POSTED BY HANK REICHMAN
Even before the failed military coup of July 15 in Turkey, concern about academic freedom in that country was growing. On March 30, AAUP President Rudy Fichtenbaum and I issued a “Statement on Academic Freedom in Turkey,” expressing grave concern about attacks on more than 1,000 Turkish scholars. In July numerous AAUP leaders joined with nearly 400 American scholars to send a letter to President Obama, Secretary of State Kerry, and Secretary of Defense Carter, which called on them “to strongly criticize the Turkish government’s violation of human rights, academic freedom and the rule of law and to refuse to accept anything but a reversal of these authoritarian policies.” Unfortunately, the threats to university autonomy and academic freedom in Turkey have only worsened. Today the European University Association, the voice of European universities, issued the following statement:
These decrees state that from now on university rectors will no longer be elected, but appointed by the President of the Republic who will take the decision based upon three candidates proposed by the Turkish Council of Higher Education (YÖK). In exceptional cases a direct appointment of the university rector by the President of the Republic is possible, without any involvement of YÖK.
EUA has many Turkish members and is deeply concerned by these developments as well as by the immediate dismissal of a further 1,267 academics, and stands firmly behind the internationally recognised principles of freedom of expression and of association, and of university autonomy, without which quality higher education and high level research cannot flourish.
This news comes immediately after EUA’s autumn Council meeting in Brussels held on 28 October where recent developments in Turkey were discussed, in the presence of YÖK as one of EUA’s 33 national rectors’ conferences. EUA was pleased to learn of several positive developments since the failed coup attempt in July and the immediate measures taken at this time:
- The 65,000 students affected by the closure of 15 private higher education institutions have, for the most part, been transferred to other institutions in the same city, and with their scholarships continuing to be paid by the state.
- Of the 1,577 deans who had been asked to step down in July, so far 1,480 of their positions have been refilled, 917 of which by the former deans.
- Of the more than 5,000 academics who lost their jobs in July, it was confirmed that the more than 3,000 staff employed in the closed private universities would be free to seek employment elsewhere, while for the 2,346 academic staff dismissed from posts in public universities an appeals process has been initiated to look at the evidence in each case, and that the process would be concluded in the next few months.
In concluding Friday’s EUA Council meeting, EUA President Rolf Tarrach emphasised once more the Association’s position that: “It is not our role to get involved in political issues, but it is our role to understand and discuss their consequences for the universities and we are afraid that they are very dire.”