Campus blues

Campus blues

The man had hit the headlines about six years ago when a Justice and Development Party-controlled municipality in Istanbul decided to distribute his 635-page magnum opus to newly-wed couples.

The book by Hamdi Donduren, a professor of theology at Uludag University, “Family Patterns of Behavior with Evidence,” sets the appropriate minimum age for marriage at nine for girls and 12 for boys; suggests 100 whips for adultery and 80 for drinking alcohol; rules out courtroom witnesses if they are “women or infidels;” and allows men to beat their wives ‘without leaving traces.’”

He showed up in newspapers earlier this year again when he objected to the government’s “Milk Bank” project, a purposeful scheme aiming to increase breast-feeding for toddlers. How do we know, Professor Donduren questioned the project, if the milk donor is an atheist or a communist woman?
The Higher Education Board (YOK), which sees no harm in having Mr. Donduren inside the country’s university circle has recently decided to rename the faculties of theology across the country. These schools will now have a more realistic name: Islamic Science Academies. And if an earlier decision should be upheld, some courses will be dropped from the curriculum: History of Philosophy, Introduction to Sociology, Introduction to Psychology and Methodology and Technique for Education and Scientific Research. The curriculum change in favor of more hadith and tafseer courses has been widely resisted by theologians.

The controversy over the theological curriculum comes at a time when the government proudly reiterates how its vigorous efforts to boost higher education have raised the number of universities by 114 percent in the last decade. Sadly, the government’s quantitative approach fails to impress. To borrow Shelby Foote’s line for a minor revision, “A Turkish university, these days, is a group of buildings around a library and a small mosque.”

According to the findings of QS World University Rankings, an authoritative list of university rankings, only nine Turkish universities (out of 175) were listed among the world’s 800 best universities. Only nine in a list of 800 top universities, and the best ones appearing in the modest 430-460 bracket.
According to another recent report, released by the British Council’s Education Intelligence research service, 95 percent of Turkish students would like to study overseas. It seems that the Turkish students themselves are not impressed by the Turkish universities (although there is a visible increase in the small number of foreign students studying in Turkey). Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan should rethink his non-qualitative higher education policies before accusing an entire generation of being ungrateful toward his efforts to construct “groups of buildings around a library and a small mosque.”

But the prime minister may be extra sorrowful to learn that the pious Muslim youth he has declared he aims to raise do not tend to turn their backs on their own country only but also on other Muslim countries when it comes to learning, or, in their manifested goal, to have access to academic excellence and to finding better jobs after graduation.

The British Council’s survey shows that the most preferred destinations for the Turkish youth for higher education are Britain and the United States (each with 30 percent); Germany (8 percent); Canada (4 percent); France and Italy (each with 3 percent); Spain, Australia and Switzerland (each with 2 percent); and Sweden (1 percent).

These 10 overwhelmingly Christian countries account for 85 percent of Turkish students’ preferred destinations for university education. In other words, 80 percent of all Turkish students dream of having a university education in a total of 10 overwhelmingly Christian countries.

Eighty percent is too high, is it not? Especially for a prime minister who has apparently devoted his political cause to “raising devout Muslim generations.”

But the good news for Mr. Erdogan is that only a lucky few would be able to afford to fly away to infidel lands for learning. The others can always stay home and have the privilege to learn from men of knowledge like Professor Donduren.