I was barred from entering the O’Meara campus yesterday [15 November 2-18] by security staff. The staff was professional and courteous, explaining that the orders had come from the President that I was not allowed to enter O’Meara. No reason was given. I have no complaint with how the security handled this sensitive issue.
But there is one aspect to note. That one aspect involves a Property Protectors pick-up pulling up and positioning itself at an angle to provide maximum blocking the car in which I was a passenger. This was extremely offensive. We had already pulled to the side for a couple of minutes before this nonsense happened. It was particularly and unnecessarily foolish because we would not have raced ahead to a second gate, at which we would undoubtedly have been stopped.
This was just too Hollywood. Frankly, part of my irritation came from the name on the pick-up van and the fact that this driver acted in this garish fashion as if he were protecting President Al Zubaidy’s property from a dangerous interloper. (You have it backwards. Sir.)
It was obvious that the others were reluctant but needed to do their job. Nobody wanted to block a Professor, whom they know as very decent and very hard working, from entering a tent on the grounds of the O’Meara campus in order to see research students graduate. Yesterday, I had 3 research graduates to whom I devoted years of hard work, and in some cases, had to fight off attempts to obstruct the candidate. Nothing was easy about pushing these candidates in the last year, when the UTT work context took such a nasty and dramatic turn.
I told the first security guard that I had a bona fide invitation, showed it to her, and told her I wanted to record her refusing me entry, both for her protection and for mine. I emphasized that nowhere on the invitation did it state that the University reserved the right to refuse admission. (Maybe if this president is still here, they will put it next year.) She immediately decided to consult her supervisors. This dragged on for many minutes with the supervisors, contacted by phone, unwilling to ‘give directives.’ The next offer they made was that the driver could continue but I would have to get out of the car. I think that may have been one of the directives which came down.
Of course that was preposterous. My own car was nowhere within walking distance, especially not in the rain, which had started falling when that ‘offer’ was made. Finally, the driver got a telephone call and I overheard clearly the head of security telling him that I had no right, no right!!! to be on the campus, that I should not have come, and that I could be jailed! Now I want to emphasize that what I overheard was that I could be jailed!!! Jailed. Not arrested but Jailed!! There is a marked distinction. Not all arrests lead to jail but apparently my attempt to enter Al Zubaidy’s ‘premises’ constituted trespass of such a level of seriousness that I would be jailed if I proceeded.
The driver of the car I was in was told to get off the campus immediately with me, by order of the President. Note that this officer did not tell this to the security guards, whom he knew would be going on record and who would probably have detailed exactly what they were told but I heard him very clearly. He didn’t seem apologetic. He seemed righteous. Misplaced rigor.
The driver acted immediately to obey but I asked for, and was able to record the exchange because I wanted it articulated clearly and on record that I was being removed from the campus. I recorded one security officer, after saying clearly that I was recording, giving me instructions to leave. They did not know what the head of security had told the driver so they could only repeat on record the orders they were given earlier.
Several questions arise from the above. This directive, blocking a professor from graduation ceremonies, is supposedly justified because of the terms of my administrative leave. But the terms of the administrative leave are not written in stone. The person being ‘investigated’ should not be at work, if their presence could impede the investigation.
The documentary investigation was completed on July 18. This yielded the silly, yet still false, charges of academic breaches, the most recent of which is 2015. The disruptive and insubordinate behaviours were all emails. This search of the UTT servers, with or without a staff member’s knowledge or permission, certainly was not campus bound and certainly could not be impeded by me. So the restriction from access to the campus was never warranted.
So here are my questions. What happened yesterday was a very serious incident both from my point of view and from the viewpoint of the main head of UTT Security. I see it as infringement on my civil rights. He sees it as infringement of Al Zubaidy’ s right to protect his property. Whichever, this is now an inarguably serious issue for UTT. Further, it is NOT internal to UTT. It raises the question of when an institution has the authority to dismiss a civil right of an employee? Is there ever a scenario for which this obtains in Trinidad and Tobago? This is really the context- TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO. So what is next?
Is this what the UTT Board of Governors believes to be management strength? This? More importantly, how will this impact the experience of UTT’s brand new Chancellor, President Paula- Mae Weekes? Was the UTT President acting in the best interests of the University? How? What value did my absence bring? What damage would my presence have done? These are questions which need answering. Going back even further, what happens if this serious outcome came about from a condition which should never have been part of administrative leave because it did not apply, given my charges?
What will happen when it turns out that the administrative leave itself was never justified? What will be done when it is found that the charges are 3 years and older, are either not charges at all, or are patently untrue, or have already been judged by prior administrations with no conviction of wrongdoing so that they never should have been used to send someone on administrative leave? What happens if and when the charges turn out to be
preposterously silly, even if valid, and it is judged that they should have been countenanced by no thinking individual? Given the seriousness of today, the removal of my rights as a citizen, as a supervisor, the embarrassment caused to me, the damage to my reputation, to what base agenda will this be connected?
Some people, the very foolish ones, will say I am bringing the University into disrepute with my very selfish action of wanting to attend my students’ graduation is a tent? They would say that I had a right to stay away. At least one or two of the zealous will say I should have been carted away and jailed. I defy all of them to come up with the good of the action in blocking me not the bad of my taking the risk that I would be blocked.
One cannot bring the University into disrepute by revealing truths. The lie damages when it is told not when it is revealed. Similarly, abuses hurt when they are perpetrated not when they are exposed and stopped. The University cannot be brought into disrepute by a victim, only by the victimizer. People need to make sure the characterizations in this danse macabre are clear.