Turkey lacks academic freedom, not financing freedom: Harvard professor

Turkey lacks academic freedom, not financing freedom: Harvard professor

ISTANBUL Sefer Levent
Turkey lacks academic freedom, not financing freedom: Harvard professor

Harvard Professor Hotamışlıgil slammed restrictive bureaucracy in the Turkish higher education sector.

Turkey does not have freedom in academic research and is also lacking in academic quality rather than financial resources, according to Harvard Professor Dr. Gökhan Hotamışlıgil, who will continue his research with the $24 million donation recently made by Turkey’s Yıldız Holding.

“Scientific research needs freedom. There is no room left for science under the pressure and regulations of Turkey’s Higher Education Board [YÖK],” said Hotamışlıgil.

“The political system has to be reformed in Turkey. When everything, even the assignments of academics in state universities, is under control, you cannot produce science effectively. These do not comply with each other,” he added.

“Research in Turkey does not have problems with finding financial sources. The Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey [TÜBİTAK] even has difficulty in handing out all of its funds. But there is a serious problem in the lack of qualified work in academia in Turkey. There are modern university buildings with high-tech laboratories. But the question is: [Are you going to invest in] buildings or brains? This has to be answered first,” said Hotamışlıgil.

He stressed that in contrast with Turkish universities, Harvard does not get involved with the funds used by academics, and neither does its rector. In addition, the staff in the university’s centers do not change wholesale when the rector changes at Harvard, unlike many universities in Turkey, he said.

Meanwhile, Yıldız Holding Vice Chairman Ali Ülker said his company had chosen to donate $24 million to Harvard University instead of a Turkish university due to YÖK’s regulations, which have failed to adequately support research.

“We made this donation to the center in Harvard that is headed by Prof. Gökhan Hotamışlıgil, because YÖK’s regulations do not support scientific research. Scientific research needs a more liberal and free atmosphere; they should not be tied to any institutions," Ülker said.

"Laboratories in Turkey are not sufficient and the students do not have such a culture. This Turkish professor will conduct research for the good of all of humanity. This is why we wanted to donate to Harvard. We want to establish an exemplary institution here and transfer this system to Turkey,” he added.

Hotamışlıgil is currently employed by Harvard as a teacher and as a leading name in the fields of genetics and complex diseases. He received his M.D. from Ankara University in 1986 and his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1994. His major research interests include biochemical and genetic studies and regulatory pathways that control glucose and lipid metabolism.

Bureaucracy bungle as Harvard professor is asked for primary school diploma


Bureaucracy is hampering the efficiency and quality of science research in Turkey, Harvard Professor Dr. Gökhan Hotamışlıgil has said.

As evidence, Hotamışlıgil said he attempted to join a private university's board of trustees but the Higher Education Board (YÖK) made him wait six months while it investigated his past.

“They even wanted me to submit my diploma from primary school,” he said. “I had come to Harvard and became a professor here, and then I had to look for my primary school diploma. I couldn’t find it and was barely able to make them approve me without it. This is how bureaucracy works.”

YÖK head Gökhan Çetinsaya has described Hotamışlıgil’s experience as “tragicomic” but true, saying the regulations have not changed for 30 years.

“This bureaucratic system has to change,” Çetinsaya said, while stressing that the related regulation actually did not require people to show their primary school diploma but merely write the name of their primary school institution.