An Introduction to Parliamentary Procedure

The International Constitution and Bylaws requires that all meetings of the Grand Chapter be governed by parliamentary procedure as contained in Robert’s Rules of Order, except as otherwise provided in the Constitution and Laws. The model set for bylaws for undergraduate chapters also makes the provision for the conduct of Teke chapter meetings, house meetings, and so forth. It is therefore considered important for all active Tekes to have some knowledge of Robert’s Rules.

While it is quite true that strict parliamentary procedure is not necessary in small fraternal groups, such as chapter meetings, continual practice in correct procedure in TKE meetings is invaluable training for any Teke. For upon graduation, the average Teke will find himself in many civic, and perhaps political, organizations that may be neither small nor fraternal, and here his working knowledge of Robert’s Rules may be most important, inasmuch as almost all organizations use these rules.

Parliamentary procedure is simply the way of doing business developed many years ago in the British Parliament. Several dozen years ago, General H. M. Robert prepared the work which compiled parliamentary rules, as developed, revised and used by the U.S. Congress, and which is known as Robert’s Rules of Order.

The whole purpose of these rules is to: (1) insure majority rule, (2) protect the rights of the minority, and (3) expedite business. Unfortunately, the first time an entire group begins using strict parliamentary procedure, majority rule is not insured, the minority is not protected, and business is far from expedited. When a few members of a group understand these rules, and the majority does not, these few members can railroad through most anything, to the utter confusion and helplessness of the majority. Furthermore, when the members of a group are just learning these rules, many hours may be wasted in constant questions on points of order. There have been cases in Teke chapter meetings when it took two and even three hours to accomplish what could have been done by the chapter in less than ten minutes before the chapter instituted strict parliamentary procedure. (But eventually the chapter found that it could conduct an entire week’s business in less than two-thirds of the time required before adopting the rules and do so in the most fair and equitable manner.) In larger meetings, such as meetings of the Grand Chapter, the use of Robert’s Rules is absolutely essential to complete the necessary business in the time allotted. In these meetings anyone without a thorough knowledge of these rules is at a distinct disadvantage.

It is beyond the scope of this article to present complete rules of order. It is the duty of the Epiprytanis to bring a complete edition of Robert’s Rules, together with this book and the chapter bylaws, to each chapter meeting and to advise the Prytanis and the chapter on proper procedure. He will only advise, however, as final decisions must be made by the chair or, when appealed, by the entire chapter. A study of this section by the average member, however, will allow him to understand the basic principles of what is going on and at least allow him to ask fairly intelligent questions. The use of the large table at the end of this section will answer most specific points of order likely to arise in ordinary Teke and campus organization meetings. It will be necessary, however, to study the table carefully several times before trying to use it during a meeting.


A motion is the proper form of bringing a question for consideration or a proposal of action before a chapter meeting. Though most of the motions presented to chapters are oral, the Prytanis or presiding officer may refuse to receive a motion unless it be in writing. When a motion is reduced to writing it may be read by the mover and then passed to the Grammateus or secretary, or it may be handed to the Grammateus, who should read it, when so requested by the chair. The rule requiring that motions be in writing applies only to principle motions.

Main Motions A main or principal motion brings a particular subject before an assembly for consideration. When a frater wishes to bring any matter before the chapter for its consideration, he rises, addresses the Prytanis, and, when recognized, states his motion; as, for example, "I move that a committee of three be appointed by the Prytanis to inquire into the possibility of securing the Robinson Auditorium for the initiation banquet."

The mover should be very careful to word his motion so that it may not be misinterpreted. A principal motion must be seconded. In seconding a motion, strict parliamentary rules require that the member wishing to second it shall rise, address the chair, and, when recognized, say, I second the motion," or "I second Frater A’s motion." However, if there is but one motion pending, in most chapters it is customary for any member, without rising or addressing the chair, to call out, "I second the motion." Thereupon the Prytanis assumes that the assembly wishes to vote on the motion, and regularly puts it before the body.

Resolutions When the motion is lengthy, it should always be in writing. In this case it is known as a resolution. Such motions usually begin with the word "Resolved." The member wishing to put a resolution before an organization should carefully write out the resolution in advance. When the proper time arrives for the consideration of such business, he should address the chair, and, when recognized, say, "I move the adoption of the following resolution." (Here he reads the resolution and passes it to the chairman.) The resolution may now be seconded and acted upon in the same way as any other motion. Any member who is in doubt as to the wording or the meaning of some part of the resolution may request that a part of all of it be read again. Upon request of the Prytanis, the Grammateus should then read part or all of the resolution.

Withdrawal A motion which has been made and seconded may be withdrawn by the maker without consent at any time before it is stated by the chair, but not after.

Rescinding At any time after a motion has been passed, it may be annulled by passing a motion or resolution to rescind or repeal it. If notice of such proposed action is not given at a previous meeting, a two-thirds majority of those present or a majority of all the membership is required to rescind. The motion to rescind is a main motion without any privilege, and can be introduced only when there is nothing else before the assembly. The effect of a motion to rescind is to revoke or set aside a previous act.

Subsidiary Motions

When a principal motion has been made and seconded and has been stated by the chair, the chapter is not at liberty to consider any other business. A motion bearing on any other subject would be out of order and could not be considered. However, certain motions are always in order and may have precedence over others. Such motions are known as subsidiary motions.

Order of Precedence of Motions

The rank, or precedence, of ordinary motions is given in the table below, the lowest rank being at the bottom and the highest at the top of the list. When any one of them is immediately pending, the motion above it in the list are in order and those below are out of order. Those marked 2/3 require a two-thirds affirmative vote of the votes cast for their adoption, the others requiring only a majority.

  • Fix the time to which to adjourn: Amendable  
  • Adjourn  
  • Raise a question of privilege(see note): Undebatable  
  • Call for orders of the day  
  • Lay on the table  
  • Take a recess: Privileged, Amendable  
  • Previous question (2/3)  
  • Limit or extend limits of debate (2/3): Amendable  
  • Postpone to a certain time: Subsidiary, Amendable  
  • Commit or refer: Amendable  
  • Amend: Amendable, Debatable  
  • Postpone indefinitely  
  • A main motion: Amendable  


Note: The first three motions are not always privileged; see Robert’s Rules for details. The first motion is always out of order in Teke meetings since the chapter bylaws provide for regular meetings on certain days and at certain designated times. The motion to adjourn is not necessary in chapter meetings-unless the Prytanis is asleep. The chair may call the meeting closed, when there is no more business, without action from the floor. Most chapters consider the motion to adjourn out of order on the grounds that all business should be disposed of before ending a Teke meeting.

At this point the member who arose to a point of order, or any other member, may rise, and without waiting to be recognized, say, "Venerable Prytanis, I appeal from the decision of the chair." Whereupon the Prytanis says, "Shall the decision of the chair stand as the decision of the chapter?" The question is now open for debate and may be discussed freely by any members. The presiding officer is at liberty to discuss this question without leaving the chair. At the conclusion of the debate a vote is taken in the same manner as on other questions. If the presiding officer is sustained, his decision stands. Otherwise, he yields to the wish of the majority and proceeds accordingly.

Privileged Questions

A privileged question, or motion, is one which, by reason of its importance when raised, demands immediate attention and decision, excluding for the time being any other business that may be before the house.

There are five privileged questions: (1) to adjourn, (2) to fix the time to which the body shall adjourn, (3) to take a recess, (4) to call for the orders of the day, and (5) to raise a question of privilege. The first two are not in order at Teke chapter meetings.

General Conditions Privileged questions do not modify nor bear upon the main question, though they may be presented while the principal motion or other motions are being considered. They may be introduced at any time, and must be considered before any other subject or proposition that may be before the group.

Orders of the Day Orders of the day are matters the consideration of which has been fixed for some particular day or time. This is done by a motion that the subject be made "the order of the day" for such a time, and the matter so assigned becomes the subject for consideration on that day or at that time. If several subjects are assigned for the same day, they are called "orders of the day."

Addressing the Chair

A Member Speaks But Once

Except to clear a matter of fact or to explain himself in some material part of his speech, a member can speak but once on any motion or question before an organization. When all have spoken who wish to do so, a member may speak a second time if permitted by the chair or by a majority vote of the assembly.

Members Must Vote

It is customary for every member who is in the room at the time the question is stated to vote, and for those not in the room at that time not to vote. It sometimes happens that, for special reasons, a member, by a majority vote of the others present, is excused from voting.


Probably the most serious defect in most organizations is the lack of reasonable decorum. If business is to be transacted or a program is to be carried out, it is necessary that good order be maintained. While whispering need not be prohibited, it should be absolutely avoided while anyone is speaking from the floor. Common courtesy demands observance of this rule. From the time the gavel drops to call the meeting to order until it falls again, dismissing the assembly, loud talking, and indiscriminate laughing should not be indulged in by any member. Such conduct interferes greatly with the progress of the meeting and conveys the impression of ill breeding on the part of the offending member.

Permission to Withdraw from Meeting No member of an organization should leave during the progress of a meeting unless he is formally excused by the presiding officer. Courtesy demands that any member wishing to leave should rise, address the chair, and, when recognized, courteously ask to be excused; or he should rise and say, "I rise to a question of personal privilege." In the latter case, the presiding officer says, "The frater (or gentleman) will state his question of privilege." The member then courteously asks to be excused and may give briefly his reason. If the request seems reasonable, the presiding officer says: "The question of privilege is sustained. The member is excused."

If the absence of the member would reduce the number in the assembly to less than a quorum or would interfere with the progress of the meeting, the presiding officer should say, "The question of privilege is denied." In the case of sickness, the member should, of course, be excused, and the assembly may, if necessary, take a recess or even adjourn. Where circumstances seem to demand it, in cases other than sickness, the member should be excused, even if such action forces an adjournment. Any member may appeal from the decision of the chair to the assembly, in which case the method of procedure is the same as appealing from the decision of the chair upon a point of order.

Recess When the business under discussion at a meeting seems to demand an informal treatment, it is often wise to take recess for a short time to allow members to move about and talk informally.

Manner of Speaking In speaking from the floor, members should be very careful to maintain a calm attitude and a deliberate tone of voice, even though inwardly they may feel neither calm nor deliberate. Nothing so mars the dignity of a meeting as a retort from some member in a harsh or loud, angry voice. The deliberate speech is much more effective, and lends dignity to the meeting and respect to the speaker.


Regular meetings are those fixed by the constitution or the bylaws or by the rules of the body. Special meetings are called in the interim between regular meetings. Due notice of such meetings, including the times and places, and the specific purposes for which such meetings are called, must be given to every member. The business of any special meeting is limited to the specific matters mentioned in the call.

Quorum A quorum is such a number of members of an assembly as must be present in order that business can be legally transacted.

Counting a Quorum When the roll is called to ascertain whether a quorum is present, it sometimes happens that members neglect to respond to their names, when called, and the presiding officer doubts the accuracy of the record, if it shows less than a quorum present. In such cases, he may direct the secretary or Grammateus to count the members present. This procedure is called counting a quorum.


Various forms of voting are in use. The simplest and most common is the voice vote, in which those in favor say aye and those opposed say no. The chairman determines the result from the sound or volume of the voice. Other forms of voting are raising the hands, rising, standing in different parts of the room, recording the yeas and nays, and by tellers. The vote by rising or by standing in different parts of the room is known as a division.

Division Venerable Prytanis (or Frater…At this point the member who arose to a point of order, or any other member, may rise, and without waiting to be recognized, say, "Venerable Prytanis, I appeal from the decision of the chair." Whereupon the Prytanis says, "Shall the decision of the chair stand as the decision of the chapter?" The question is now open for debate and may be discussed freely by any members. The presiding officer is at liberty to discuss this question without leaving the chair. At the conclusion of the debate a vote is taken in the same manner as on other questions. If the presiding officer is sustained, his decision stands. Otherwise, he yields to the wish of the majority and proceeds accordingly.

Changing a Motion When it is desired to change a motion which is regularly before a chapter, by unanimous consent, the maker may change it, the seconded giving his consent. Instead, however, any member, on being recognized, may propose an amendment to the motion. The amendment, if seconded, is debatable and should be voted on in the same way as any other motion. If carried, it becomes part of the original motion. The original motion as amended should then be considered as a whole and disposed of. While the amendment to the amendment, which, if seconded, should be voted on, and which, if carried, becomes a part of the amendment. The amendment, as amended, is then put to a vote, and, if carried, it becomes part of the original motion. The motion, as amended, should then be put to a vote.

Adjourn A motion to adjourn is not in order at formal Teke chapter meetings.

Commit or Refer to a Committee If a motion becomes involved through amendments, or in any other way, or is unexpectedly introduced and not well understood by the members, a motion may be passed referring it to a committee for further consideration. The motion to commit is intended to take the subject from the main body and transfer it to the consideration of a smaller number, or to the whole number acting under broader privileges than those of the formal body.

The form of the motion is as follows: "I move that the (matter, motion, or whatever the proposition may be) be referred to a committee (indicating the character of the committee)." The motion to commit may be made as soon as the matter is introduced or after there has been discussion or amendment, or when any other stage in the consideration has been reached. This motion may be made while an amendment is pending, and it is debatable. It is amendable only as to the membership of the committee, its place of meeting, or other similar details. The effect of the adoption of the motion to commit is to end the consideration of the matter in the chapter, and to pass it over to the designated committee.

The motion to recommit is the same as to commit, except that it refers to a matter which has already been reported by a committee.

Lie on the Table If at any time a chapter does not wish to consider further a motion which is before it, or wishes to dispose of the question permanently without allowing it to come to a vote, a motion may be introduced that the question lie on the table. The motion is neither debatable nor amendable, and permanently disposes of the question until a majority see fit to take it up again.

Postpone to a Certain Time A motion to postpone the question before the chapter to some definite future time is in order, except when a speaker has the floor. It is debatable as to the question of postponement only.

Reconsider A member who voted with the majority on a motion may, on the same day or at the same session in which the motion was disposed of, make a motion to reconsider the previous motion. Such a motion can be made in the midst of debate and when another member has the floor, but cannot be considered while another motion is pending. However, when it is taken up, it has precedence over every other motion except a motion to adjourn (in regular assemblies where the motion to adjourn is allowed). If the original question was debatable, the motion to reconsider is debatable, but not otherwise. If the motion is carried, the original question is before the chapter for consideration. If a motion to reconsider is entered on the minutes, it need not be acted upon at that meeting, but it must be acted upon at the meeting following or it is lost.

Take from the Table A motion to take from the table a question which lies there may be made at any time under the head of unfinished business. If adopted, it cannot be reconsidered; if lost, it can be reconsidered. It cannot be amended, is not debatable, and does not open the main question to debate.

Previous Question If debate on any question becomes tiresome or is long drawn out, any member may rise and, when recognized, say, "I move the previous question." If this motion is seconded, the presiding officer says, "Shall the main question be now put? All those in favor signify it by the usual sign. Opposed, by the proper sign." If the vote on the previous question is in the affirmative, a vote on the main question shall follow immediately. If the vote on the previous question is negative, the discussion continues as if the motion on the previous question had not been made. The previous question takes precedence of all subsidiary motions except the motion to lie on the table. It is neither debatable nor amendable, and requires a two-thirds vote for adoption.

To Limit Debate A motion to limit debate to a certain number of minutes for each person on each side may be made, if there is a tendency to prolong debate unnecessarily.

Parliamentary Inquiries

Parliamentary inquiries are questions addressed to the chair in order to ascertain the status of the business, the effect of a proposition, or the proper procedure at a particular time. Both the inquiry and the response of the chair are usually informal and no appeal can be taken from the "response of the chair." The Prytanis may consult with the Epiprytanis on questions of parliamentary procedure, but it is the Prytanis (or chairman) who makes the final decision.

Filling Blanks

Propositions are often introduced with blanks purposely left to be filled in by the meeting. These can be filled by suggestions without the formality of a motion if the assembly consents. If there is objection, action on these may be taken as on any amendment.

Point of Order

While the Prytanis should insist on conducting the affairs of an organization according to parliamentary rules, it frequently happens that he fails to do so. If the violation of order is a flagrant one or if, when continued, it would result in a procedure different from that which would result if the affairs were conducted according to rule, some member should rise to a point of order.

Regardless of who has the floor, any member may rise and, without waiting to be recognized, say, "Venerable Prytanis (or Frater Chairman), I rise to a point of order." Hereupon, whoever is speaking should stop, and the chair should say, "Please state your point of order." The member, in a calm, deliberate manner, should explain as briefly as possible why he regards the speaker as out of order or the procedure as not parliamentary. If the chair agrees with the member, he says, "The point of order (or the contention) is sustained. The frater will please yield the floor," or he will say whatever is necessary to halt the unparliamentary procedure. If the chair disagrees with the member and thinks the procedure in order, he says, "The point of order (or the contention) is denied. The speaker may continue," or he will say whatever is necessary to continue the procedure.