Graduate Union: No to mud-slinging, Yes to unity – Why you should oppose the Motion of No Confidence

Adam Booth is a PhD student at Robinson College 10 May 2013

‘Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad.’ (Ancient Greek proverb)

I have been a student at Cambridge for eight years now, and never before have I seen a single individual fall victim to so much vitriol and slander as that of the current GU President: Arsalan Ghani is “directly involved in the disappearance of over one thousand pounds from the GU”; he has harassed and abused his co-workers; he has accused his fellow co-workers of racism; and he has been solely responsible for the drawn out constitutional crisis at the GU. I hear that he eats babies too!

Or so we are told by the proposers of this Motion of No Confidence, by the anonymous author of a secretly circulated document full of allegations, and by the student press. The evidence for some of these claims is limited at best, and completely non-existent at worst. The graduate community has been presented with a one-sided tapestry of lies, half-truths, vague comments, general assertions, and exaggerations, all taken out of context and woven together to form a uniform picture of chaos and tyranny at the GU.

A Motion of No Confidence is essentially a trial, with the jury formed by elected representatives from the MCRs. In this case, however, the possibility of a fair trial has been compromised by weeks, if not months, of allegations made against the defendant, with the jury fed all sorts of false and biased information. This goes against the most basic principles of democracy and justice, and in the real world such a case would be thrown out of court in an instant.

Ghani himself has responded to these allegations elsewhere. Speaking to TCS, he has pointed out that he has no control over what the private Pakistani press writes or how they use his quotes; nor can he be held responsible for information that may find its way in a distorted form to Pakistani journalists via a chain of whispers amongst the community here in Cambridge (Update: ‘Liars,’ 5/5/2013). The GU President has also emphasised that the accusations of bullying and harassment are actually against the ex-GU International Officer Xin ‘Bruno’ Jin, but are frequently used to tar Ghani with the same brush. Indeed, Ghani has helped to make the GU a safer environment by forcing Xin Jin to step down from his responsibilities (Update: ‘Students call for GU President’s resignation,’ 5/5/2013). In addition, Ghani has repeatedly stated that, before this latest motion, progress was being made regarding the constitutional crisis, that he has been co-operating fully, and that the he is not responsible for the “disappearance” of any money from the GU.

I have worked alongside Arsalan on political campaigns for three years now, beginning with the tremendous student movement in 2010-11 against fees and cuts. From my knowledge of the man, it is fair to say that one will be hard pushed to find an individual so determined and passionate about the fight for student rights. Here is an individual who has tried his hardest to fulfil his GU duties in an extremely difficult period when the GU has been effectively paralysed by the University’s mismanagement and the resultant constitutional crisis. Not to mention also the personal difficulties I know he has faced: trying to raise three young children who have just started school in Britain; helping to support a wife who has a PhD, but who cannot find a job in these austere times; being evicted from his family home in St Edmunds College because he does not qualify as a student whilst GU President. The Arsalan I know is not a bully, a thief, or a dictator, but a kind man who is a good friend, a loving father, and a resolute political campaigner.

Finally, it is clear that this Motion of No Confidence is not in the interests of the GU and the graduates of Cambridge University. There is no plan from the proposers of this motion as to how the GU will manage without its President; the GU Executive is made up of volunteers who are already stretched to the limit, whilst the MCR Presidents cannot co-ordinate and oversee all the various campaigns and services that the GU provides. Removing the President will not resolve any supposed problems with the leadership, but will simply mean leaving the GU leaderless and without its only full-time sabbatical officer.

There are important issues affecting graduates that the GU should be fighting on – that Arsalan Ghani has been fighting on – but which have had to be largely left to one side this year due to the paralysis caused by the constitutional crisis and by this latest episode of the Motion of No Confidence: the Bursars’ Committee is proposing to increase college fees for all graduates; already extortionate college rents are due to increase by between 5-7%; stagnant levels of research funding have taken a cut in real terms due to inflation and the growing graduate population; and graduates with families are particularly suffering due to the wider economic situation of cuts and austerity.

If the Motion of No Confidence passes, this paralysis will remain into next year, dragging the next GU President down also: there will be nobody present in the handover period to train the new President on his tasks and responsibilities; the constitution crisis will be prolonged; and rather than starting the new year with momentum and with campaigns up-and-running, the new President will begin his annual term with the weight of the last year hanging round his neck.

Now is not the time to paralyse the GU further with mud-slinging, in-fighting, and personal feuds. Now is the time for unity in the fight against fees, rents, and cuts. Oppose this motion and focus instead on defending students.

Adam Booth is a PhD student at Robinson College