Teachers and Researchers United (TRU) at Johns Hopkins University stands in solidarity with students, staff, and faculty at Turkey’s Bogazici University who have been defending academic freedom and autonomy in the face of authoritarianism. 

On January 1, 2021, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan appointed a pro-government academic, Melih Bulu, as the new rector of Bogazici University. This appointment violates the principles and protocols of Bogazici University, which insist on the democratic election of university rectors by the university community. This intervention in the internal affairs of the university is yet another anti-democratic move by the Turkish government, and is part of a larger process of ongoing state repression. Such impositions significantly undermine the academic freedom and scientific autonomy of universities. 

Previously, Bulu was a political candidate of Erdogan’s ruling party (Justice and Development Party), and his political career is rooted in military and corporate circles. Although he has served as rector in a private university prior to his appointment at Bogazici, his academic qualifications have been called into question. It was recently found that his own PhD dissertation is replete with plagiarism. Despite clear evidence, he denies this accusation. His flagrant disregard for academic integrity makes him unfit to serve in such a position. 

On January 4, 2021, hundreds of Bogazici students, faculty, and staff who shared the above concerns gathered to exercise their democratic right to protest against Bulu’s appointment by the central government. They demanded Bulu’s resignation and a democratic election of a new rector by the university community. Police responded to this peaceful protest with excessive force, including the use of pepper spray and water cannons. The ongoing protests have been followed by heavy police blockades around the Bogazici campus, which continue to remain in place, and early morning police raids upon students’ private homes and subsequent arrest and detainment of at least 45 students. 

As a union concerned with academic freedom, militarization of campuses, scientific autonomy, and freedom of expression within universities, TRU condemns in the strongest possible terms the ongoing attacks by the Turkish government against universities. We openly condemn this blatantly anti-democratic and clientelist appointment of Melih Bulu as the rector of Bogazici, as well as the widespread police brutality, authorized by the Turkish government, on peaceful students. We urge the Turkish government to end its attacks against student activists and meet the demand of the Bogazici community to return to an election-based determination of the university rector.

In solidarity,

Teachers and Researchers United

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