Dear Editor: Kambon’s eviction speaks to high-handed, lowbrow behaviour at The UWI

“Professor Copeland’s [alleged] designation of Kambon as ‘persona non grata’ and his subsequent eviction for daring to make a contribution on the proposed renaming (was), in my opinion, a clear violation of (his) constitutional right to freedom of speech which, it has to be noted, is at the foundation of the University’s claim to intellectual freedom. […]

“Such behaviour is certainly unbecoming of a Pro Vice-Chancellor of The UWI.”

The following Letter to the Editor, which deals with the alleged eviction of CRFP’s Shabaka Kambon from a discussion at The UWI, was submitted to Wired868 by Marie Bermudez:

Photo: Shabaka Kambon of Cross Rhodes TT discusses Milner Hall at the Central Bank Auditorium in July 2017.

On Thursday 30th November, only a week after the last Beetham Gardens protests, which caused a major public outcry by some sectors of society, I was a witness to one of the most outrageous abuses of power on the St Augustine Campus of The University of the West Indies, the self-acclaimed leading institution of tertiary education in the region.

The event was the first in a series of public consultations to decide on a new name for Milner Hall, the UWI’s oldest hall of residence—which honours Viscount Milner, one of Britain’s most ruthless imperialists, whose genocidal policies affected millions of Africans, Indians and Arabs alike. The conveners of the meeting specifically invited UWI alumni to share their views; yet, when one alumnus, Shabaka Kambon, wished to speak and was duly recognized by the Chair of the meeting, he was prevented from making his contribution by Campus Principal Brian Copeland, who then forcefully ejected him from the meeting like a common criminal.

I feel compelled to write about this because, while the Beetham incident was fully ventilated in the media, the abuse of power at the centre of learning would have remained effectively hidden, if not for the outspokenness of the victim himself.

As an alumnus of The UWI, Kambon was legitimately present at the meeting. Even more importantly, he is the Director of the Cross Rhodes Freedom Project (CRFP), which, from as early as December last year, initiated the public education campaign about Viscount Milner, which included on-campus discussions on the name change. It was also the CRFP which passed on to the Principal the letter which initiated the entire process and informed his decision to have the issue debated by way of campus town hall meetings.

Photo: The late Viscount Alfred Milner.

As Kambon was questioning the legitimacy of the ban, the Principal [allegedly] ordered the Campus Police to eject him from the room and escort him off the campus. Despite the fact that the Guild President, the deputy principal and other members of staff were present, the responsibility for demanding a reason for such drastic action fell upon two stunned female members of the audience.

The Principal then [allegedly] asserted that Kambon had assaulted a student, presenting no evidence beyond reference to a CRFP Facebook post from a meeting on Milner Hall. It featured a soundbite that to my mind merely exposed the colonial mentality of the Hall Chair. One of the women who continued to protest the example that Copeland was setting was also escorted out of the meeting by the campus police.

It ended with Kambon, as he was being led away by campus security, warning the Principal that he “would not be allowed to betray the people of the Caribbean.” I submit that the whole affair attests to specific incidents which are unbecoming of The UWI or any other institution of higher learning in this country.

Our campuses should remain sacred spaces for the free exchange of ideas. Professor Copeland’s [alleged] designation of Kambon as “persona non grata” and his subsequent eviction for daring to make a contribution on the proposed renaming as well as that of the female participant merely for questioning the Principal’s seemingly arbitrary decision were, in my opinion, a clear violation of the pair’s constitutional right to freedom of speech which, it has to be noted, is at the foundation of the University’s claim to intellectual freedom.

Photo: UWI Chancellor Phillip Copeland.
(Copyright UWI)

Secondly, the accusation against Kambon is arguably defamatory and possibly amounts to an assassination of his character. Such [alleged] behavior is certainly unbecoming of a Pro Vice-Chancellor of The UWI.

One might associate such authoritarianism with a North Korean or Chinese university but not with the Caribbean’s leading tertiary institution and it must be totally banished from the Institute of Critical Thinking, where the renaming consultation was taking place.

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  1. Professor COPELAND was Patrick Manning’s blue eyed boy. This abuse of authority is an insult to all of our nation’s young people.

  2. Those who adore a whiter shade of pale fool no one

  3. I suspect a poster deleted their comment/s.

    • That’s one of the most deceitful things to me.

      You are correct
      Fuel Ellis did just that.

      And like I said, seems he is held in regard and high regard; I do not know what he does, but I not seeing signs of stardom.

      Whatever yes

  4. “Now you’re calling the Principal a “House N” because he allegedly had someone escorted off the Campus. Kind of a bit harsh don’t you think?”

    Not in the least. Not only did Principal Copeland display the most reprehensible behavior at the meeting but his views suggest the suitability of this term. Here I refer to his criticism of the report issued by the UWI which explained the decision to remove the name of Milner because he was not “fit and proper to be revered at the University of the West Indies.” Copeland described this as, “one sided,” and said, “it only gave the negative side of Milner.” Imagine that!
    Now why all the hiding and secrecy, the posters inside and outside the auditorium banning videography photography and live streaming? This is the juicy part – Up to that point the principal, who in my view is vehemently averse to the renaming of the hall, seems to have been part of a plot to rename the Hall: “Milner Hall” after some arbitrary Isaac Milner. This explains Kambon’s comment to him before leaving the room “You will not be able to hide in a corner and betray the people of the Caribbean”
    For the life of me I cannot understand why it is so unacceptable to use this opportunity to honor someone who contributed to the improvement of the life of the people of Trinidad and Tobago and the wider Caribbean? I firmly believe that Kambon was debarred from speaking and kicked out because the Principal understood that he would rightfully object to his charade.

  5. I don’t know Ruel Ellis.
    And I don’t trust what I think I know enough cause there are enough colonial subjects and negros to defend all manner of sacred cows and corruptions, but, ” no reason to create UTT” makes me sublimate a deep guttural laugh.

    What I know enough to say though is we don’t know what a real educational institution is supposed to be about. I wonder of UWI’s history though when it was an agriculture institute

  6. Truetalk, my stomach still turns when I remember that session, no individual with a little common sense would condone the actions of the principal that night, which leads me to believe that you where either not present or are part of a crisis management communications team at UWI? Let me state the facts as a member of the audience that night, Kambon was duly given the right to speak by the chairperson Prof Cateau. Seeing that a student was already standing Kambon politely allowed him to speak first. When the young man was finished and Kambon was given the Microphone to make his contribution Prof Copeland left his seat at the head table, took the microphone from the Chair and proceeded to ask Kambon if he had taken down a post from facebook. When Kambon replied in the negative Copeland to my bewilderment proceeded to ban him from speaking rambling and I quote : “In true African tradition” “THIS IS MY HOUSE” and “the students are MY CHILDREN” “I will not allow you to speak”. That my dear without question is both an irrefutable case of abuse of power by the Principal and an infringement on Kambon basic human rights: His constitutional right of Freedom of expression. Furthermore, I have come to realise that the facebook post that concerned Copeland was the one in which Hall Chair Dayreon Mitchell applauds slavery colonialism and imperialism in a failed attempt to continue honoring Milner on his Hall of residence.

  7. Dr. Kuboni the only thing I’d respond to Is the issue of private property. And the answer is Yes. That’s the reason that for a single day in the year. The gates are totally locked and access to the Campus is restricted.

    If a full years cycle passes without that then the roads and use of the grounds become public.

    The economics of it is another story. Thus if the GoRTT was solely responsible for the UWI, then there would have been no reason to create UTT. ..

  8. I am really not good at splitting hairs. And to be fair to this discussion, I was not present at this meeting, nor, from the looks of it, have I seen a clean, fair, unbiased report of the events surrounding Shabaka Kambon being required to leave before the end of the proceedings. Having said that, I am going to say what I have to say. This incident is notgood for the Principal’s reputation as the leader of a higher education institution. He has found himself on the wrong side of history and that is not agood place to be. (UWI is private property??? Really?? The last time I checked, the St. Augustine campus is substantially funded from the Treasury of T&T, otherwise known as the taxpayers!!). In my view, the Principal eventually found himself in this reactive position because he did not adopt an informed leadership position in the entire matter from the outset. This thing about holding town hall meetings, is often used these days as a scapegoat for avoiding doing the right thing. That’s not good. And it certainly is not democracy.

  9. Wow. Such beautiful use of the English language.

    Since 1981 I’ve asked about the name of that hall. Never got a good response.

    There’s even the Rhodes scholarship what is held in high esteem.

    Most I can do is inquire.

    Now you’re calling the Principal a “House N” because he allegedly had someone escorted off the Campus. Kind of a bit harsh don’t you think?

    As ii indicated earlier for someone to be escorted off the Campus it must have been a case where they contravened some law/code/process.

    But as been pointed out to me, it’s an editorial, with a headline that has NO relevance to Facts and should have been edited to include the word ALLEGEDLY.

    Hey. Have a fun day

  10. Nit pick Nit pick. Technique of the educated to distract from the substantive.

    SK was put out and escorted off the compound. By definition that is ‘persona non grata’, he was unwelcomed.

    Care to discuss the topic of the name change, and why this House N put him out in a desperate bid to maintain the status quo?

    Oooooo, I said House N, focus on that to distract.

  11. Firstly, Kambon’s constitutional right to freedom of expression was not infringed. This freedom does not allow persons to speak or share their thoughts anywhere they feel they should. Case in point, recently in Parliament, persons representing the Gaming industry were forcibly removed from the Public gallery because they were speaking on issues that they were passionate about. The Speaker ordered that they be removed, but that was not an infringement on their right to expression, it just meant that that was not the place for it.

    With reference to Kambon’s ejection from the meeting, there are other factors that were responsible for it; whether reasonable or not, time will tell. When participating, the Chair has the right to moderate every aspect of it, and indeed, one must receive permission to speak. If one refuses to abide by the instructions of the Chairperson, the Chair has the right to eject one from the meeting, with as much force as is reasonably required. Suffice it to say, his constitutional right to expression was not infringed.

  12. Let’s be honest. Did Prof. Copeland state that Mr. Kambon was persona non grata? Or did Mr. Kambon conclude that by not been given the freedom to express his vitriol?

    • What makes Shabaka’s view vitriol?

    • Could you elaborate Ruel Ellis on what Shabaka Kambon said or did that could possibly justify his expulsion? Good grief, when we start describing views we disagree with as malicious or vitriol, we are in serious trouble! WDH happened to freedom of speech or are we heading for an authoritarian state where opposing views are not permitted?

    • I asked a question. Didn’t know I’m not allowed to.

      Vitriol, bitter criticism. I’m guessing I should have just used criticism.

      IMHO being emotional in any form of criticism paints it as bring bitter. But that’s language.

      I’m asking for some facts. Did the Principal of UWI say to Mr. Kambon that you sir are persona non grata and have him removed?

      That’s all I wanted to know. Actually that’s all I still wish to know.

    • Actually, you made a clear statement in describing Mr Shabaka Kambon’s words/view as vitriol. That is not a question. You have passed judgement on his POV and deemed his right to expression as either malicious and/or caustic ‘criticism’

    • I guess question marks are not part of the local gramma. Also the use of words which one perceive of having a negative connotation is also unacceptable.

      Yet you say you’re defending the rights of free speech.

      Thanks for answering my question.

    • Ruel the phrasing of your question suggested that you were uncertain about Kambon’s conclusion. Not whether or not it was vitriol.
      You don’t think vitriol carries negative connotations?

    • Given but definition it means Bitter Criticism. The perceived negativity is in cultural uses. There are many words, expressions and forms of communication which some may impute negativity to, while others accept it as part of the natural vocabulary.

      Let me therefore apologize for the use of the word. I’ll therefore withdraw it.

      Actually I’ll do better than that. As it appears to have been the focus of the discussion rather than the provision of a direct answer to the questions asked.

    • Ruel fair enough. So far Copeland hasn’t shared his views with anyone and UWI hasn’t declared its position. So we don’t know about the first question.
      Shabaka hasn’t stated his position either but perhaps he might be in the dark as well.
      So we just don’t know. There is a lot about what happened at that last meeting we don’t know. All that seems certain is that Shabaka was put out.

    • Then the headline is extremely divisive. As it paints the Campus Principal and by extension the Campus as a dictatorial place where one is not free to exchange ideas or debate issues.

      But then what do I know.

    • It is the view of the letter writer. And it constitutes fair comment as it is based on something tangible. And “fair comment” here is a legal term and has nothing to do with whether Marie is right or wrong–but whether she has the right to make such a conclusion based on the evidence at hand.

    • She is aware that the UWI is Private property?

      Also, one would have to violate some rule or regulation for one to be asked to leave the Campus while participating in any UWI related activity.

      Fair comment it maybe. But without obtaining the various perspectives on the incident, how fair is it really?

      Same you you had issues with my use of the word to mean “Bitter Criticism,” don’t you see a parallel in describing the UWI as acting “high handed and low browed” then claiming that the Principal has deemed an individual “persona non grata?”

      I’m trying to learn. Trying to understand the Trini psyche and particularly those who inform and educate using non traditional media. So bear with me a little.

    • Ruel, to be more fair it should have been “alleged” designation as persona non grata. So you’re right there.
      As far as the “inform and educate” part, we allow space for persons to air their views–respectfully and maturely. Just as we are permitting you right now. That helps us to reflect the view of the public more accurately and not just monopolise the opinions coming out of the site.
      Our editor, Earl Best, pointed out that we did not carry the release from Kambon’s organisation in the way that Newsday did because we felt uncomfortable doing so without hearing from UWI.
      This is not a news piece though.

    • Thank you Lasana. Great engaging you. Continue to do the good work.

    • Thanks Ruel. Contribute whenever you can. And please know that you can always share your own views by way of a letter to the editor if you choose. Clearly you have an alternate viewpoint and perhaps that could lend to an improved perspective for everyone.

    • But it Was Not Kambon giving the descriptive and account. But a female attendee,Marie Bermudez.

      So how and why does Ruel challenge that offering? Just so???

  13. Look out for more copycat action by Kambon as he seeks to surpass his dad as an activist.

  14. Free Expression but not disrespect. These outbursts have to be nipped in the bud. Too much wildness in the town already.Civility went through the door. Bring it back..

  15. Funny. Was this ever in the national news? Reported by no party involved; no persons at witness. Very telling

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