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Turkish Government’s Attack on Academic Autonomy Gears Up

Photo credit: Duvar Newspaper

Following the unilateral governmental appointment of Professor Melih Bulu as president of Bogazici University on January 1, 2021, demonstrations continue and tensions between Turkey’s authoritarian AKP government and Bogazici faculty and students have escalated. Protests have spread around Istanbul and elsewhere; the faculty and students of several prominent universities in Ankara, Izmir, and Istanbul have gathered together in support of the Bogazici community’s struggle for academic freedom and institutional autonomy.

Throughout the first month of protests, the police used excessive force against peaceful protestors. In house raids and on-site action, hundreds of students were taken into custody or put under house arrest. The students have also been stigmatized by the state-controlled media on grounds of their sexual orientations and political affiliations, and have been labeled as terrorists by high-ranking state officials, cabinet members, and President Erdogan himself.

The Bogazici faculty has continued their daily silent protest outside Professor Bulu’s office, and an overwhelming majority of the faculty have refused to cooperate with the new president and take over administrative duties. The AKP government’s response to the demands and concerns of the faculty and students has been to announce another midnight presidential decree opening new faculties in a number of universities, including faculties of law and communication at Bogazici University effective February 6, 2021, according to the Official Gazette, the Turkish state’s official press organ through which new legislation and presidential decrees are publicized. The decision, which signals another wave of politically motivated academic appointments, will bring AKP loyalists into the Bogazici ranks, most certainly breaking down resistance from within and shifting faculty demographics to favor the government and the president it appointed without faculty input.

Endangered Scholars Worldwide condemns the Turkish government’s recurring attacks on academic freedom and the constitutional autonomy of higher education institutions in Turkey. The ongoing tensions in Turkey have had a profoundly unsettling effect on academic freedom and continue to pose a grave threat to higher education on a national scale. ESW urges the Turkish authorities to respect and guarantee the autonomy of higher education in Turkey and to implement the provisions and principles of human rights as specified in international conventions and treaties, and to drop any charges against the accused arising from their nonviolent exercise of the rights to expression, association, and assembly.


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