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Private universities asked not to renew contracts with academics writing for critical outlets

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Turkey’s Higher Education Board (YÖK) has asked private universities in the country not to renew the employment contracts of academics who write for anti-government media outlets or who speak to these outlets, the Diken news website reported, citing a YÖK official.

There are some 80 private universities in Turkey where academics have to renew their employment contracts on a yearly basis. The contracts are generally renewed in August or September before the start of the new academic year.

The YÖK official who spoke to Diken on condition of anonymity said this does not mean that the academics will be pressured, adding that they should decide for themselves whether they want to continue their university jobs or write for the media.

YÖK made the request to the private universities through unofficial channels, Diken said. At least three private universities in İstanbul and two others in Ankara have been notified.

One of the private universities in İstanbul has decided not to renew its contract with a professor based on YÖK’s order.

The YÖK official told Diken that some academics are spending more time in the media than on their academic work, hence the board has decided to take such a step.

The Turkish government is frequently criticized for curtailing academic freedom in the country, with many academics facing legal action, losing their jobs or even going to jail due to their criticism of government policies or for simply expressing their views about a problem in the country.

In a move that curbed academic freedoms further, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in October 2016 canceled the intra-university elections that used to be held to elect university rectors. That position is now directly filled by the president.

Erdoğan insisted that the abolition of the election system would be beneficial for the country, although the move attracted widespread criticism in that it will eliminate the autonomy of universities.

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