Scholars at Risk issued the below letter (PDF available here) to Turkish state and higher education officials in response to the arbitrary dismissal of three democratically appointed deans from Boğaziçi University. In the letter, SAR urges the reversal of the dismissal orders, the restoration of the democratic norms and traditions of the rector appointment process, and respect and promotion of academic freedom and institutional autonomy throughout Turkey.
Via email to: Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, President of the Republic of Turkey; Prof. Dr. Erol Özvar, President of the Council of Higher Education (YÖK); and Prof. Mehmet Naci İnci, Rector of Boğaziçi University
February 2, 2022
RE: Restore Academic Freedom and Autonomy at Boğaziçi University
Dear President Erdoğan, Prof. Dr. Özvar, and Prof. İnci:
I write on behalf of Scholars at Risk to express our deep concerns over a year-long pattern of escalating violations of academic freedom and institutional autonomy at Boğaziçi University—one of Turkey’s most prestigious universities—marked most recently by the arbitrary dismissals of three faculty members from their deanships. To ensure Boğaziçi University can continue to provide quality higher education that serves the public interest, I respectfully urge you to reverse these wrongful dismissals, restore the faculty-centered traditions of the rector appointment process, and respect the academic freedom and free expression rights of faculty, students, and other members of Turkey’s higher education community.
Scholars at Risk (SAR) is an international network of more than 500 universities and colleges in 42 countries dedicated to protecting the human rights of scholars around the world, and to raising awareness, understanding of, and respect for the principles of academic freedom and its constituent freedoms of expression, opinion, thought, association, and travel. In cases like this, involving alleged infringement of these freedoms, SAR investigates, hoping to clarify and resolve matters favorably.
SAR understands that, on January 18, 2022, the Council of Higher Education (YÖK) ordered Prof. Özlem Berk Albachten, of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Prof. Metin Ercan, of the Faculty of Economics and Administrative Sciences, and Prof. Yasemin Bayyurt, of the Faculty of Education, to be stripped of their dean titles in apparent retaliation for their participation in and support for a year-long protest movement decrying the erosion of institutional autonomy and academic freedom at Boğaziçi University. Their removal and replacement leaves Boğaziçi without any remaining deans elected to their office by their peers, suggesting an intentional government-led appropriation of the university’s academic leadership. Since January 2021, Boğaziçi students and faculty have suffered violent force, arrests and detention, as well as criminal investigations and prosecutions for protesting President Erdoğan’s unilateral appointment as rector of the university Melih Bulu, a former politician, a member of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), and a political ally. Attacks on student expression and faculty dissent have continued since the dismissal of Bulu and the appointment of his successor, Mehmet Naci İnci, with faculty and students repeatedly facing violent force, arrests, and detentions, as well as criminal investigations and prosecutions for their peaceful protests and opposition to the new rector. The situation at Boğaziçi University is not isolated; academics and students across the country have suffered widespread attacks and a deep erosion of academic freedom and institutional autonomy since January 2016.
SAR is deeply concerned for the future of Boğaziçi University and the Turkish higher education community more generally. Boğaziçi has long served as a beacon of knowledge and intellectual curiosity, a national leader in innovation and international academic exchange that is uniquely situated to serve the public. Politicizing university leadership and purging and punishing dissenting voices, however, undermines the environment Boğaziçi University requires to properly fulfill this important role. Faculty and students at Boğaziçi University must be able to freely raise their concerns, ask difficult questions, and share their ideas peacefully, without fear of retaliation.
SAR therefore respectfully urges you to take immediate steps to safeguard academic freedom and institutional autonomy, including by (i) reversing dismissals, suspensions, and demotions of faculty and students who were targeted for peaceful expressive activities; (ii) refraining from the use of force, legal actions, and university disciplinary actions intended to retaliate against or restrict scholars’ and students’ peaceful expressive activity; and (iii) restoring the democratic norms and traditions of the rector and dean appointment processes that predate Emergency Decree No. 676. SAR further reminds Turkish state authorities of their obligations under national and international law to respect academic freedom and institutional autonomy and calls on them to demonstrate an unequivocal commitment to promoting and protecting the same.
I appreciate your attention to this important matter and look forward to your reply.
Executive Director, Scholars at Risk
Ms. Irene Khan
United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression
Dr. Koumbou Boly Barry
United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education
Prof. Eden Mamut
Secretary General, Black Sea Universities Network
Ms. Françoise Côme
Secretary General, European Society for Engineering Education (SEFI)
Ms. Amanda Crowfoot
Secretary General, European University Association
Dr. Hilligje van’t Land
Secretary General, International Association of Universities
Mr. David Lock
Secretary General, Magna Charta Observatory
Prof. Hmaid Ben Aziza
Secretary General, Mediterranean Universities Union (UNIMED)
Ms. Raimonda Markeviciene
President of the Steering Committee, The Utrecht Network
Ms. Dunja Mijatović
Commissioner for Human Rights, Council of Europe
Ms. Maija Innola
Chair, Steering Committee Bureau for Education Policy and Practice, Council of Europe
Mr. Eamon Gilmore
European Union Special Representative for Human Rights
Ms. Mariya Gabriel
Commissioner, Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, European Commission
Mr. Margaritis Schinas
Vice-President & Commissioner for Promoting our European Way of Life, European Commission
Ms. Věra Jourová
Vice-President and Commissioner for Values and Transparency, European Commission
Dr. Roberto Carlini
Director, European Education and Culture Executive Agency
Mr. Oltion Rrumbullaku
Head of the Albanian Bologna Follow-Up Group (BFUG) Secretariat, European Higher Education Area
Mr. Sergey Lagodinsky, MEP
Chair, Delegation to the EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee, European Parliament
Ms. Sabine Verheyen, MEP
Chair, Committee on Culture and Education, European Parliament
Mr. David McAllister, MEP
Chair, Committee on Foreign Affairs, European Parliament
Ms. Maria Arena, MEP
Chair, Subcommittee on Human Rights, European Parliament
Mr. Christian Ehler, MEP
Vice-Chair, Panel for the Future of Science and Technology, European Parliament