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ISA Statement Regarding Academic Freedom in Turkey

The International Studies Association (ISA) expresses mounting concern for academic freedom in Turkey in light of recent events at Boğaziçi university. We are troubled by the process followed to appoint Melih Bulu as rector of the university and by the mistreatment and detention of students who peacefully protested his appointment.

Melih Bulu was appointed by presidential decree on 1 January 2021 without consultation of Boğaziçi university’s academic faculty. As a former parliamentary candidate for the ruling party, the AKP, the choice of Melih Bulu raises concern for the university’s independence from external political interference. The decision occurs in the context of new arrangements introduced by the AKP government in 2018 that gives the presidency the power of unilateral appointment of rectors in public universities and that eliminates the requirement that they be selected from among academics. These developments raise serious questions about the Turkish Government’s commitment to academic freedom, a fundamental principle that guides the pursuit of knowledge and nourishes the environment in which critical thinking can flourish. We therefore concur with the statement issued by the faculty of Boğaziçi university: “To enhance scientific research and social development, it is indispensable that universities be free from any pressure or influence from a person or an institution and not be used as a political tool… it is imperative that decision-making processes be delegated to democratically elected academic administrators and boards.”

ISA is the largest and most respected scholarly association in the field, counting over 6,500 members across some 100 countries, including Turkey. On behalf of its membership, we call upon the Government to reinstate the process by which universities in Turkey enjoy autonomy in the selection of their leadership and that the faculty of Boğaziçi university be permitted to decide upon the appointment of their rector in keeping with the principle of academic freedom. We ask also that the right of students of Boğaziçi university to demonstrate peacefully be respected and that those detained be released forthwith.

For further information about ISA’s deliberative processes on academic freedom concerns and the committee’s mandate from the Governing Council, please see: http://www.isanet.org/ISA/Governance/Committees/Academic-Freedom.

Please also note that this statement follows on several others (https://www.isanet.org/ISA/Governance/Committees/Academic-Freedom) regarding the state of academic freedom in Turkey issued by ISA in recent years. It is indeed troubling that these problems have not eased in Turkey, reflecting negatively on the Turkish government and the state of the academy in the country.

Respectfully,

Helen V. Milner, President, International Studies Association
Mark Boyer, ISA Executive Director
Erin Kristin Jenne, Chair, ISA Academic Freedom Committee

Posted in: Statements

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