ANKARA: A high-profile appointment to a Turkish university has sparked protests as far away as Australia and Canada, amid growing anger over the government’s attempts to infiltrate higher education institutions.
Melih Bulu was a candidate for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in previous general and local elections, and his appointment as rector of the prestigious Bogazici University in Istanbul has sparked clashes between students and police in the city. Turkish and stirred up fears. that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan tighten his control over campuses.
Bogazici graduates, students and faculty living in Paris, Berlin, Sydney, Eindhoven and Toronto have staged protests in response to the appointment of Bulu, who comes from outside the university community and was appointed by presidential decree.
Aybala Bulut, one of the protesters, said the Erdogans’ actions violated the traditions of the university.
What we are protesting is the president’s appointment of a rector of our university, a practice that has violated highly valued and prioritized democratic principles for over 150 years, she told Arab News.
Traditionally, the candidate with the largest share of votes in university elections has become the rector of the University of Bogazici.
Bogazici has such a democratic tradition when it comes to electing administrative staff, she added. The appointment of an external rector to the university without an election, a practice reminiscent of the military regime of the 1980s in Turkey, is in itself unacceptable to us and sufficient reason to protest.
Hundreds of professors joined the protests on campus shouting: We don’t accept. We don’t give up.
They also issued a joint statement criticizing the appointment of someone from outside the Bogazici community as rector.
It is essential that universities make the decisions themselves through democratically elected councils, the statement said.
At least 36 bar association leaders also lent their support to the January 7 protests, criticizing undemocratic methods of appointing rectors and stressing the gravity of police violence against the protests.
Dozens of university students in Turkish cities have been greeted with tear gas and plastic bullets. They have also been taken into custody, although many have been released. It was also reported that students were strip searched and beaten, which escalated anger.
On Friday, Erdogan criticized the protests for the first time, saying terrorists were involved. He also said Bulu was the most suitable person for the job.
Bogazici University, which overlooks the Bosphorus, was founded in 1863. It was the first American higher education institution to be established outside the United States. It has more than 15,000 students and six campuses on the European side of Istanbul.
Bogazici academics primarily oppose the appointment on principle, regardless of who is appointed, Dr Mert Arslanalp, a political scientist at the University of Bogazici, told Arab News.
Arslanalp said a centralized top-down appointment system was undemocratic and undermined university autonomy.
The University of Bogazici has a bottom-up governance model that distributes decision-making powers among a large number of commissions, committees and legislative bodies, which guarantees the free development of many disciplines, centers and student clubs. We believe that the model of democratic governance is valuable because the academic freedoms, critical thinking and pluralistic life on campuses that are necessary for the scientific, intellectual and moral development of academics and students can only be preserved in the long term under such a model. Otherwise, it depends on the goodwill of individuals. This governance model has also ensured that faculty appointments are based on merit, which is essential for achieving high quality research and education.
He added that an externally appointed rector would not be accountable and could use the extensive legal powers of his office to undermine the democratic governance model.
Appointing someone outside of the university is also an insult to the entire faculty of one of the best universities in Turkey. This implies that this university, which has trained some of the greatest leaders in many fields and has successfully governed itself for decades, now lacks the human capital to govern itself. I find such an insinuation extremely disrespectful and deeply undemocratic.
There are other ethical concerns about the new rector, including claims that his master’s thesis and doctoral dissertation involve plagiarism, and question marks over his academic prowess.
Students doubt he could even be a part-time professor at the university let alone be its rector, Bulut said.
Erdogan has appointed 27 rectors in the past year.
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