SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: September 28, 2021

Attack Types: Loss of Position

Institution(s):Boğaziçi University

Region & Country:Western Asia | Turkey

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On September 28, 2021, Boğaziçi University (BU) announced the cancellation of classes taught by Özcan Vardar, an award-winning film editor and part-time lecturer at BU since 2013.

Beginning in January 2021, students and faculty across Turkey held protests in response to the controversial appointment of Melih Bulu to the position of rector of BU, by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Police used force and arrested demonstrators in many of the protests. Erdoğan eventually removed Bulu as rector of BU and, on August 20, appointed then-acting rector Professor Mehmet Naci İnci to the rector position permanently. This latest appointment triggered additional protests by students and faculty. When an internal poll was conducted over Naci Inci’s appointment, 83% of the faculty turned out, and 95% of those voting opposed the appointment.

Vardar, a part-time lecturer of the department of western language and literature, reportedly participated in protests against Bulu and Naci İnci. A letter signed by vice rector Fazıl Önder Sönmez reportedly said that “Vardar’s lack of formal education in the field where he was teaching classes” was the reason for the cancellation of his class. Vardar pointed to his education in a number of film programs and years of experience as a film editor, and alleged the disciplinary actions were in response to his protest activity against the university rector.

The cancellation of Varda’s class came just a few weeks after the cancellation of classes taught by his colleague, Seda Binbaşgil (see report) and a few months after the dismissal of Can Candan (see report). Academics at BU have since called for the reinstatement of their colleagues and raised concern that the dismissal of Candan, coupled with the closure of Vardar’s and Binbaśgil’s classes, had disrupted BU’s culture and art courses and film certificate programs. The academics allege that the disciplinary actions taken by Naci Inci show that his administration is attempting to quash the culture and art courses at BU.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about disciplinary actions against a scholar in apparent retaliation for nonviolent expressive activity, including expression critical of his institution. University administrators should refrain from punishing students and faculty members for peaceful and responsible expressive activity. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, disciplinary actions aimed at restricting or retaliating against such activity undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.