Further developments in Cambridge Graduate Union ‘No Confidence’ crisis

9 May 2013

By Tuesday afternoon, almost 400 Cambridge students received personally addressed emails from Graduate Union President Arsalan Ghani, responding to the proposed vote of ‘No Confidence’ in his presidency. The Cambridge Student understands that these emails were sent to every student who signed the online petition calling for a vote of No Confidence.

In addition to the open petition calling for a motion of No Confidence, it has since transpired that a second document was circulated among MCR representatives containing further accusations against Ghani. The document, leaked to TCS, is titled “A Timeline and Overview of the Events at the Graduate Union,” and consists of a hundred-point chronological list of events and grievances relating to Ghani’s time in office.No author is named. Speaking to TCS, Ghani spoke out against both the content of the document and the way in which it has been distributed: “False allegations have been made against me in a document that has been secretly circulated around e-mail lists, in such a way that I am not given a chance to defend myself. This is totally undemocratic and is an assault on my natural justice” (see update to ‘Students call for Graduate Union President to resign’, 5/5/2013).

Ghani’s email to those students who signed the petition contains a link to this “Timeline,” and to a revised version in which he individually refutes each of the accusations listed. He frequently challenges the vagueness of the timeline’s allegations, describing several of the points as “baseless and sick,” “Total lie”, and “Totally vague and abstract allegation”.

To the typically cynical student reader, both the original timeline and Ghani’s responses to it are frequently written in equally vague and emotive terms. The timeline states that from August 2012 onwards, “Executive meetings are increasingly stressful, hostile and frustrating for staff and officers,” and, referring to former GU International Officer Xin Jin, it reads: “No one understands how someone with such issues can be an adequate officer and representative of the GU? ” In the table of “Strengths and weaknesses of a vote of No Confidence” which follows the original timeline, the ‘Strengths’ section includes the assertion “AG is the worst GU president in living memory,” and that “the Union is perceived as laughable.”

Clearly, a number of the points raised in the Timeline are impossible to verify. For example, point 4 asserts “AG won’t keep his calendar up to date and won’t tell colleagues of his whereabouts and activities” to which Ghani responds, “I update my personal calendar and tell colleagues about my engagements if necessary.” The document as a whole is summed up by item 31: “Committee members become concerned that AG is starting to tell lies,” to which Ghani responds “????? the statement itself is a lie.” Ultimately, it seems that neither Ghani nor the writer of the original timeline comes out well.

The points included in the Timeline range from serious accusations of mismanagement to comparatively minor arguments over parking spaces and apparently unreturned childrens’ toys. Ghani has offered an often heated response to more than a hundred separate points.

Despite the extensive nature of Ghani’s response, it appears to have been counter-productive in a number of cases, garnering a series of angry responses. One graduate student replied to his email as follows:

“I am highly appalled by your message and I am even happier that I have signed the motion of no confidence after you sent this document. I do not appreciate you sending me (privately seeming) messages such as this one.”

Another student replied, “I think it’s obvious from your bizarre email that the motion of no confidence is spot on. As a member of an ethnic minority I find your frivolous accusations of racism to be disgraceful.”

Charlie Bell, who along with Matt Grosvenor proposed the motion of No Confidence, has criticised Ghani’s email as “threatening,” taking issue with the motion being personalised in each email to display only the recipient’s name after the words “seconded by.” Speaking to TCS, Bell said: “It misleadingly makes it out that they are the only seconder.In my opinion this is harassment and an attempt tosubvert the democratic process of people bringing political motions to the GU Council.”

One graduate student at King’s wrote to TCS voicing similar concerns: “Thought you might like to be aware of Mr Ghani’s latest attempts to frighten people into withdrawing support for the motion of no confidence with veiled threats of legal action. These have been sent to everyone who signed the petition individually and made to look like they alone have been put in to this position (you may note the very small text on the bottom right saying other names have been omitted for “privacy reasons”. I think this sort of behaviour is something TCS ought to highlight to their readers as it is symptomatic of Mr Ghani’s actions which have brought us to this point.”

This is a sentiment shared by Bell who added: “This kind of behaviour doesn’t befit a student representative, at a time when there are real issues to be dealt with; the sooner Friday comes and Mr Ghani departs, the better.”

The vote will be taking place at the Graduate Union on Friday this week. More news and reaction to follow.

Update: 10 May 2013

Speaking to TCS, Ghani accused the original timeline’s distributors of ‘attacking democracy,’ and explained the motive behind his blanket email:

“During the process of gathering signatures, only one side of the story was told to the students to whom the petition was circulated. This is unfair and undemocratic by all means. I emailed those students and sent them my response to the baseless allegations against me. A lot of students removed their names from seconding of the motion, after they found out that they had been included as seconders without being told so by the proposers. The real attack on democracy is not my emailing to those who have signed the petition, but the way in which a document has been secretly circulated around the graduate community that contains lies and false allegations against me.”

Jenny Buckley & Tristram Fane Saunders

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