ANKARA – Turkish Daily News
Barely a week has passed since the closure case against the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, ended, leaving time for the dust in the Turkish capital to settle. But President Abdullah Gül's decisions on rector nominations plunged politics into a brownout again yesterday. Some big universities witnessed resignations in protest of Gül's appointments.
Among 21 rector nominations, a few stood out by the replacement of figures fiercely critical of the government and others with the installment of academics close to the ruling AKP.
Inter University Board President Professor Mustafa Akaydın of Akdeniz University, known for his harsh opposition and declarations against an AKP-sponsored law to let Islamic headscarves be worn in universities, lost his seat, despite sweeping votes of academics.
Akaydın argued that Gül's decision is ideological. “My defense of secular values of the Republic is seen as a liability. I am paying for the headscarf decision,” he stated. Akaydın had 293 votes in rector elections, while Prof. Israfil Kurtcephe, who was chosen by Gül as the rector, remained at 207 in elections within the university.
Education expert Abbas Güçlü from daily Milliyet agreed with the professor and said he is convinced that Gül's decision is political. “The prime minister and president talked a lot about democracy. When I look from exterior, I see a discrepancy between what they said and what is done,” he told the Turkish Daily News yesterday.
“There was no logical reason to leave me out. The president acted with ideological motives,” Akaydın maintained, referring to his experience as an administrator. “I have high level university management experience going back 12 years,” he noted, and argued that a neutral president would have decided differently.
“Is the electorate's will necessary in general elections but unnecessary in rector nominations?” Güçlü asked, referring to the AKP's outcry against the closure case, which it barely survived. “Moreover, when former President Ahmet Necdet Sezer disregarded rector elections in certain universities, the government criticized YÖK (Higher Education Board) and Sezer,” he recalled.
Another controversial name is professor Ayşegül Jale Saraç, number one on the YÖK list but third in the university elections. Gül nominated Saraç, who was an AKP nominee from Diyarbakır in July 22 general elections. Likewise, Gül agreed with YÖK on the new rector of Fırat University, professor Ahmet Feyzi Bingöl. Bingöl was among academics who supported the wearing of the Islamic headscarf in universities during his term as rector from 2002 to 2004. One name reflecting different attitudes from Gül and former President Ahmet Necdet Sezer was professor Rıza Ayhan, the new rector of Gazi University. Ayhan was left out of office by Sezer in previous rector nominations despite his first-place finish in university elections.
Mass resignations protest Gül
Academics from major universities resigned to show their disdain for Gül's choices.
The strongest reaction came from Istanbul Technical University, where 12 academics, including two professors, resigned. Professor Faruk Karadoğan, former rector of ITU and top candidate in the university elections, protested Gül's decision with his colleagues before their decommissioning. Gül appointed professor Muhammed Şahin, second on the list submitted by YÖK. “Secularism is a must for democratization,” said Karadoğan.
Academics previously published declarations in newspapers urging Gül to respect universities' preferences.
Five academics from Gazi University's faculty of medicine resigned. Nine September university rector candidate professor Sedef Girener is among those who quit their post in disappointment.
Main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, Istanbul Deputy Mustafa Özyürek claimed that all professors speaking against wearing of the Islamic headscarf in universities were eliminated by YÖK or the president.
Head of University Academicians association Prof. Tahsin Yeşildere called professors appointed as rectors despite failing to get majority of votes to resign, in a written declaration yesterday. “The president and YÖK are ignoring democratic elections within universities. Rectors are selected on a political basis,” he said. “President always said the candidate with the majority of votes should be appointed as rectors. Now he forgot what he said,” Yeşildere maintained.
Education Workers' Union General Secretary Mehmet Bozgeyik argued that it was candidates closest to the AKP that got the rector chair.
Rector elections in state and foundation universities:
According to YÖK law, the president appoints the state university rectors who will be elected from candidates with professor titles at their universities. The universities determine six candidates who receive the most votes through interviews and then send the list to YÖK. YÖK then shortlists three and submits their names to the president for a final decision. The president may choose any of them regardless of their rank on the list. The term for rectors is four years. Rectors whose terms expire can be re-elected via the same procedures. Rectors, however, can't serve for more than two periods, or eight years. The age limit of rectors is 67, but the age limit of 67 isn't sought for the rectors who were already appointed and serve in the university where they were nominated.
The procedures in rector elections in the foundation universities meanwhile are different from those at state universities. The elections of the rector candidates and appointment of rectors in foundation universities are executed by the board of trustees.