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Erdoğan appoints AKP member as rector of top university, drawing criticism of students, alumni

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan AFP

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s appointment of a long-time member of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) as rector of Boğaziçi University, one of the country’s most prestigious, has sparked an adverse reaction among students and alumni, local media reported on Saturday.

Along with several other appointments made in a presidential order on Friday, Erdoğan appointed Melih Bulu, who holds a doctorate in business administration from Boğaziçi, as the university’s rector.

Students and alumni as well as politicians and activists have protested the appointment of Bulu on social media, posting thousands of tweets under the hashtag #KayyumRektörİstemiyoruz (We don’t want a government trustee as a rector), in reference to the trustees appointed by the AKP government to replace democratically elected pro-Kurdish mayors in Turkey’s East and Southeast.

Boğaziçi Dayanışma, an independent student platform at the university, said in a tweet they did not accept pro-government, presidentially appointed rectors who do not recognize the process of a democratic election.

The previous rector appointment to Boğaziçi was also the subject of debate and protest after Erdoğan in 2016 appointed Mehmed Özkan, who hadn’t even run in the elections for the position.

Turkish presidents have had the authority to appoint persons who did not come in first in elections for rector, but a presidential decree issued during the post-coup state of emergency declared in 2016 removed the elections altogether.

“Universities produce science for the prosperity and future of this country and society, not so you can remain in power,” said students from the Middle East Technical University (ODTÜ), another one of Turkey’s top universities that has also had an unelected rector appointed in recent years.

Christian Christensen, a professor of journalism studies at Stockholm University, said in a tweet that the ruling AKP uses “politicization” of Turkish universities as a common strategy alongside “crushing of independent/critical Turkish media.”

Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA) leader Ali Babacan, who is also Turkey’s former economy minister, also shared a post about Bulu’s appointment, stating: “Our country needs free universities, free academics and creative students. Freedom and creativity cannot be provided through the appointment of trustees.”

Zeynep Altıok Akatlı, a former MP from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), detailed in a tweet that Bulu worked as a founding member of the AKP’s Sarıyer district branch in İstanbul in 2002 and its İstanbul provincial chapter deputy chairman in 2007, and tossed his hat in the ring as the party’s candidate for mayor of İstanbul’s Ataşehir district in 2009 and a parliamentary candidate for İstanbul in the 2015 elections.

“Melih Bulu has successfully completed his academic career in the AKP organization,” the lawmaker said.

Bulu has also taught at İstanbul Şehir University, İstinye University and Haliç University, where he was rector prior to his appointment to Boğaziçi.

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