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How to Write an Effective Resolution

When Do You Need a Resolution?

A simple, but not complete, answer to this question is “anytime the commission is proposing a new policy or making significant revisions to existing policy statements.” Policy matters, which are a primary responsibility of the commissions, should be highlighted and documented in resolution format for discussion by University Council so that the policy may be approved and adopted by the university community. A “President’s Policy Memorandum,” which is used to announce an approved policy to the relevant members of the university community, will not be issued unless a formal resolution has been considered and approved by University Council and recommended to the President.

There are other significant actions commissions may consider, however, that do not necessarily fall into the category of “policy actions.” Some of these require, or would certainly benefit from, passage of a formal resolution. For example, the approval of a new degree program should be highlighted through a resolution and brought to the attention of University Council for approval. As a general rule, if it is something important, you should probably be presenting it to Council in a resolution format.

From time to time, commissions may be asked to review proposed procedural guidelines and to give their advice to the administrative officers responsible for implementing a particular policy. Generally, such advice is given by commission members without using a resolution format; nor are procedural matters generally sent to University Council for approval. Exceptions to this are those cases where procedures are embedded in a new policy statement-- such as procedures related to reduction in force and post-tenure review-- or procedures adopted by the commissions themselves for conducting the business with which they are charged-- examples are procedures for reviewing new graduate degree programs or CUSP procedures for approving courses. These were cases where important, new procedures required discussion and agreement by the broader university community and hence attention by University Council.

Resolution Format (links to samples in the right column):

An effective resolution is one that conveys a sense of the issue or problem that led to the proposed action, provides an explanation or justification for the particular proposed solution, gives the reader enough background so he/she can understand what is being proposed, and makes it absolutely clear what people are voting on. Typical resolutions have several parts:

  1. Heading:
    • The first line should be a brief descriptive title for the resolution, i.e. “Academic Eligibility,” “Post-tenure Review,” or “Approval Process for New Degree Program Proposals.”
    • The second line should be the name of the originating commission(s).
    • The third line should be a resolution designation number from the commission, such as CFA Resolution 2006-07A (B, C, etc. as they are considered and passed by the commission), or some other numbering scheme that clearly identifies the year of consideration and the specific resolution.
    • It is also helpful to include the following lines in the heading, with dates added as completed:
      • Approved by the Commission on ________: (date)
      • First reading by University Council: (date)
      • Approved by University Council: (date)
      • Approved by the President: (date)
      • Approved by the Board of Visitors: (date)
        (include only when BOV approval required)
      • Effective date: (date; immediately; whatever is appropriate
  2. WHEREAS statements:
    • The WHEREAS statements are where you describe the problem or issue, the history or context for the policy if important, which bodies were involved in reviewing and advising on this policy proposal, and the general nature of the policy solution being proposed and why it solves the problem.
    • When these are well written, there is a kind of rolling logic to the statements. In some cases, the statements might be organized in chronological order.
    • While you should make sure you cover the topic well enough for an uninitiated reader to follow, typically a resolution should be one page or less, total. A very simple issue might require one or two WHEREAS statements. A more involved issue might require five or six WHEREAS statements, each a brief paragraph of several sentences.
  3. THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED statement:
    • This is the punchline. It is the action being taken. You should state EXACTLY what is to be voted upon. If the item is very brief, then it can be incorporated in this section of the resolution. If you are revising existing language, it is often very helpful to include the old version so that the reader can compare the two. If the new or revised policy statement is long, then this section might say: “That the attached policy on (subject) be adopted effective (date).” Then attach the complete policy statement clearly identified at the top.
    • It is VERY important to state exactly how the new or revised policy will go into effect. For example, policies affecting faculty employment are incorporated in the Faculty Handbook and a reference should be made to a specific section of the Handbook that would be revised. Student-related policies are often appropriate for the University Polices for Student Life. Other policies may be issued as President’s Policy Memoranda and/or given a policy number and included among general university policies. Administrative staff to the commissions should be able to advise resolution writers about where new policy will be incorporated and how this should be stated for the resolution. The commission needs to give some thought to this as they are drafting language for new policy statements. Usually, it is not sufficient to simply wave a wand and state that “university documents should be revised accordingly.” You need to be specific about what should be revised and exactly what language is being proposed for the revision. The reason for this is obvious once you start the task-- it often brings up issues that need more discussion and resolution if the policy is really going to be implemented.
    • Include an effective date for the policy (effective immediately? some subsequent term?)

What has to go to the Board of Visitors?

The answer to this question is not always easy, but there are some general rules about which policy items require approval by the Board, based on the state statute which delineates Board responsibilities and on general practice. When there is uncertainty about whether an item needs to go to the Board, it is up to the President and the University Legal Counsel to make this determination. Chief among the issues for which the Board is responsible are faculty and university staff employment policies, appointments, salaries, leaves, appointment to endowed professorships, and related aspects of faculty and university staff employment. Hence, many of the actions of the Commission on Faculty Affairs and the Commission on Administrative and Professional Faculty Affairs require Board review and approval, particularly new policy to be incorporated in chapters 2 or 3 of the Handbook; minor revisions to existing policy are not usually taken to the Board. Generally, statements of new or revised PROCEDURES, as opposed to POLICY, do not need to go to the Board. Policies concerning classified staff may, or may not, have to go to the Board for its approval.

The Board has usually considered all matters related to student discipline. Hence items related to student discipline coming from the Commission on Student Affairs (or from other committees and commissions, such as matters related to the Honor System), generally go to the Board for approval prior to implementation of a new policy.

Typically, the Board has not chosen to review matters relating to the curriculum. Exceptions to this are the initiation, major revision to, or discontinuance of a degree authorization (these also require review and approval by the State Council for Higher Education) and creation or dissolution of a major organizational unit, such as a college or school. Although the Board does not usually review or approve most academic policies, they retain an interest in such matters and are frequently briefed on significant changes or the adoption of new policies after the fact. The Board is required to approve reports and recommendations resulting from the reviews of research centers which were established through legislative action.

The Board of course, has many fiduciary responsibilities, such as establishing the budget, overseeing internal audit, approving the sale or purchase of property and naming of buildings, approving plans for capital projects, and many other issues that generally are not dealt with by the commissions.