Students call for Graduate Union President to resign

Jenny Buckley, News Editor 29 April 2013

On Friday, Members of the Graduate Union (GU) called for a vote of no confidence in Arsalan Ghani, the GU President. The motion was proposed through an email petition sent on Friday by Charlie Bell and Matt Grosvenor, of Queens’ College and Clare Hall, and seconded by Chis Page, the CUSU/GU Welfare and Rights Officer.

The petition has now received more than 100 signatures – the minimum necessary to call an emergency meeting of the GU Council. The motion ultimately calls for Ghani’s resignation, stating that “Arsalan Ghani should publicly apologise for the offence and damage he has caused” and that he “should resign with immediate effect.”

The motion accuses Ghani of “non-attendance of key meetings” and “repeated absences from the Graduate Union during his stated working hours”, and says that he has made “unilateral statements to the world and student press, in which he accuses fellow student representatives of racism, violence, conspiracies, and, furthermore, in the name of the Graduate Union, launches attacks on University staff.” This is understood to refer mainly to comments made by Ghani to The News International, Pakistan’s largest English language newspaper (see ‘Liars’ TCS, 25/04/2013).

As reported in The Cambridge Student, The News International has recently come under scrutiny over the standard of its journalism. The paper has run several stories about the GU since Ghani took office in September, accusing the University and its student media of being “racist” and launching “smear campaigns”, while consistently portraying Arsalan Ghani in a flattering light. The most recent piece was published this Wednesday, and was described by University Press Officer Tim Holt as “bizarre”, and “complete fabrication.” All of these articles were written by the same journalist, Murtaza Ali Shah. In all Shah’s articles about the GU, Ghani is the main, if not the only, named source of information. Speaking to Varsity in September, former GU President Liv Watson described The News International’s reporting as “utterly baffling”, continuing: “As for the unfounded charges of racism; if I didn’t have a hefty student loan to pay off I’d be suing this so-called journalist for libel.”

This is not the first time that the GU council has tried to pass a motion of no confidence in Ghani’s leadership. A similar motion was placed on the Council agenda for discussion on September 2nd 2012, but the matter was never actually raised.

The motion raises concerns that Ghani has been “rude and abusive” towards staff and volunteers at the Graduate Union, saying that he has shown a more general “unwillingness to work with his executive team to resolve the Graduate Union’s constitutional crisis in a timely manner”. Similar complaints have been made about Ghani in the past (see ‘The madness continues’ TCS, 7/2/2013). The proposers of the motion say that Ghani has repeatedly used the GU’s constitutional problems “as a defence for his actions” and, by doing so, has “slowed the process for resolving the crisis.” Speaking to The Tab, Ghani said that “All these allegations of corruption, rudeness, refusing to work, accusing others of racism, dragging GU into disrepute, are baseless and totally absurd.”

Update 5 May 2013

Arsalan Ghani has replied to the accusations levelled against him in the proposed motion of no confidence. Ghani told TCS that he and the other GU Executive Committee members are “doing an excellent job in the present given circumstances,” and have been working to establish a good professional relationship:

“Myself, Chris and others have been working together in difficult times in the GU to resolve the mess created before us. I would also like to state that I have never abused anybody in the GU, nor am I aware of any complaints of abuse against myself. We have established good working relations at the GU. Occasionally there might be differences of opinions on matters of the constitution and operations, but that doesn’t affect our working relationships. I also take cases of abuse seriously, and I have acted to make the GU a safe working environment, including asking the international officer to step down from his responsibilities – which he did immediately.”

Ghani has taken issue with the way in which the motion of no confidence has been handled, describing it as “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.” He continues:”This is totally undemocratic and is an assault on my natural justice.”

Responding to the online petition’s reference to “his unwillingness to work with his executive team to resolve the Graduate Union’s constitutional crisis in a timely manner,” Ghani has dismissed the accusation as “completely unfounded.” He continues: “I would like to remind the proponents of the motion, and make it clear to all GU members, that the constitutional matters are being discussed in every GU EC meeting, giving a chance to all committee members to provide their input. Solicitors working for the GU are also often invited to the EC to brief us on the progress of constitutional work.”

Ghani has also said that the motion of no confidence is likely to make the current constitutional crisis worse.”Far from helping to resolve the GU constitutional crisis,” he argues, “this Motion of No Confidence will totally paralyse the constitutional progress and will also create numerous problems in matters of operations and representations at the GU – most importantly handing-over matters to the next leadership. Myself and the other members of the GU Executive are working tirelessly to resolve the issues at the GU and help fight for the rights of graduate students at this vital time. Now is not the time for allegations and mud-slinging; now is the time for unity and progress

Jenny Buckley, News Editor