to Robert’s Rules of Order at its meetings. Please see “Robert’s Rules Simplified” on this website.

What do I do if I’m a Senator and I have something to say about a matter under discussion at the meeting?

Discussion happens at designated times during Faculty Senate meetings. Once the chair has indicated that it is time for discussion on a particular issue, please raise your hand (in person or virtually) if you wish to speak so that you may be recognized. You must wait to be recognized by the President. Otherwise, Senators may not interrupt or interject except in the case of a point of order.

Begin your remarks by stating your name and the department or school you represent. Senators present at the meeting in Evanston use a microphone so that senators online can hear what they’re saying, and so the secretary can produce accurate minutes.

Are there any specific rules around decorum at Faculty Senate meetings?

At the beginning of each meeting the Faculty Senate President reminds Senators of the diversity of views among those in the Senate and of the value in having an environment in which everyone feels comfortable expressing their views.

We follow Robert’s Rules of Order and we ask that all Senators adhere to these, which are in place to ensure fairness for all Senators and guests, and to promote an environment in which high-quality civil discourse can occur, including the following:

  • Senators must refrain from speaking until recognized by the chair. The only exception to this is if you believe another Senator is out of order. In that case, you may interrupt the meeting and declare a “point of order.”
  • Senators must speak specifically to the subject under debate and the merits of the pending question, and they must ask questions of speakers that are relevant to the topic and the speaker’s statements.
  • Senators must maintain a courteous tone and avoid injecting a personal note into the debate
  • Senators are encouraged to direct their comments to the chair of the meeting rather than to one another.
  • Senators are limited to one comment or question per agenda item until all Senators have had a chance to participate.

I was unable to attend a meeting. How do I find out what I missed?

Senators (and the Northwestern community) will have access to the meeting minutes before the following month’s meeting. Additionally, Senators can keep an eye on Daily Northwestern coverage, as Daily reporters are assigned to attend most meetings and often write stories the next day. However, because the Daily typically only includes a fraction of discussion in their coverage, Senators are encouraged to consider the approved meeting minutes as the best record to consult and share with constituents.

Faculty Senate Leadership and Administration

What are the purpose and duties of the Executive Committee?

The Faculty Senate Executive Committee serves several major functions, including:

  • Reviews and approves resolutions or other formal proposals and recommendations brought to it by standing committees and sets and approves the Faculty Senate’s strategic direction and meeting agendas.
  • Advances consideration of issues that are of concern to faculty or Faculty Senators, including those that are referred to it by standing committees or raised as new business in the Faculty Senate.
  • Communicates faculty perspectives and concerns to senior administration so they are brought to bear on the university’s priorities and plans.
  • Provides guidance to standing committees and refers issues of concern to them, as needed, for deliberation and possible action.
  • Consults with senior administration officials to better understand their functions, stay informed of their plans, provide faculty input, and improve faculty engagement in shared governance.

Executive Committee members’ responsibilities:

  • Hold meetings of your standing committee at least once per quarter, or more if necessary, to conduct Senate business.
  • Attend all monthly meetings of the Executive Committee to set the Faculty Senate agenda, and attend all quarterly Summits with senior administration officials.
  • Actively engage with administration officials in Summits and other meetings, or through your committee, to ensure that faculty perspectives are heard and represented.
  • Actively engage in discussion with Faculty Senate leadership and Executive Committee colleagues so that Senators may hear and consider many different perspectives on critical issues.
  • Set an agenda at the beginning of the year based on one or more of the following: issues raised by a faculty member or Senator, University policy change or area for improvement, committee-determined priority.
  • Compose a year-end report that details what your committee accomplished, what business is pending, and what new business might be on the horizon.

What is the role of the Faculty Senate Secretary?

An essential part of a Senator’s charge is to keep their constituents informed of Senate business, and to solicit the opinions of those constituents on Senate goals and proposed actions.

To facilitate communication, the Secretary of the Faculty Senate:

  • Maintains the Senate website where general resources as well as recent Documents, Senate presentations, meeting minutes, and quarterly newsletters can be found.
  • Circulates the Senate meeting agenda and documents to the Faculty Senate at least 48 hours prior to each Senate meeting.
  • Is available for consultation with any Senator who needs additional information about ongoing business or parliamentary procedure.
  • Arranges and supports all standing committee meetings, forging lateral pathways across the Senate.
  • Arranges Faculty Senate and Faculty Assembly meetings to be livestreamed so that interested faculty members may watch online or join in person if the meeting is hybrid.
  • Manages the Faculty Senate email account. For inquiries sent directly to the Faculty Senate President, please write to

Faculty Senate Committees

When and how often should committees meet?

Standing committees meet at least once per quarter, as required by the Faculty Senate bylaws. Committees may meet more often, particularly if there is pressing work to do. Committee business takes place primarily during the academic year. Chairs may set up their committee’s first meeting once they receive a list of committee members from the Faculty Senate secretary and after the first Faculty Senate meeting, where chair appointments are formally approved by the full Senate.

How does a senator become a committee chair?

According to Faculty Senate bylaws, the nominees for chairs of the 12 standing committees are recommended by the President, Immediate Past President and the President Elect. They serve one-year terms that are renewable at the discretion of Faculty Senate Leadership. When a committee chair steps down or their term as a Senator expires, FS leadership endeavors to select a new chair with broad representation in mind, including by school and department (humanities, STEM, Evanston or Chicago campus), and with gender or other representation in mind. Leadership, at its discretion, may also solicit recommendations from the committees or the Faculty Senate at large.

How do chairs call a meeting?

To convene a meeting, committee chairs contact the Faculty Senate secretary, who works to find a suitable day and time for the chair and committee members. The secretary and/or the Faculty Senate researcher may attend the committee meetings. They serve as a source of lateral connection between committees, provide institutional knowledge, and can provide important guidance on how to proceed with initiatives.

How are committee priorities determined?

When committees meet for the first time, members may have pressing issues in mind. There may also be issues pending from the previous academic year. The committee can decide whether these issues warrant some kind of action, including seeking additional information, collaborating with another Faculty Senate committee, meeting with relevant stakeholders at the University, or tabling the issue.

Issues may also land in committees from new business items raised at Faculty Senate meetings or items that are discussed at Executive Committee meetings that are then referred to a committee. They can come from faculty emails sent to the Faculty Senate president or to a committee chair. If you have any questions about what to do when this happens, contact the Faculty Senate secretary.

What if I’m unsure about either Faculty Senate or University policies and procedures?

The Faculty Senate secretary is a vital resource for you on most questions. Feel free to contact the secretary whenever you are unsure about something or even unsure about whom to ask. The secretary has a deep understanding of Northwestern functions as they relate to the Senate and shared governance, especially actionable items, and the Bylaws; coordinates actions between committees, the leadership, and administration; and ensures that committees meet regularly. The Faculty Senate also has a dedicated parliamentarian who provides guidance on the bylaws and Robert’s Rules when needed.

What if my committee needs substantive information on a topic?

The Faculty Senate researcher is another crucial resource who can investigate topics and provide information on past Northwestern policies and actions, as well as those of peer institutions. To maintain research capacity, only committee chairs and Senate leadership may assign projects to the researcher.

Committees can also invite administration officials to attend a committee meeting and brief members on critical issues of concern. Some chairs regularly invite a relevant administrator to their committee meetings (for example, the NTE Committee meets once per quarter with the Associate Provost for Faculty). Committees can also collaborate with relevant student organizations like ASG and GLAC.

Can committees collaborate if an issue pertains to both?

Yes, and in fact this happens all the time. Committees can collaborate with other relevant committees to produce substantive work, such as resolutions and other actionable items.

What do the committee chairs do in Executive Committee meetings?

The Senate president usually begins the meeting with a report or update, followed by discussion and other agenda items. This may include a briefing by a senior administrator or a formal vote on a resolution or other Senate business. Before the end of the meeting, each standing committee chair is asked to brief the group on the activities of their committee. Finally, the Executive Committee approves the agenda for the upcoming Faculty Senate meeting.

Any formal resolutions that a committee wishes to bring to the full Senate must first be presented and approved at the Executive Committee meeting. If a committee or committees have written a resolution, the relevant committee chairs present them and take questions. The Executive Committee can vote to either put the resolution on the full Senate meeting agenda, propose changes to the resolution and/or determine that more work is needed and send the resolution back to committee.

What are the quarterly Summits?

Each quarter, the Executive Committee meets with senior administrators (President, Provost, Vice Presidents, etc.) to discuss the work of the Faculty Senate and any pressing topics, and to hear reports on various administrative pursuits and provide feedback. The Senate President sets the agenda in consultation with the Executive Committee, usually at the meeting prior to the Summit. Some chairs may be asked to report on their committee’s work if it is deemed relevant. Otherwise, all Executive Committee members are expected to attend and participate in fruitful dialogue with university administration.

What is the Committee on Cause?

“The Committee on Cause reviews appeals in connection with faculty disciplinary proceedings. Each fall, pursuant to procedures set forth in the Faculty Senate Bylaws, the Faculty Senate’s Executive Committee will nominate members of the Faculty Senate to serve on the Committee on Cause. A sufficient number of faculty will be nominated such that five members of the Committee on Cause are available to be empanelled to hear each case. When the appellant is a non-tenure-eligible faculty member, at least two of the five panel members will be non-tenure-eligible faculty.” The Committee on Cause is the only Faculty Senate committee that meets exclusively on an as-needed basis.