In a meeting on January 18, 2022, Turkey’s Council of Higher Education (YÖK) ordered the dismissal of three deans from Boğaziçi University, apparently for their participation in protests against the university’s rector.
On January 19, news outlets began reporting that Boğaziçi University’s controversial rector, Mehmet Naci İnci, had dismissed Dr. Özlem Berk Albachten, the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences; Dr. Metin Ercan, the Dean of the Faculty of Economics and Administrative Sciences; and Dr. Yasemin Bayyurt, the Dean of the Faculty of Education in line with the YÖK’s decision. The three deans had been active participants in ongoing protests against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s appointment of a political ally, Melih Bulu, as rector of the university in January 2021. The protests continued after Bulu’s dismissal and replacement with İnci in August 2021, despite overwhelming faculty disapproval of the latter. Since January 2021, protesting students and faculty have faced arrests, detentions, prosecutions, suspensions, dismissals, and violent force by Turkish police.
On January 20, İnci stated on his Twitter that the YÖK had ordered the three scholars to be removed from their deanships “[a]s a result of investigations opened against [them] due to disciplinary offenses related to their duties” (translated from Turkish). Details about the deans’ alleged offenses have not been disclosed. The replacements for the three deans have not yet been announced, but in his tweets İnci stated that new appointments would be made soon. SAR understands that the former deans have retained their academic appointments.
Academics at Boğaziçi University criticized the dismissals as arbitrary and damaging to the university. The academics emphasized that the deans had been elected to their posts by a faculty majority and demanded that they be reinstated. With their dismissals, Boğaziçi University was left without deans elected by their peers. A group of Boğaziçi alumni from across the world also called for the deans’ reinstatement in a joint statement, saying that “the trustee mentality has made an intervention against the law and the principles of participatory governance by cooperating with the state institutions and abusing public authority” (translated from Turkish by Bianet).
Scholars at Risk is concerned by a state higher education authority ordering the revocation of scholars’ deanships, apparently in connection with their peaceful exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly – conduct which is expressly protected by international human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Turkey is a party. State authorities have an obligation to refrain from restricting or retaliating against expressive activity, so long as it is peaceful and responsible. In addition to harm to the immediate victims, such arbitrary disciplinary actions undermine academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.