Orientation for Committee Secretaries

Orientation

Whether this is your first time as a committee secretary or you are in need of a refresher, this webpage provides resources that will assist you:

  • Templates and sample documents
  • Links to key policies that are relevant for School committees
  • An overview of the key steps in the committee meeting process

Templates and sample documents

First steps

Read the Terms of Reference (ToR) for the committee you are secretary to.  The terms of reference outline the key responsibilities of each committee and can be found in Part B of the Academic Senate Standing Committees Policy.

As a committee secretary you will have to interact with committee members and advise them on the application of a range of policies that affect the operation of the respective committee e.g. School Academic Committee or School Research and Higher Degrees Committee.  For this reason it is important that you are familiar with policies related to the committee's business.

In supporting the business of your committee, you are likely to engage with the policies listed below, although this list should not be considered exhaustive:

Setting clear expectations with the Chair

Whether you are supporting the School/Badanami Academic Committee or the School Research & Higher Degrees Committee, many of the duties will be the same but with different content.  The following information will assist you, regardless of the committee you are supporting.

For a committee to function effectively the working relationship between the secretary and the Chair is vital.  As secretary, you will act on behalf of the Chair regarding issues relating to the committee or a particular meeting.

Check the Chair's expectations in relation to:

  • Will they accept late items or only a limited type of item? If not, are they automatically relisted for the next agenda?
  • Preparation of the draft agenda? How much does the Chair wish to direct/how much should the secretary prepare before review by the Chair?
  • How quickly after a meeting do they want the draft minutes?

Agendas

  • A sample agenda and an agenda template has been provided.  As a general rule, put the "important" items first i.e. those things requiring approval or forwarding to a higher committee and put the 'for information' items at the end
  • Each item should contain enough explanation in the narrative to allow a member to know whether to open the attachment and read further and a clear recommendation of what action is required
  • Starring of items is a procedural process that assists the committee to deal with the routine and non-controversial matters in an agenda.  Only items that are starred on the agenda are discussed at the meeting.  As secretary, you may do the initial starring of the draft agenda for the Chair to review before it is circulated to the committee.  The committee members are then invited to "star" or "un-star" items before the meeting proceeds.

Urgent business may be considered outside the normal meeting schedule where it is not feasible to assemble all the members for an extraordinary meeting.  An electronic meeting (by email) can be conducted.  See procedures on how to conduct such a meeting.

At the meeting

You have a vital role to ensure that the business of the meeting is valid:

  • Quorum - one half of the 'voting' members of a committee (if one-half is not whole number, the next whole number rounded up).  Some committees may have non-voting representatives prescribed in the terms of reference, however these are not counted for quorum.
  • During results meetings, any student representatives are excluded from calculation of quorum as they are unable to participate in the meeting.

If a meeting is inquorate (i.e. the meeting does not have the required quorum) then the Chair may proceed to have a discussion on the matters within the agenda but any matters determined by the meeting are "informal" and cannot be enacted until formally approved either by an electronic meeting that is quorate or at the next meeting.  In the case of a School Academic Committee, the matters could be ratified by the SAC Executive.

After the meeting

As the School/Badanami Committees are formal University committees under the Academic Senate Standing Committee Policy, a high standard of minute taking is required.

  • The minutes of meeting are official university records and can be used as evidence.  They should be saved in TRIM.  The test of a well recorded minute is that a person who was not present at the meeting could reasonably understand why a certain recommendation was approved or rejected.
  • Minutes are not word-for-word records of what was said but could reflect the key points raised, a summary of the discussion and a clear record of what was decided and any action that is to follow.  They do not record 'who said what'.  The resources list includes the layout of Academic Senate style minutes.
  • Within one week of the meeting, your draft minutes are forwarded to the committee Chair, who will review and may amend them before they are ready for circulation to the committee as 'unconfirmed minutes'.  Best practice is for 'unconfirmed minutes' and the related 'action sheet' to be circulated to the committee no later than 10 working days following a meeting.  In some circumstances, a separate 'report' summary may be required for general circulation within your School and a sample report format is provided in the resources section above.
  • Actions arising from the unconfirmed minutes are to be summarised in an action sheet to be circulated to the members with the unconfirmed minutes.
  • As secretary, you will monitor the actions to be carried out by the respective members and communicate recommendations of the Committee to other relevant committees as soon as practicable.  For example, for course & unit variations, you will advise the secretary of the related Curriculum Quality Committee (Arts & Business or Health & Science) of the items endorsed for progression by the SAC.

If this is your first time as a committee secretary, some of the terminology may be bewildering so check the useful Glossary of Terms in the resource list to assist you.

Document filing

  • As minutes of meetings are official university documents, they must be recorded and stored in the University records system.
  • A sample of the TRIM Thesaurus and titling conventions can be obtained from the Secretariat in the Office of Governance Services or from Records and Archives Management Services.

Professional Development

A number of useful courses are offered by the Office of Organisational Development.

  • Meetings & Minutes @ Western Sydney University - a practical course for convenors and secretaries to effectively prepare for, and manage, meetings.
  • Business & Report Writing - a one-day workshop focusing on styles of business and report writing frequently used in the University.

The following links may assist professional staff to fulfil their responsibilities:

Prepared by:
Secretariat
Office of Governance Services
Western Sydney University

Acknowledgement
The Monash University's Executive Services website provided a useful model for the organisation of this resource package.