McGill Arab Student Network Fails Service Review

From April 10-11, the McGill Arab Student Network (ASN) will be holding elections for all executive positions, under the oversight of SSMU, for the first time since the ASN transitioned from “club” to “Service” status in 2018. All McGill students will be eligible to vote online, as well as to pose questions to the outgoing ASN executives in the online General Assembly taking place an hour before the polls open. A number of the candidates running for executive positions have pledged to reform the organization, in light of recent controversy regarding the ASN’s lack of democratic accountability and its lack of service provision. Last week, the Service Review Committee (SRC) published its annual report on all Services, and handed the ASN a “Fail” grade, thereby placing its status as a Service in jeopardy. According to the report’s findings and recommendations, comprehensive reform will be necessary in order for the ASN to preserve its Service status next semester

The Report of the Service Review Committee

The SRC is under the portfolio of the SSMU Vice-President for Student Life, and meets throughout the year to review Services, Service constitutions, and new Service applications. At the end of each academic year, the SRC publishes a comprehensive report on each Service’s performance, which includes a ‘Pass,’ ‘Pass with reservations,’ or ‘Fail’ grade. According to Noah Merali, the Services Representative to SSMU Legislative Council and member of the SRC, “the report of the Services Review Committee is the result of a year-long investigation consisting of a direct audit by committee members, an examination of each service’s budget and constitution, a survey that was sent to all SSMU members and consultations with each Service’s executive teams.”

“Services like ASN,” they explained, “were evaluated on accessibility, mandate fulfillment, and advocacy.”

Last year, the SRC’s 2019 report granted the ASN a grade of “Pass with Reservations,” due to the ASN’s “low focus on advocacy.” Last week, the SRC’s 2020 report gave the Service a “Fail” grade, with the following explanations and recommendations:

  • “The Committee found that [the ASN] failed to address last year’s recommendation, for which they received a Pass with Reservations, to focus more on advocacy.”
  • “The Services Review Committee found that the service had failed their second mandate: ‘adequate resources, support and awareness derived from the heritage of the Arab world, for the demand of the student body.’ Furthermore, they violate the Internal Regulations of Student Groups (7.1 c) ‘the provision of resources and/or support must be available free of charge to Members,’ by charging $5 for entry to ArabFest.”
  • “ASN must create a concrete plan of their services to the SSMU membership, notably working on advocacy, services that are beyond events, and offering further resources and support that is accessible throughout the semester. A good example for ASN to follow would be the BSN. ASN should work on creating space for Arab students to talk and educate the community through panels, workshops and creating in-house support programs. There is too much reliance on outside organizations, as the ASN only funnels candidates to these organizations and does not offer programs themselves.”
  • If these concerns are not addressed to the satisfaction of the Services Review Committee within one academic month (end of September), we recommend for the service to be reverted to a full status club.”

Response of the ASN President

When asked to comment on the SRC’s report, ASN President Karim Atassi claimed that “external factors” had prevented the ASN from fulfilling its obligations in the last two years. In explaining why the ASN’s only event of the semester, ArabFest, was not free-of-charge for students, he revealed that more than $10,000 had been spent on the event.

“ArabFest is an extremely expensive event,” he wrote in an email to the Daily’s reporter. Per Atassi, four sets of professional performances cost more than $1500 each, while catering cost around $2000. “When you think about […] the cost of having a calligraphist, a henna artist, booking the venue, the cost of a photographer and a videographer, as well as any extra costs of decorative material and furniture used in the event, you can quickly count that the event cost us more than the $10,000 we have for the winter semester,” Atassi stated.

“Saving funds to step back on the quality of the event is not something that we should do,” he added. The $5 fee per ticket, which amounted to around $1000 in ticket sales after Eventbrite fees, Atassi explained, was to “minimize the gap between the cost of ArabFest and the $10,000 budget,” and prevent leaving deficits for future executives..

Atassi claims that the ASN was unaware they had broken the Internal Regulations for the past two years. “We were told by a SSMU executive that putting a $5 fee would not be a problem. Taking him at his word, we never thought that we were breaking an Internal Regulation.”. He added, “if we knew so, we would have just made the event free.”

The ASN president has refused to disclose the name or position of the “SSMU executive” in question. He also did not respond to the question of whether or not the ASN executives had considered less expensive options for ArabFest, such as hiring students as performers or photographers, instead of paying high costs for professionals.

Comments from Noah Merali

In response to the ASN president’s justifications, Noah Merali of the SRC emphasized that “it is the responsibility of Service executives to know the internal regulations of Services. It is also the responsibility of each Service to budget accordingly and explore avenues within the SSMU if there are any issues […] The major issue the SRC highlighted in our report was the lack of ongoing services outside of large events.”

They added, “the Services Review Committee recognizes the work that the ASN has done in their time as a Service and we recognize the value that an organization like the ASN can have for Arab students on campus.” Though they told the Daily they couldn’t necessarily speak to the ASN’s networking abilities, Merali affirmed that, “as the SRC concluded, the ASN should be doing more in terms of advocacy and education.”

Next steps

Speaking to the upcoming year, Merali advised that the SCR’s recommendations should be “[taken] to heart” by incoming executives. “They should listen to the feedback they’re getting from both the SRC and the student body. They should be aware of the resources they have and the examples they can learn from.”

In order for ASN to keep its Service status, Merali stated that the organization has until the end of September to “develop a plan that incorporates the SRC’s suggestions and shifts them towards advocacy and service.” The incoming ASN executives, who will be elected on April 11, will therefore have to make comprehensive reforms in order to prevent the ASN from losing its status as a SSMU Service.