We in the Senate Owe Jay Rosenstein an Apology

Bruce Rosenstock

At the last Academic Senate meeting (April 30, 2018), Jay Rosenstein and several other senators (Rahul Raja, Katherine La Barre, Bruce Reznick) brought forward a resolution that would have asked “the Chancellor and Athletic Director to direct all State Farm Center and Memorial Stadium personnel, including UI police, to enforce the no-protest policy equally and by the same standard for all, including enforcing the policy with respect to unauthorized appearances by a Chief Illiniwek character in costume.” A similar, amended resolution was eventually passed.

A community member and UIUC employee, Ms. Breelyn Fay, requested floor privileges to speak in relation to the resolution on the State Farm Center no-protest policy. The result of a vote on granting her privilege to speak was 56 in favor, 55 opposed, and 5 abstentions. According to Robert’s Rules of Order, a non-member can be granted privileges to speak if a majority votes in favor of a motion to permit this privilege. Therefore, Ms. Fay should NOT have been allowed to speak. She did not receive a majority of the votes. However, no one present in the meeting, including the parliamentarian Professor George Friedman, observed that she had not achieved a majority of the vote. Instead, she was permitted to speak.

During her speech, she began in an orderly way. She argued that the “Chief Illinwek” impersonator was not protesting anything, nor were others around him protesting anything. This seemed to be a legitimate point, although one that ultimately needed to be decided by an investigation into how the word “protest” is intended to be understood by the State Farm Center policy document. In effect, her argument supported the resolution since it requires a close study of the policy in order to make sure that it will be applied fairly. But after making this point, Ms. Fay veered into what Robert’s Rules of Order call “personality.” She criticized the professional standards of Jay Rosenstein, his choice of what topics to devote his documentary filmmaker’s skill to, and a number of much more serious accusations. When the video is made available on the Senate website, everyone can watch her tirade for themselves.

Here is where we all in the Senate owe Jay Rosenstein an apology. Not one of us rose to say “point of order” or “will the speaker yield for a question?” We sat quietly as one of our fellow senators was subjected to a personal attack. Perhaps most distressingly, Chancellor Jones, the Chair of the Senate, failed to exercise his prerogative to call the speaker to order. But while the Chancellor and the parliamentarian failed to fulfill their duties under Robert’s Rules, we, the Senators present that day, also failed in our duties. We all owe Jay an apology. I hope that in the future we know better than to sit quietly when a fellow senator’s personality is attacked.

Here is the relevant passage from Robert’s Rules that we all failed to heed. Although Ms. Faye is not a member of the senate, these basic rules should have applied to her.

Article VII (Debate), section 43: In debate a member must confine himself to the question before the assembly, and avoid personalities. He cannot reflect upon any act of the assembly, unless he intends to conclude his remarks with a motion to rescind such action, or else while debating such a motion. In referring to another member, he should, as much as possible, avoid using his name, rather referring to him as “the member who spoke last,” or in some other way describing him. The officers of the assembly should always be referred to by their official titles. It is not allowable to arraign the motives of a member, but the nature or consequences of a measure may be condemned in strong terms. It is not the man, but the measure, that is the subject of debate.

Dear Jay, I am sorry that I did not object during her tirade against you. “It is not the man, but the measure, that is the subject of debate.”