ANKARA: When police on Tuesday closed the campus gates of Istanbul’s Bogazici University to keep protesting students away, it became the latest action to symbolize the Turkish government’s handling of opposition groups, a former envoy has said.
In a tweet, Namik Tan, who was Turkey’s ambassador to the US between 2010 and 2014, said: “Maybe you can handcuff gates, wrists, but never ideas and thoughts.”
His comments came as house raids were carried out on Tuesday in the wake of further student demonstrations in Istanbul over the Jan. 1 appointment — with a presidential decree — of a political figure as the rector of Bogazici, one of Turkey’s most prestigious universities.
In response to international media outlets, including the BBC and The Economist, giving extensive coverage to the student protests, Turkey’s pro-government A News claimed that “the United Kingdom supports the chaos plan,” in reference to the anti-government Gezi Park protests in 2013.
Police on Tuesday fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse large crowds of students who had gathered to demonstrate against the appointment of Melih Bulu — a member of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and a candidate in previous general elections — to the top post at Bogazici University.
An Istanbul-based higher education institution known for its critical stance against the democratic backsliding in the country, Bogazici was the first American university founded outside the US.
“Being embroiled in administrative scandals that can spin into a political crisis is the last thing any university needs or wants, especially a research university,” Dr. Evren Celik Wiltse, a political scientist at South Dakota State University, told Arab News.
“Today, the right question should be: How can we help research universities flourish? If you try to bring them under the tutelage of this or that ideology and agenda in the hopes to tame them, you will kill the golden egg-laying goose,” she said.
Along with the university students who sealed off the rector’s office building, members of the academic staff have also called for Bulu’s immediate resignation from the post. Several professors at the university showed their objection to his appointment by turning their backs toward the rector building on Tuesday.
“Let us never forget that Turkey had three prime ministers from Bogazici University, and all three were from different political walks, different ideologies: Center-left, center-right, and conservative,” Wiltse added.
Protesters consider Bulu’s appointment to be the latest top-down direct government intervention in the academic sphere and its decision-making mechanism aimed at curbing freedom of expression in the country and further normalizing the disregard of meritocracy in appointments to key posts.
Bulu was the first rector to be appointed from outside of Bogazici University since the bloody military coup of 1980.
Alpay Antmen, a lawmaker from Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), told Arab News: “The rectors should be elected by the university administration. The students used their constitutional right on Monday to claim from the authorities the universally accepted norm of appointing independent rectors. They defend independent, free academia.”
He said that Turkish universities could not be ranked among the top 500 global educational institutions mainly because of the lack of merit-based assignments, adding that senior posts at other universities in the country had also in the past been given to individuals with political affiliations to the AKP.
“The brain-drain hit record levels in the country. What we saw yesterday and today on the university campus and in the house raids where students were allegedly passed through strip searches meant a very dark period for Turkish history,” Antmen said.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gained the authority to appoint rectors to the university through an emergency decree issued in 2016.
Separately, a new survey from polling firm MetroPoll, revealed that about 70 percent of Turks — the highest ratio of pessimists over the past five years — believed the country was moving in the wrong direction.