On May 20, 2024, I served as the Presiding Officer of an Emergency General Faculty Meeting for UMass Amherst. More than a thousand of the faculty were split between a large room on campus and via Zoom. It was by far and away the largest meeting — let alone hybrid meeting — I had ever tried to run.

The meeting was called, following the Constitution of the Faculty Senate, in response to a petition of more than 10% of the faculty and librarians. The meeting had a single agenda item: a resolution calling for no confidence in the Chancellor. On May 7, the Chancellor had directed police to disperse students protesting the war in Gaza. During the police action, students and faculty were arrested and there were some violent clashes between the police and protesters.

The emergency meeting was organized frenetically on extremely short notice during the Commencement weekend. A handful of us on the Rules Committee exchanged hundreds of emails to nail down the agenda, try to develop a mechanism to enable faculty to vote securely, and draft a long and comprehensive set of ground rules for running the meeting.

There were a number of technical challenges. Faculty had difficulty registering, email systems rejected the ballots as spam, the audio from some of the mics was nearly inaudible via Zoom. We did the best we could to resolve the issues and, by the end of the meeting, we had things working about as well as could be reasonably expected.

The meeting went on and on. Passions were high, but most people respected the ground rules and were patient as we worked though the technical issues. We came to the final vote after four hours of discussion and consideration of an amendment to change “no confidence” to “censure”. In the end, more than 800 faculty voted and 473 voted no confidence, so the motion carried. And after four hours and fifteen minutes, I adjourned the meeting.

The vote carries only symbolic weight. The UMass System President and Board of Trustees have expressed their unwavering support of the Chancellor. Still, the resolution minimally provides notice to the Chancellor that hundreds of faculty are incredibly angry and upset. As soon as the vote was announced, he issued a statement expressing disappointment, but accepting the results and promising to work to rebuild trust.

Those of us organizing and running the meeting received many messages of appreciation and support, though not everyone was entirely satisfied. I’m satisfied, however, that we did the very best we could under the circumstances. And I think the outcome speaks for itself.

One thing I realized is that hybrid meetings work a lot better when they’re convened and run by a remote participant. People in the room tend to ignore remote participants. A remote participant is better positioned to make sure everyone gets to fully participate.

But perhaps the most important outcome was that, during the meeting, someone noticed the poster for Revin’s Heart in the background of my Zoom image and bought a copy. They emailed me to ask about order of the series, but I pointed out that the collected edition contains all of the stories — plus some side stories — so they should be all set.

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