Demonstrating Boğaziçi students tell gov’t to keep hands off universities

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Students from the prestigious Boğaziçi University in İstanbul held a demonstration on Monday in protest of a recent decision from Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to appoint a long-time AKP member as the university’s rector, telling the government not to interfere in universities.

In a controversial move on Friday, AKP leader and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan appointed Professor Melih Bulu, an AKP parliamentary candidate from İstanbul in the 2015 general election, as the university’s rector.

The appointment of Bulu, who holds a doctorate in business administration from Boğaziçi and was previously the rector of the İstanbul-based Haliç University, attracted widespread criticism from the university, students, alumni and opposition politicians, who accused Erdoğan of trying to politicize Turkey’s universities and end academic freedom.

During Monday’s demonstration in front of the university’s campus in Hisarüstü, which was also joined by students from other İstanbul universities, the students chanted slogans such as “We don’t want a government trustee as a rector,” in reference to trustees appointed by the AKP government to replace democratically elected pro-Kurdish mayors in Turkey’s East and Southeast, “Universities are ours” and “We don’t want a rector who committed plagiarism.”

Following Bulu’s appointment, claims began to circulate on social media suggesting that he plagiarized parts of his doctoral dissertation and other academic papers.

A Twitter user named Ankaralı Jan, who examined the first 33 pages of Bulu’s doctoral thesis, came to the conclusion that “most of the English-language text in this doctoral thesis was plagiarized directly from other authors in such a way that suggests Bulu was merely citing their ideas rather than copying their words.”

In the meantime, Boğaziçi University lecturers criticized the appointment of Bulu in a joint statement, saying that the move explicitly violates the academic freedom and autonomy of the university. The academics said for the first time in the university’s history someone from the outside had been appointed as rector.

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.

Boğaziçi University, overlooking the Bosphorus, was founded in 1863, the first American institution of higher learning to be established outside the US. It has more than 15,000 students and six campuses on the European side of İstanbul.

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

In the meantime, there are currently 20 rectors at Turkey’s universities who are somehow linked to the AKP, according to a report in the Sözcü daily on Monday. Some of them are former AKP candidates for parliament or mayoral posts, while others have served as AKP deputies in the past. For example, former AKP deputy chairperson Nükhet Hotar is the rector of the İzmir-based 9 Eylül University.

Last year Serkan Kurtuluş, a Turkish national arrested in Argentina on organized crime charges, claimed Hotar wanted him to assassinate American pastor Andrew Brunson, who was jailed in Turkey on bogus terrorism charges. He said he refused to do it.

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