ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
The Higher Education Board’s announcement that instructors at public universities cannot kick women out of class for wearing an Islamic headscarf – and can be investigated for doing so – offers a potential ‘out’ from a sticky dilemma. Though the ruling seems to violate a Constitutional Court decision in 2008, it may stand if it finds public approval

This file photo show students wearing headscarves chanting slogans in front of Istanbul University to protest against the headscarf ban at universities. AP photo
Turkey’s top education board has proposed its own answer to the long-running headscarf controversy, tacitly allowing covered women to attend classes in what essentially amounts to a “don’t ask, don’t tell” solution.
In seeming contradiction to a Constitutional Court ruling in 2008 that the Islamic head-covering is not allowed in the country’s public institutions, the Higher Education Board, or YÖK, has notified Istanbul University that instructors cannot take disciplinary moves against students so garbed, the private channel NTV reported Monday.
The board’s move, which comes amid renewed debate between the ruling party and the main opposition over the issue, was made in response to a case dealing with a headscarf-wearing student being kicked out of class at Istanbul University’s Cerrahpaşa Medical Faculty. When the student’s complaint eventually reached YÖK, the board announced that students could no longer be removed from class for being “in violation of discipline regulations” due to wearing a headscarf. YÖK also said an investigation would be launched into any instructor who bans a student for this reason.
The board’s decision was sent out to all academics by the Istanbul University Rector’s Office, essentially giving a green light for headscarves in classrooms at public universities.
According to the regulations, an instructor will only have the authority to take note of the incident and report it to the dean. The academic will face an investigation if the new regulation is not followed.
“Don’t ask, don’t tell” was a policy introduced in 1993 by then-U.S. President Bill Clinton as a compromise measure to get around rules regarding homosexuality in the military, effectively allowing gay soldiers to enlist.
If YÖK’s solution finds public acceptance and is not challenged in the Council of State, the country’s top administrative court, it could represent an important step in solving the hard-fought and heavily symbolic legal, political and social dilemma.
It is unsure whether YÖK’s decision is compatible with the 2008 ruling annulling a constitutional amendment that would have allowed the wearing of headscarves on the country’s public-school campuses. But signals from the staunchly secular Republican People’s Party, or CHP, that it may be able to live with this compromise leads many observers to believe that YÖK’s move may be the successful solution through “application” suggested by Constitutional Court head Haşim Kılıç.
In an interview with NTV, sociologist Sencer Ayata, a member of the CHP’s Party Assembly, said the opposition party’s mission regarding the headscarf issue only encompasses universities. Ayata added, however, that the party is concerned that the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, wants to see a broader change that would allow the headscarf in high schools and state offices.
CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu was meanwhile asked by journalists to respond to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s criticism of his statement calling for a more relaxed, Iranian-style headscarf instead of the current style preferred in Turkey.
“We are in a house of knowledge. It teaches us to use our knowledge, minds and logic. If we give freedom to knowledge, we can stop discussing these artificial problems,” Kılıçdaroğlu said.
An AKP effort to allow the wearing of the headscarf at public universities was nixed by the Constitutional Court in 2008. In addition, a number of Council of State decisions ban the wearing of the headscarf at universities.