Since the 5th of January, 528 students in Turkey have been detained and many more arrested for standing up for their rights and demanding justice after the President of the Republic undemocratically appointed a rector to Boğaziçi University in Istanbul. The peacefully organised protests and street demonstrations aimed to denunciate the governmental attempts to undermine academic autonomy and the questionable approaches that the current political regime is pursuing within Higher Education.
In a fear that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s political influence has reached campuses by violating the current status of academic freedom, demonstrations are growing. Specifically, a rise in demonstrations occurred after Erdoğan overrode the university tradition of electing one of their own faculty members to the post and appointed Melih Bulu, a former politician of his own party, as a rector. Students at other universities in Turkey have been staging protests in solidarity with Boğaziçi and against their own state-appointed administrators as well .¹
Human, academic, democratic and educational rights have been heavily violated by President Erdoğan labelling the protesting students as “terrorists”, who asked for the support of their colleagues from other universities. Police tear-gassed students outside the faculty gate and released footage of heavily armed units raiding homes and detaining 45 students, dangerously compromising freedom of speech and academic integrity on campuses.²
Moreover, the appointment of an external rector breaches the faculty senate’s statement on democratic principles which states that the head of Boğaziçi must come from within the ranks of its staff to ensure autonomy, its strong engagement in university governance and ethical principles. This is especially important due to the plagiarism accusations that Melih Bulu has been subject for some of his articles. Higher Education should be free from political entanglements and these recent government-targeted actions are unacceptable and shed a negative light on academic integrity and freedom in Turkey.
The European Students´ Union urges stakeholders in Turkey to abide by democratic principles, assure the freedom of speech, uphold academic integrity, and to adopt fully the universal declaration of human rights on all levels by disengaging in their efforts of forcing Turkish intellectuals into exile for expressing their opinions and other mentioned actions. As a member of the European Higher Education Area representing more than 20 million students, ESU indicates the omissions of Turkey to introduce structural education reforms and tools based on the values of freedom of expression, the autonomy of institutions, independence of student unions and academic freedom. Freedom from any political dictatorship is a key factor in the development of the academic community.
The European Students’ Union together with all students in Turkey:
According to a report by the Scholars at Risk Network (Kinzelbach, Saliba, Spannagel, and Quinn, 2020, p. 9)³, Turkey is among the 10 countries whose scores in the academic freedom index worsened the most over the last five years alongside countries like Libya, Iran, North Korea and China.
This development is concerning, students’ voices must be heard and academic freedom, democratic values and human rights must be upheld in order to provide quality Higher Education systems and allow room for enhancements, this applies to Turkey and anywhere else.