Let’s cut to the chase. I’m not a habitual reader of The Bull & Bear, but I feel strongly that the arguments put forward in Muna Tojiboeva’s recent letter should be addressed in the same magazine that published them. Whether or not you agree with Tojiboeva’s own political views —and let’s be honest, I don’t—what she wrote should give you pause.
For one thing, Tojiboeva repeatedly characterizes her critics as unreasonable, even malicious —in her words, “the extreme vocal minority.” Now for all I know, it might be mathematically accurate to state that a majority of SSMU members think Tojiboeva is doing a great job, but that doesn’t actually matter, because SSMU executives aren’t elected to represent “the average McGill student.” They’re elected to represent everyone, no matter what minority group, community, or political faction they belong to. This doesn’t mean they should strive for neutrality, but they must at least give opposing views fair consideration and take criticism seriously. When Tojiboeva writes, “I owe it to the 53% of students who voted for me to continue to fight for what’s right, and to continue to represent the average McGill student, not the extreme vocal minority,” she is wrong. Tojiboeva owes it to all of us to fight for what’s right, including those of us who didn’t vote for her, and those who are vocally critical of her now.
Tojiboeva owes it to all of us to fight for what’s right, including those of us who didn’t vote for her, and those who are vocally critical of her now.
The other main problem with characterizing one’s critics as vicious extremists, of course, is that it delegitimizes their criticism. Tojiboeva writes, “My ‘lack of transparency’ is also a favourite talking point among those who wish to discredit me,” implicitly dismissing the notion that people might be genuinely concerned about the transparency of their student union’s governance structures. Raising questions over perceived miscarriages of justice or procedural ambiguities isn’t unfair or unreasonable—it is the prerogative of every member of a democracy.
Moreover, contrary to Tojiboeva’s claim that “such assertions are unfounded,” there are many valid reasons to be concerned about SSMU’s transparency under her leadership. For one thing, during Tojiboeva’s tenure as Chair of the Board of Directors, the Board has already made two intensely controversial decisions that were, at best, procedurally murky: the ratification of the Judicial Board’s decision on BDS, and the temporary suspension of Director Arisha Khan. These both occurred when the Board was composed of a majority of unelected members; in the case of BDS, the constitutionality of the Board was admitted to be ambiguous. Tojiboeva goes on to write, “under my Chairship, minutes [from Board meetings] have been approved and posted the week after meetings as soon as SSMU staff have been available to record them.” In fact, as of October 23, only three sets of minutes are available on the SSMU website, the latest being from September 24. Moreover, the “minutes” are in fact summaries of meetings, rather than verbatim transcriptions of each Director’s comments as they were in previous years. The Board’s resolutions book has also not been updated since Tojiboeva took office, and the list of Directors is out of date.
It is perfectly legitimate for students to seek answers about all of these points, and it’s troubling that Tojiboeva has opted to frame such inquiries as personal attacks. Furthermore, in answer to her question—“Why am I held to a different standard than past Presidents, who were completely lacking in transparency?”—Tojiboeva is being held to the standard she set for herself. During her campaign for the presidency, she promised to improve the accountability and transparency of SSMU’s governance structures, which she manifestly has not done. Moreover, last year’s Board did not make the kind of serious, controversial decisions this year’s has, and despite this, the Democratic Governance Reform Committee still spent the year working on reforms to improve transparency and rein in the power of the President and the Directors. The claim that Tojiboeva is somehow being criticised unfairly is simply untrue.
Finally, I want to briefly address Tojiboeva’s remarks about campus media. For transparency’s sake, I should mention that I’m The Daily’s Managing Editor and I’ve covered SSMU politics for three years, writing several articles either directly or indirectly concerning Tojiboeva in her role as President. Here, however, I am speaking only for myself—not on behalf of The Daily’s editorial board. While I was disappointed by Tojiboeva’s accusations about the paper I work for, I don’t wish to make them the focus of this piece. Regardless of your feelings about The Daily’s editorial line, I hope you will consider what I have to say.
In her letter, Tojiboeva makes reference to the media several times: she writes of being “accused of incompetency and neglect of [her] duties” by the media, having to deal with “an excessive amount of media requests,” and being the target of “a smear campaign in the media.” Once again, it’s troubling to see Tojiboeva frame legitimate criticism and questioning as personal attacks. As journalists, it’s our job to hold power accountable, and it’s the job of politicians to represent their constituents in a transparent and accessible way. The simplest way to avoid poor press coverage is to do that job well.
**The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Bull & Bear.