As one of the Sustainability Commissioners for the 2017-2018 year, I’ve worked with almost all of the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Executives. When my contract began in May, I worked under the Vice-President (VP) Operations and Sustainability. When she resigned, my portfolio was reassigned to the SSMU President, Muna Tojiboeva. About two months after this, my portfolio was again reassigned, with various aspects of my role now falling under the VP Internal, VP External, VP University Affairs, and VP Finance. I’ve had experience working with six of the seven Executives (or five of the remaining six), so I believe I have a relatively good grasp on the competency, efficiency, and, most importantly, integrity of the Executive team. Tojiboeva’s letter to The Bull and Bear, “I’m the SSMU President. I’m Setting the Record Straight.” concerns me because I’ve seen first-hand how readily she communicates half-truths. The version of reality she tells is one that is partly based in fact, but with key points warped to benefit her reputation.
In my experience, working under the supervision of Tojiboeva required a lot of patience. Emails went unanswered; meetings got cancelled. While part of this stemmed from the President’s heavy workload, other Executives have a similar, if not equal, workload—just of a different type—yet they still fulfill their duties. Tojiboeva never treated me poorly or unfairly; in fact, she was often very nice and understanding. My concern is that it takes very little to be nice. A good SSMU President needs to be more.
What bothered me most during my time spent working with Tojiboeva was the lack of accurate and informed communication. For instance, when I requested information about the 2017-2018 budget for sustainability initiatives, Tojiboeva promised to follow up. Three weeks later, I had still received no answers—even after repeatedly asking her in person. Frustrated, I sent her a personal message, and she then quickly responded that SSMU Environment Commissioners had no budget for sustainability events or initiatives, and that sustainability-related funds could only cover the Sustainability Commissioners’ salaries. I’ve been involved with the SSMU Environment Committee for three years, and this seemed unlikely. I verified the information with past Environment Commissioners, who immediately rejected this claim. When I communicated this to Tojiboeva, she said that it was a “good thing [I] told [her].” She then passed the work on to me to communicate and figure out the sustainability budget with the VP Finance directly.
It was alarming and confusing that Tojiboeva relayed false information, especially about something as important as our budget for the entire year. The possible explanations are either she misunderstood the information communicated to her about the sustainability budget, or she never actually followed up to obtain it and didn’t want to seem as if she hadn’t done the work. If the latter is true, it would suggest that Tojiboeva is more concerned with optics than with communicating accurate information. Ironically, the way she handled this situation contradicted one of her main campaign platforms: Transparency.
It’s difficult, and maybe impossible, to ever hear an unbiased account of both sides of an argument, especially in SSMU politics. However, the end-game of Tojiboeva’s letter is concerning. If the goal of the article was to have the rest of the SSMU Executives resign, the work of seven Executives would fall on one, benefitting nobody and actively harming the SSMU student body. If the goal of the tell-all-style piece was to gain popularity, I’m puzzled as to what motivated this desire. If Tojiboeva went into politics for the reasons she stated—purely to fix SSMU’s reputation and create real change—then “setting the record straight” in terms of her public image shouldn’t matter.
It seems to all come back to who has power on campus, and how that power is often used to suppress and invalidate the voices of others. Her characterization of her critics as an “extreme vocal minority” worries me, because of how frequently that phrase is used to dismiss those who have the courage to challenge the status quo.
SSMU Sustainability Commissioner, 2017-2018