Open letter to President from Boğaziçi University students

/238843-open-letter-to-president-from-bo

  • The Struggle at Turkey’s Boğaziçi University. Attacks on higher education tighten the grip of the AKP’s hegemonic project

    Late at night on January 1, 2021, by presidential decree, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan appointed new rectors to five universities in Turkey. One was Professor Melih Bulu, who became rector of the prestigious Boğaziçi University. This liberal and pluralist institution hosts dissident students and faculty, including many connected to Academics for Peace, an association that demands a peaceful resolution to Turkey’s war on the Kurds. Constituents of Boğaziçi immediately rejected this fait accompli as illegitimate, and began to protest. On January 4, police attacked hundreds of students: an image of Boğaziçi’s gates locked with handcuffs went viral.

    To this day, the campus remains under heavy police surveillance as the AKP and associated dominant social groups use both consent and coercion to impose their ways on social and political life. This process, called hegemony, plays out in the education sector today.

    Melih Bulu was unwelcome at Boğaziçi University for many reasons. A dean and a rector at two other universities, in 2015, he ran in the general elections as a candidate from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP.) In the first few days of his appointment at Boğaziçi, Bulu was credibly accused of plagiarizing his doctoral dissertation. Dismissing the charges as forgetfulness in using quotation marks, he tried to win students over by claiming that he supports LGBT rights – only to close down the LGBTI+ Studies student club as one of his first executive decisions.

    Since the day of Bulu’s appointment, students and faculty members at Boğaziçi have been protesting him, as well as the anti-democratic intervention in the university’s internal operations by President Erdoğan. The Boğaziçi resistance, however, is more than a struggle over the future of one university: it is a much larger struggle for academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democracy in an increasingly authoritarian Turkey.

    Students and faculty have mobilized creative protests despite the likelihood of a further crackdown. On March 1, over 70 Boğaziçi faculty members applied to the Council of State, demanding the reversal of Bulu’s appointment as it violates the Constitution and the law. By the end of March, more than 800 protesters around Turkey had been taken into custody. Twenty-nine are now under extended house arrest, while six remain in pretrial detention. Faculty members continue to turn their backs on the rectorship every day, and students are boycotting the first six days of the new semester to honor six friends in detention.

    This is clearly an assault on academic and political freedom. But the Boğaziçi resistance also sheds light on why the Erdoğan government may be courting controversy with the nation’s public universities – and why this particular university has taken center stage in the struggle for democracy in Turkey.

    The AKP is a culturally conservative and economically center-right party that has been in power since 2002. The first few years of the Erdoğan government saw democratic advances: lifting of the ban on headscarves in public institutions and an end to military interference in politics. Over the course of two decades in power, however, the AKP has ruled through authoritarian and neoliberal governance.

    These events are neither new nor confined to the education sector. It is only one leg of the AKP’s ongoing political project to transform both state and society. This involves reconstituting higher education to mirror the AKP’s control of state institutions, governance structures, civil society, and the media. The AKP has seized control of the judiciary, parliament, the military, and the police. It has criminalized all opposition. It has imprisoned, purged, or silenced journalists, teachers, academics, lawyers, and others. It has bought off the media. It has removed democratically-elected mayors in the Kurdish southeast and appointed new ones.

    This has all taken place legally, through the constitutional amendments of 2010 and 2017, and the laws by decree that were issued during the two-year state of emergency between 2016 and 2018.

    But the infringement on institutional autonomy and academic freedom is older than the current regime. The Council of Higher Education (YÖK), established after the 1980 military coup, was established to curb the autonomy of universities by controlling university structures, their governance, staff, and intellectual output. Between 1992 and 2016, candidates for a rectorship were voted on first by university departments and faculty before being nominated for appointment by the YÖK. But after a law by decree was issued under emergency rule in 2016, the YÖK was put in charge of appointing rectors. Since 2018, President Erdoğan appoints them.

    The government, its media, and the President used their usual combination of divide-and-conquer techniques on the protesters in a bid to cordon them off from support by the population at large. Boğaziçi students and faculty members, as well as other students and supporters of the protests were characterized first as “elitist,” then as “LGBT deviants,” then “disrespectful of national sensibilities,” and then as “terrorists.”

    The inclusive politics that the Boğaziçi resistance showcased prompted Erdoğan to resort to even more populist tactics, to remind the nation that “lesbians and the like” (“lezbiyen mezbiyen”) should not be listened to, and that “the pillar of the family is the mother,” falling back on the age old conservative “our customs and values!” rhetoric. More broadly, these instances lay bare the differences between the kind of politics that the AKP and the student movement adhere to, suggesting the type of politics – inclusive, diverse, intersectional – that is well-positioned to burst through the cracks of the current system.

    The regime, unable to legitimize its appointed rector at Boğaziçi, seems poised to empty out the university and appoint loyalist deans and staff by using forms of clientelism that are common to AKP rule. Two new faculties were established on February 6. On March 1, Bulu appointed his vice-rector Professor Naci Inci, a physicist, as the director of the Institute for Graduate Studies in Social Sciences. Re-staffing Boğaziçi will ease the process of governing the university, leaving the structure of the institution (if not its procedures) intact, and maintaining the appearance of legitimacy.

    Why is establishing ironclad control of universities necessary to the AKP? Because institutions of higher education mold individuals into citizens, workers, social and political beings. By exerting control over education, the AKP is not only demolishing public space but also ensuring the reproduction of “acceptable” citizens and publics who consent to these practices. At the same time, through establishing its control over education, the AKP is attempting to overturn the decline in support from the youth, as well as the educated and professional classes and re-establish what it calls the “national and religious” youth.

    Universities are also an economic and political project for the AKP: they are money-making, personnel-providing, vote-generating machines. Universities, many of poor quality, have popped up all over Turkey since the party came to power. Erecting a faculty building in a small town or city employs a lot of people. It also provides hope for social mobility, and attaches that hope to voting for the AKP.

    This process cannot be separated from the transformation of universities into institutions that provide a workforce, and where only profitable, depoliticized professions have value. This is the essence of what we mean by a neoliberal transformation of education. The decline and defunding of social sciences and humanities departments is discernible both in and outside of Turkey. Subjects that create space for studying economic, social, and political systems, promise to create politically engaged, critical individuals. It should, then, not come as a surprise that Melih Bulu, once appointed, declared that his mission and vision for Boğaziçi was, instead, to boost the university’s “sectoral cooperation, entrepreneurship, innovation ecosystem,” and put it in in the Times Higher Education (THE) and the QS first 100 rankings.

    Students of Boğaziçi have since made it clear, as one banner read, that they do not want a corporation but a university.

    Nevertheless, political encroachment into higher education continues. In its 19th year of rule, as it loses legitimacy and struggles to generate consent, the AKP increases coercion by repressing dissent everywhere. Higher education is no exception: trade unions, professional associations, political parties, publishing houses, and media outlets have been targeted too.

    These attacks on the university and academic freedom are yet another step by the AKP towards establishing authority over what little space remains for public debate and free expression. Indeed, the boundaries of the state, the government, and the public are already blurred in Turkey. When Bulu stated, in reaction to mounting pressure for his resignation, “touching me would mean touching the state” Erdoğan agreed: if the protesters “had the guts,” he said, they would ask him to resign.

    This conflation of Bulu’s authority with that of Erdoğan and the Turkish state reveals the stakes of the Boğaziçi resistance. Protesters denying the appointed “trustee” (“kayyum”) rector’s legitimacy at Boğaziçi also deny legitimacy to all kayyums in the Kurdish southeast. Refusing to accept Bulu’s appointment at Boğaziçi is also a refusal to accept the AKP’s anti-democratic politics. Reclaiming LGBTI+ identity also reclaims Muslim women’s rights. Freedom to establish or join a student club is a matter of freedom of assembly and expression.

    The students’ bold and incisive open letter to President Erdoğan eloquently expresses these entanglements and the intersectionality of their politics. Placing their struggle at Boğaziçi University within workers’ and minorities’ struggles, and within struggles against injustice, sexism and gender inequality, and the targeting of their fellow friends and professors, university students sum up what this resistance stands for. Their example should illuminate a way forward for an international left politics that commits to democracy and justice for all.

    For recent developments, follow bogazicidireniyor on Instagram and use the hashtags #bogazicidireniyor, #KabulEtmiyoruzVazgeçmiyoruz, #WeDoNotAcceptWeDoNotGiveUp, #WeWillNotLookDown and @unibogazici_en on Twitter.

    #Turquie #université #Bogazici #Boğaziçi #ESR #université_du_Bosphore #attaques #recteurs #Erdogan #Melih_Bulu #AKP #hégémonie #résistance #liberté_académique #contrôle #YÖK #autonomie #homophobie #Naci_Inci #répression #nationalisme #kayyum #légitimité #démocratie #justice

    ping @isskein

    • Open letter to President from Boğaziçi University students

      Amid ongoing protests against the appointed rector of Boğaziçi University, Erdoğan has issued a Presidential decree to open two new faculties at the university. The Boğaziçi Solidarity has addressed an open letter to the President.

      –—

      Amid the ongoing protests against the appointment of Prof. Melih Bulu as a new rector to Boğaziçi University by President and ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) Chair Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, a new Presidential decree has been published in the Official Gazette, foreseeing the establishment of Law and Communication faculties at the university.

      While the appointed rector has welcomed the news on his social media account, the Boğaziçi Solidarity platform, on behalf of the Boğaziçi University students protesting the appointment of Melih Bulu, has addressed an open letter to the 12th President of Turkey on social media.

      Under the hashtags #YüreğimizYetiyor (We have the guts), referring to a statement by Erdoğan, and #FakülteyiSarayaKur (Establish the faculty at the palace), students have addressed the following letter:
      Reasons underlying the protests

      "Previously, we responded to Melih Bulu with the poem ’Satirical Attempts on a Provocateur.’ It is pleasing to see that you have acknowledged yourself to be the person responsible, and responded accordingly.

      "Up until today, you have demanded secret meetings with us via the Turkey Youth and Education Service Foundation (TÜRGEV).

      "Now, you are trying to start an argument against us through the media. We do not like go-betweens, we prefer speaking outright and explicitly to all. We hope that you will proceed accordingly.

      "First, let us remind you of our demands and of the reasons underlying our protests:

      "You appointed a trustee rector to our university with utter disregard for the students and faculty. Is what you did legal? Yes, as you like to mention every chance you get, but it is not legitimate. This appointment makes anyone who has even the tiniest sense of justice revolt with indignation.

      "To top it off, you open faculties and appoint deans with an overnight presidential order on a Friday night, in order to intimidate the whole institution with all its students, teachers and laborers.

      "Your attempts to pack our university with your own political militants is the symptom of the political crisis that you have fallen into.

      "Victims of your crisis grow in number with every passing day!
      Constitutional rights

      "We use our constitutional rights to make people from all segments of society aware of the injustices we are subjected to.

      "These are our demands:

      All our friends who have been arrested or detained in this period must be released immediately!
      All campaigns to defame and disenfranchise LGBTI+s and all other targeted groups must end!
      All government-appointed trustees, starting with Melih Bulu, who instigated all these arrests, detentions, scapegoating campaigns, and threats, must resign!
      In universities, democratic rectorate elections must be held with the participation of all constituents of the university!

      ’Don’t mistake us for those who obey you’

      "You uttered a sentence starting with ’If they have the guts...’ in your statement. Is it a constitutional right to call for the resignation of the president? YES! Since when is the use of a constitutional right a matter of courage?

      "Do not mistake us for those who obey you unconditionally. You are not a sultan, and we are not your subjects.

      "But since you mentioned courage, we shall also respond to that briefly.

      "We have no immunities! You, however, are the one who has been storming around, hiding behind your legal and political immunity for the last 19 years.

      "The Interior Minister is spreading lies to play on religious sensitivities. We say that we will not practice self-censorship.

      "You call LGBTI+s deviants, we state that LGBTI+ rights are human rights.

      "Members of your party kicked miners in Soma. We actively stood in solidarity with the mine workers, and we will continue to do so.

      "You unlawfully keep the Co-Chairs of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) imprisoned, alongside journalists and union members.

      "We declare that we stand united with those who fearlessly speak the truth, and we are against all government-appointed trustees.

      "You make crowds boo Berkin Elvan’s mother in rallies. We declare that we stand with Berkin Elvan.

      "You target and attack Ayşe Buğra, without even mentioning her name, saying ’Osman Kavala ’s wife is among these provocateurs’.

      “In a vulgar manner, you restate the sexist fallacy that the only significant feature of a woman is her husband. We state that ’Ayşe Buğra is a dignified professor and an esteemed academic’. We say that ’We will take any charge against her as a charge against us’.
      ”(We know very well that you will file dozens of lawsuits against this letter on the grounds that it praises crime and criminals or insulting the president, but we also know that we will never give up on speaking the truth!)
      ’Why would we call on you to resign?’

      "Since you lack the power necessary to keep the trustee-rector you have appointed in the office, you resort to petty tricks like opening new faculties and appointing sham personnel, which does not appear to be an act of courage. That is why we disregard your words about courage.

      "We are aware that Bogaziçi University is not Turkey’s most significant institution, nor is the appointment of Melih Bulu Turkey’s most significant problem.

      "Regarding the demand for your resignation, we would not consider calling for your resignation based on this issue. YOU ASK WHY?

      "If you were ever going to resign,

      "You would have resigned when Brant Dink was slaughtered!

      "You would have resigned when 34 Kurds were killed in the Roboski massacre. You would have resigned when 301 miners were murdered in Soma! You would have resigned after the Çorlu train derailment!

      "You would have resigned in the face of the livelihood problems of thousands of citizens, who were left unemployed or could not find a job, and especially in face of the decree-law (KHK) purgees!

      "You would have assumed responsibility for the economic policies which condemned the people to poverty, instead of sacrificing your son-in-law.

      "The examples are plenty, but you have never resigned.

      "You preferred to present yourself as naively deceived, instead of, in your own words, ’having the guts’. So now why would we call on you to resign?

      "As long as Melih Bulu sits on that seat, we will continue our protest by strengthening our struggle, with all those who join the resistance. Whether or not you do what must be done is your own business. We stand with those who are robbed of their democratic rights and freedoms.

      “With hopes that you realize that you cannot silence the oppressed of these lands by shouting and threatening from arenas and podiums.”

      What happened?

      Prof. Melih Bulu has been appointed as the President of Boğaziçi University in a Presidential Decree issued on January 1. The appointment of Bulu has sparked harsh criticisms among both the students and academics of the university as well as in the academic community.

      Appointed to Boğaziçi, one of the most prestigious universities in Turkey, from outside its community, Bulu was a candidate for nomination to run in the Parliamentary elections in 2015 for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which is chaired by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

      The students and several students’ clubs of the university have been campaigning on social media under the hashtag #kayyımrektöristemiyoruz (We don’t want a trustee university president).

      The call of the students was also supported by the faculty members of the university, who released a joint statement on January 3.

      “An academic outside Bogazici University community was appointed as rector (university president), which is a practice introduced for the first time after the 1980s military tutelage,” read their statement.

      Amid harsh criticisms of students and faculty members, Prof. Bulu has shared a message on his Twitter account, welcoming his appointment to the position, saying, “We are all in the same boat.”

      The students protested the appointment of Bulu in front of the South Campus of the university in İstanbul on January 4. However, the police intervened into the protest with pepper gas and plastic bullets.

      Next day, it was reported that there were detention warrants against 28 people for “violating the law on meetings and demonstrations” and “resisting the officer on duty.” Later in the day, 22 of them were detained.

      40 people in total were detained over the protests. All of the detained were released on January 7 and 8, 2021.

      The protests of students and faculty members at the South Campus of Boğaziçi University have been going on since January 4.

      On February 1, police stormed the South Campus and intervened into the students’ protests. Earlier in the day, the students gathered in front of the campus for the protest. Police hindered the protest while also preventing the students inside the South Campus from joining their friends outside.

      With the 51 students taken into custody inside the campus in the evening, the number of detained increased to 159. In a statement released by the İstanbul Governor’s Office in the early morning hours on February 2, it was announced that 98 students were released from detention.

      On February 2, Boğaziçi University students gathered in Kadıköy Rıhtım for another protest, which was attacked by the police with plastic bullets and tear gas. 134 people were taken into custody by the police. Two of the protesters were arrested by the court afterwards.
      About Melih Bulu

      Prof. Melih Bulu was appointed as the President of Haliç University on January 17, 2020. In office in this foundation university for less than a year, he has been appointed as the President of Boğaziçi University.

      He was a Dean and University President at the İstinye University from 2016 to 2019. Between the years of 2010 and 2016, he was the Head of the Business Management Department of İstanbul Şehir University’s Business Management and Management Science Faculty.

      He was the General Coordinator of International Competitiveness Research Institute (URAK), an NGO working on economic competitiveness of cities and countries, from the year 2017 to 2019. Since 2011, he has been the Executive Board member of the İstanbul Electric-Electronic Machinery and Informatics Exporters R&D Market.

      In 2002, he founded the Sarıyer District Organization of the ruling AKP in İstanbul. In 2015, he was a candidate for nomination to run in the Parliamentary elections from the AKP in the first election district in İstanbul.

      He studied Industrial Engineering at the Middle East Technical University (METU) in Ankara in 1992. He did his MBA and PhD at Boğaziçi University’s Department of Management.

      https://bianet.org/english/education/238843-open-letter-to-president-from-bogazici-university-students
      #lettre_ouverte