Turkey: Institutional Autonomy Under Threat

Posted January 14, 2021

Scholars at Risk has joined international partners in endorsing the below petition regarding recent events at Turkey’s Boğaziçi University.

On January 1, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan appointed new rectors to five universities in Turkey. These included appointing Melih Bulu, a member of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), as the new rector of Boğaziçi University. In the past, under Turkey’s law, rectors had been appointed only after being elected by tenured and tenure-track academic faculty and then presented to the country’s president for appointment. In November 2016, however, amidst a state of emergency enacted in response to a failed coup attempt in July of that year, President Erdoğan issued an emergency decree, Decree No. 676, which removed university faculty from the rector appointment process, placing it in the hands of the presidency and the Turkish Higher Education Council (YÖK). In March 2018, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights noted that this decree (among others) constitutes “omnibus legislation and regulate[s] various matters which seem unrelated to any threat to national security,” and endorsed the view, asserted by the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission, that the decree did not necessarily appear to have “a link to the management of the state of emergency.” After the state of emergency was lifted in 2018, the Erdoğan government placed the appointment of rectors permanently into the hands of the President and YÖK.

The appointment of Bulu—an individual affiliated with the ruling AKP, who is not a part of the Boğaziçi University community and whose appointment has not been approved by members of that community—underscores the threat to university autonomy that Decree No. 676 and its successor law represent. Boğaziçi faculty and students have recognized this threat through a series of peaceful protests, which police have responded to with violent force, including the use of tear gas and rubber bullets, and arrests. Governments must safeguard universities’ autonomy to make decisions about their own leadership, based on academic criteria and the needs of their communities.


Petition: Support Academic Freedom for Boğaziçi University Students and Faculty

We Stand with Boğaziçi University Students and Faculty in their Struggle for Academic Freedom and Autonomy

First published on January 8, 2021. Click here to view and sign the live petition, which contains a list of individual signatories.

Turkey’s AKP government continues to undermine the rights and freedoms of individuals as well as the principle of autonomy of universities and civic organizations. Most recently, Turkish police have attacked and detained dozens of students who peacefully protested the AKP’s attempt to assert political control over Boğaziçi University in İstanbul.

On January 1, 2021, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan used an emergency decree from 2016 (KHK 676) to appoint Professor Melih Bulu, a loyal member of the ruling party, rector of Boğaziçi University. Bulu is not a member of the Boğaziçi University faculty, which violates the established rules and practices of University governance.[1]

This brazen attempt by President Erdoğan to bring Boğaziçi University under his control has sparked widespread faculty and student protest.[2] The government’s response has been brutal. Erdoğan has called the students “terrorists” and LGBTI+ students in particular have been singled out for harassment.[3] The police have conducted home raids with guns drawn, detained and strip searched protestors, and engaged in torture.[4]

We the undersigned condemn these actions and stand in solidarity with the students and faculty of Boğaziçi University. We call upon Professor Bulu to decline the position and we call upon the Turkish government to release any students still in custody, withdraw all charges, and respect academic freedom and university autonomy.

Institutional endorsements, as of January 14, 2021:

Research Institute on Turkey
Academic Solidarity Network
PEN America
Academics for Peace – North America
Academics for Peace – Germany
Scholars at Risk (SAR)
SAR – Italy
EuroMed Rights
Interflugs – Berlin
SUNY Graduate Student Employees Union (GSEU) – New York
Politics Department at Ithaca College, NY

Individual endorsements can be found on the live petition page.

Footnotes:
[1] https://mesana.org/advocacy/committee-on-academic-freedom/2021/01/07/students-detained-after-protesting-appointment-of-new-rector-of-bogazici-university
[2] https://www.duvarenglish.com/bogazici-university-remains-defiant-in-the-face-of-erdogans-attempts-to-crush-academic-freedom-news-55719
[3] https://www.duvarenglish.com/turkeys-erdogan-claims-terrorists-are-involved-in-bogazici-university-protests-news-55789; https://jurnaltr.com/bogazici-universitesinde-gozaltina-alinan-2-ogrenciye-zorla-ciplak-arama-yapildi-polis-ciplak-aramaya-direnen-ogrencileri-yere-yatirip-pantolonlarini-indirdi/
[4] https://www.duvarenglish.com/police-battery-of-bogazici-students-confirmed-by-medical-examinations-news-55774