EUA board member is first rector replaced under decree

A European University Association or EUA board member has become the first rector to lose their job under new state of emergency decrees (675 and 676), which were issued at the end of October as part of the government’s ongoing response to the failed coup attempt on 15 July this year.

Gülay Barbarosoglu is no longer president of Bogaziçi University in Istanbul, despite the record number of votes she received in the elections that were held in the university on 12 July – with 86% of the vote on a 90% turnout.

The Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has appointed one of her vice-rectors in her place.

In a statement the European University Association said it “once more emphasises its solidarity with the Turkish academic community, and in particular with its board member Gülay Barbarosoglu, and underlines the importance of standing up for university values and remaining committed to the internationally recognised principles of university autonomy and academic freedom which are under ever greater pressure in Turkey”.

The decrees state that 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 or YÖK. In exceptional cases, a direct appointment of the university rector by the President of the Republic is possible, without any involvement of YÖK.

Elections for the period 2016-20 took place on 12 July 2016 in 18 public Turkish universities, including Bogaziçi University. Barbarosoglu received 348 out of 399 votes in her university, with a turnout of 90%, EUA reported.

At 17 of the 18 universities in which elections were held, appointments were made immediately. No decision was taken for Bogaziçi University. Barbarosoglu therefore continued in her capacity as rector, a post she had held since 2013.

But on 12 November 2016, President Erdogan directly appointed Professor Mehmed Özkan as rector of Bogaziçi University for the period 2016-20. Özkan was previously a vice-rector at Bogaziçi University but did not stand in the election that Barbarosoglu won in July.

Özkan vowed to protect the university’s tradition of pluralism and free thought, Hurriyet Daily News reported.

“I will work to continue to increase the success of our university in academic and scientific fields, protecting the participatory, pluralistic and free tradition,” he said. “The academic and ethical principles of Bogaziçi University, which have been formed over many years, are the guiding light in this endeavour.”

A report in bianet.org last week notes that before the decrees Erdogan assigned 68 rectors during his presidency, and in 20 cases he ignored the result of university elections for the post.

In a statement following the announcement of the decrees, EUA said: “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.”

European collaboration

Barbarosoglu, who has a PhD in industrial engineering from Bogaziçi University, has been a professor of industrial engineering since 2000. She was vice-rector of Bogaziçi University, in charge of research between 2008 and 2012, before becoming rector for the period 2013-17.

According to EUA’s website, during her services as the vice-president of the Association of European Operational Research Societies, and the national representative of NATO Research and Technology Organisation, she closely collaborated with a significant number of European universities, governmental and non-governmental institutions.

The day after the failed coup attempt in July, she gave an interview on TRT, in which she said the intervention was deplorable and the university had “always supported democracy and the legitimate people’s will”.

“Any attempt against legitimate government will harm and threaten democracy, social peace and welfare.”

Following the president's decision to replace her, she indicated that she will end her academic career, Hurriyet Daily News reported.

The decree rulings affecting universities were part of a wider move to further clamp down on political opposition and dissent.

The academics were among 10,131 civil servants dismissed under the decrees. According to the authorities they are all suspected of having links with the Gülen Movement, which the government blames for the attempted coup on 15 July, in which 265 people were killed.

According to Human Rights Watch, in total more than 130 media organisations have been closed since the 15 July coup attempt. These include 16 television broadcasters and 45 newspapers, Bloomberg reported.