MESA Academic Freedom Award

2021 Recipient

MESA’s Academic Freedom Award for 2021 goes to the Faculty, students and alumni of Boğaziçi University.

On January 1, 2021, Turkish President Erdogan appointed as the new rector of Boğaziçi  University Dr. Melih Bulu, a former parliamentary candidate from the President’s political party, the AKP and who was widely regarded as unqualified for the position. Immediately, protests began in campus as faculty members joined student resistance.  Daily, they stood with their backs to the rectorate to protest Bulu’s appointment as being both in contravention of long-standing norms of faculty governance and in violation of the academic and ethical standards expected of a candidate appointed to such an important post.  

Bulu then implemented a series of policies intended to crush opposition to his appointment.  He introduced the police onto the campus, using them to brutalize student protesters and literally to shackle the University gates to prevent students from entering.  He also undemocratically appointed administrators of his own, undermined the power of the faculty senate, appointed an artificial intelligence professor to run the Institute of Social Sciences, shut down LGBTQI+ Student club, accused the club members of terrorism, and terminated the contract of a part-time faculty member who supported the students in this process.  The government then also cut the financial aid to those students who participated in these peaceful protests.  

In light of the continuing months of faculty and student resistance, Erdogan rescinded the nomination of Bulu, but again this decision was made outside the realms of faculty governance, as was the appointment of his replacement, Vice-Rector Naci Inci.  Inci is no more acceptable to the university community than was Bulu. In fact, based on his performance as vice-rector, in a  vote on potential rector candidates, Naci İnci received an overwhelming 95% no confidence from faculty members.  Indeed, Inci’s performance  has shown that he is no different than Bulu in applying the government’s plans to undermine Boğaziçi’s academic freedom and institutional autonomy. Among his actions have been the arbitrary firing of a full-time faculty member based on false accusations, the blatant violation of university senate and executive procedures, refusing to appoint elected deans and institute chairs instead appointing ineligible outside faculty members to fill these positions, criminalizing protesting students, and fencing off parts of the campus for purported security reasons. In short, since his appointment as rector on August 21, 2021,  Inci has  demonstrated that he has no qualms about lowering academic and administrative standards to ensure politically motivated appointments, securitizing the campus through an extensive police presence and surveillance, and  manipulating existing laws to his own advantage. Hence the resistance of the Boğaziçi  community--in the form of lawsuits, efforts to expose unlawful or irregular practices to media along with peaceful protests--continues.

In 2021, CAF’s MENA wing wrote 4 letters regarding these developments at Boğaziçi : the MESA board also issued a statement in solidarity with the protests at Boğaziçi University

In highlighting the courageous resistance of the students and faculty at Boğaziçi, it is our intent that this award send a strong message of solidarity and of support to them as they peacefully protest against the violations of academic norms and academic freedom.  Bogazici is a privileged institution; its resistance has also been singular in Turkey's academic and political landscape. 

The appointments of Melih Bulu and Naci Incimust be seen as part of a larger, concerted effort by the government to end any independence of one of the last educational institutions in Turkey with a reputation for academic excellence—after years of systematic targeting of other educational institutions, faculty and students in the country.

Therefore this award is also intended to serve as a statement of broader support and solidarity to all those in the educational sector across Turkey who have been targeted by the authoritarian policies of Erdogan and his government. 

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