Universities and politics in Turkey

Universities and politics in Turkey

The president of a university was cutting the ribbon for the opening of the office of the election coordination bureau of the ruling party. When I saw the photo and read the story, I was shaken. 

It does not matter that it is a private (foundation) university. What matters is protecting academic values and the dignity of the concept of the president of a university and acting accordingly. Of course, politics is also an honorable business, albeit on its own track. 

The honor of concepts like science, universities, deans and rectors is on another track. Just like making party campaigning in a university amphitheater cannot be tolerated, a rector that cuts the ribbon for the opening of a political party office cannot be tolerated either. Politics should not be this influential. 

In our country, including the 1933 reform, politics have unfortunately never left the university alone. The university also, on the other hand, could not keep its distance from politics either. 

The former rector of Çanakkale University, Professor Sedat Laçiner, won elections at the university, but he was not appointed. The newly appointed rector relocated a scientist like Professor Sedat Laçiner to a district 100 kilometers away. Moreover, that district does not have that particular academic department. What kind of an “academic ethics” is this? 

Both cutting ribbons for openings and exiling opponents are indicators of the political atmosphere dominating the majority of our universities. 

Flash back to Feb. 28 era and also think of the scenes in our universities today. Would a university with a strong science base and academic dignity fidget this way or that way depending on political power? Can this ever be imagined in a developed country? How much do British universities care who is in power in London? 

Turkey and Brazil 

I would like to draw attention especially to Council of Higher Education (YÖK) Chair Yekta Saraç, who said in the scientific publications index (SJR) that Iran had caught Turkey in 2010 and passed Turkey after 2011, something I had written earlier. 

Now let’s take a look at scientific publications originating from Turkey and Brazil. Until 2005, Turkey’s and Brazil’s performances were parallel but after that year, while Brazil has rapidly risen, Turkey has lagged behind. 

What are the reasons for this fall in performance? This is a vital question for Turkey. Unfortunately, political fighting have made this issue insignificant. 

Saraç sent me a polite letter, and I published his letter in this column on March 30.

With complete open-heartedness, Professor Saraç said, “Today, the academic environment is not mediocre; it is unfortunately under mediocre.” Yes, it’s true; the data also confirm this. 

I would like to highlight these words of Saraç: “Factors such as politics, family ties and ideology should not play any role in academic preferences. Of course, everybody has political views; I do as well… But in academic life, the only criterion is universal academic standards.”

That’s absolutely correct, but in our country, a university can move from one extreme to the other depending on political power.

I have been writing for years that rector elections, the filtering by YÖK and the president appointing the rectors were all wrong. I defend models similar to the Board of Trustees.  

Holding elections for the position of university rector creates political, ideological even interest groups in universities. YÖK’s preference depends on its tendencies. The appointment by the president is unfortunately the field where the political effect is at its peak. 

Since this mechanism has not changed, it is the scientific community’s duty to defend “academic standards” and the dignity of the academic.