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Parliamentary Procedure Classes in Higher Education

Roberts Rules of Order

If you are in an organization and need to know more about Robert's rules click here. There is a new chapter in the book especially for HOA's.

Welcome to the PARLIAMENTARY INTERNET NEWSLETTER. This newsletter is for all those who are interested in learning about better meeting procedures, and the preserving of democracy in small groups, organizations, churches, schools and government organizations. We promise to keep the information simple so that all can understand; and we promise to try to answer any questions that you may have concerning any problems in your meetings. We will answer any procedural questions that you have,too. We are most familiar with the parliamentary authority of ROBERT'S RULES OF ORDER, NEWLY REVISED, 1990 Edition. But we have access to THE STANDARD CODE OF PARLIAMENTARY PROCEDURE, by Alice Sturgis, and to DEMETER'S MANUAL OF PARLIAMENTARY LAW AND PROCEDURE, by George Demeter.

This manuscript was published in the American Institute of Parliamentarians' Parliamentary Journal, Vol. XXXV, January, 1994, pp. 16-20.

The Frequency of Parliamentary Procedure Classes in Higher Education in 1992-93
by Al Weitzel
(reprinted by permission)

Parliamentary procedure was once considered by many to be a very important class. For example, in 1916 when the forerunner of the Speech Communication Association was founded, "parliamentary usage" was the second preference among "minimum essentials" courses (Rarig & Greaves, 1954, p. 503). Over the years, its popularity in higher education curricula has fluctuated a great deal (Weitzel, 1975a). However, apparently no systematic study has examined the "popularity" of offering college-level classes in recent years. This study reports that parliamentary procedure skills are still taught in an undergraduate class exclusively for this purpose in approximately one of six communication departments (17%) in the USA. However, this frequency represents a dramatic drop from previous frequencies.

A team of eight undergraduate students reviewed the 1992-93 catalogs of 376 "four-year" colleges and universities that had departments listed in the 1990 Speech Communication Association Directory (SCA, 1990). This sample represented approximately one-half of the four-year schools listed for each state. Researchers were meticulously instructed to review microfiche copies of college catalogs to determine which schools offered certain classes. Each student was assigned specific states to research and was provided the names of the schools to research in those states; the selection of schools was based on the likelihood that they represented the most prominent ones in the states and/or were regarded as having excellent communication departments. If the catalogs for those schools in particular states were not available, in most cases the students were also provided with alternate schools. To determine the name of the department most likely to offer the classes ("communication," "speech," etc.), they were provided a department name from the Directory and instructed to confirm this name; in some cases, more than one department name was provided.

Students researched more than parliamentary procedure classes, as indicated below, and for all classes they were provided synonyms for the researched classes. For example, "parliamentary procedure" might be called "parliamentary law."

To verify the accuracy of the students' research, another student (who was not familiar with the researchers) randomly spot-checked reports by replicating some of the research. This student reviewed the catalogs for all the colleges that offered a class in parliamentary procedure and "randomly" selected additional colleges until approximately one-quarter of each student's findings were verified. Virtually no discrepancies between the original findings and replications were discovered.

This study was a replication of a 1974 study (Weitzel, 1975b) that explored the "popularity" of communication classes that represented a "new" communication perspective (represented by classes in interviewing, intercultural communication, and nonverbal communication) as opposed to classes traditionally offered in speech communication curricula (parliamentary procedure, ethics, and freedom of speech). The findings of the two studies are reported in Table 1.



  1974 Study 1993 Study
Total Sample 535 Schools 376 Schools
Parliamentary procedure 165 (31%) 64 (17%)
Ethics 11 (2%) 79 (21%)
Freedom of speech 25 (5%) 54 (14%)
Interviewing 20 (4%) 135 (36%)
Intercultural communication 51 (10%) 234 (62%)
Nonverbal communication 31 (6%) 158 (42%)

The findings of the two studies are not comparable in at least two respects. The 1974 study did not have a convenient means of discriminating between two-year schools and four-year schools, whereas two-year schools were deliberately excluded in the 1993 sample. Further, whereas the 1974 study included classes offered on the graduate level, the 1993 study focused on the undergraduate level only; however, Table 1 has compensated for this difference by including only undergraduate classes for the 1974 study.

Readers will be gratified to note that the "popularity" of parliamentary procedure classes in the recent study (17%) compares favorably to other "traditional" classes such as ethics (21%) and freedom of speech (14%) as indicated in Table 1.

The discrepancies in the percentage of schools, in the two studies, offering a parliamentary procedure classes is more problematic. On the face of the findings, the percentage of classes has decreased substantially from 31% to 17%. However, it is possible that the explanation of this decrease is more complicated than it appears. There are at least two possible explanations for the discrepancies:

(1.) The sample size of the 1993 study (376 schools) is considerably smaller than the 1974 study (535 schools). Perhaps a larger sample of schools in the 1993 study would have yielded different findings.

(2.) The nature of the schools and communication departments sampled is different. In the 1974 study, schools were selected by convenience (a "grab sample" of available school catalogs), whereas the 1993 study focused on the most prominent schools in the various states and/or those that were regarded as having excellent communication departments (because microfiche technology made a more sophisticated sampling possible). It is possible that less prominent schools might offer a class such as parliamentary procedure because such schools "ground" their curricula in more practical classes than the most prominent schools. Further, in the 1974 study, the names of the departments were not provided for the researchers; they were simply instructed to research classes in speech/communication departments.

On the other hand, it is possible that the discrepancies in the findings of the two studies do, indeed, represent a decrease in the popularity of the parliamentary procedure class. This hypothesis is validated, at least to some extent, by the only other national study of schools in the last 30 years, and it is the largest of all samples of schools. Larry Norton reported the study in a December, 1973, letter to the author. In a 1969 study financed and executed by a textbook publishing company, he and Alice Sturgis sent a questionnaire to presidents of 2,135 colleges and universities, and they received responses from 650 schools (a very respectable 30% response rate for such survey research). In this study, just 5 years prior to the 1974 study, approximately 55% of the schools reported a class in parliamentary procedure.

The 1969 study represents a different research method than the 1974 and 1993 studies (i.e., a mailed questionnaire vs. a review of catalogs), so the findings may not be entirely comparable. Further, the 1969 study reported parliamentary procedure classes in departments other than speech or communication departments. While 260 (73%) of the departments offering the class were speech departments, classes were also offered in departments/divisions of English (23), Performing Arts (17), Political Science (13), Communication Arts (8), Humanities (7), Drama (6), Agriculture (4), Business Administration (4), Human Relations (3), General Education (3), Religion (3), and one class was reported in Labor Relations, Church Administration, Student Personnel, Liberal Arts, Language Arts, and Earth Science. Thus, if only speech, communication, and language arts departments had been examined, the study would have found classes at 269 schools or 41%.

As such, if this 1969 mailed questionnaire research method were considered comparable to the 1974 research method of sampling available catalogs, a considerable drop in the "popularity" of the class is represented, from 41% to 31%. If this dramatic drop in reported classes during a five-year period is an accurate report, it is not at all surprising that a drop to 17% of schools almost twenty years later is possible.

Readers of the Journal will be disappointed to learn of the decline of the "popularity" of college level parliamentary procedure classes. However, their enthusiasm for the goals of the AIP should be reaffirmed. While college-level training in classes for academic credit has declined, the need for education of the citizenry has not. Members should be all the more encouraged in their mission to further the goals and practices of effective parliamentary procedure.


Rarig, F. M. & Greaves, H. S. National speech organizations and speech education. In K. R. Wallace (Ed.) History of speech education in America (pp. 490-517). New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts. SCA. (1990). 1990 Speech Communication Association Directory. Annandale, VA: SCA.

Weitzel, A. R. (1975a). Parliamentary procedure courses in higher education: Past and present. Parliamentary Journal, 16(4), 25-34.

Weitzel, A. R. (1975b). A research note: A survey of colleges offering selected "new" courses in speech communication. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 103 922)


1 Synonyms for other classes were as follows: "intercultural communication" might be called "cross-cultural," "inter-racial," "transracial," or "international communication;" and "interviewing" might be called "dyadic communication."

2 The letter from "Doc" Norton indicated that the study was also reported to the Parliamentary Procedure Interest Group at the December, 1971, Speech Communication Association convention.

Al Weitzel