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Erdoğan appoints controversial figure as rector of İstanbul university

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has appointed as rector of an İstanbul university a controversial figure who came to public attention with remarks about the founder of modern Turkey and doubts about his academic credentials, the T24 news website reported.

According to the Friday issue of the Official Gazette, Prof. Dr. Selman Öğüt was one of four new rectors appointed by Erdoğan. He was chosen to head İstanbul Esenyurt University, located on the outskirts of the city.

Öğüt came to public attention with a letter he wrote to Turkey’s then-energy minister and President Erdoğan’s son-in-law, Berat Albayrak, in 2015 in which he complained about his failure to acquire the title of associate professor because his publications — one book and three articles — had been found lacking by then-Higher Education Board (YÖK) President Yekta Saraç and a team of academics in the 2015 associate professorship exam.

The letter was brought to public attention by journalist Metin Cihan after the Turkish hacker group Redhack leaked the inbox of Albayrak in late 2016, containing 57,934 emails from his email address spanning 16 years, from April 2000 to September 23, 2016.

In a later attempt, Öğüt managed to pass the associate professorship exam with regard to his publications but failed in the interview, following which he launched a campaign on social media for the removal of interviews from the process.

In March 2018 a law passed in the Turkish parliament resulted in the removal of the interview requirement, allowing Öğüt to become an associate professor.

Öğüt also attracted criticism due to his remarks on a TV program in September 2020 during which he referred to Kemalism, the political ideology and principles associated with Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, as “a virus.” He also said that if Atatürk had been alive today, he would support Erdoğan.

A day before his appointment by Erdoğan, Öğüt also tweeted criticism of Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, former leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) who was replaced in early November.

He said Kılıçdaroğlu has been quickly forgotten because his style of politics prioritized interest groups over people.

The Turkish government is frequently criticized for turning universities into places where merit-based appointments have been replaced by the appointment of people based on family connections or proximity to the government.

The government also curtails academic freedom, critics say, as many academics are 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.

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