Turkey’s plight

August 18, 2016

I declare an interest in the fate of Turkish academic colleagues, as a university teacher of Armenian heritage (“‘Witch-hunt’ against academics continues following attempted Turkey coup”, www.timeshighereducation.com, 11 August). The waves of repression after the recent failed coup are ringing unpleasant alarm bells. Turkey’s President Erdoğan blames recent unrest and rebellion on a “deep state” of officials in key places, including the education sector in general, and universities in particular.

Caught up in this maelstrom are Turkish educators: 21,000 school teachers have had their licences revoked, and all 1,577 university deans have been forced to resign, while 6,500 staff of Turkey’s education ministry have been suspended and there are 9,000 public servants in state custody. Even before the coup, academics were in trouble with the regime: in late June, for example, an Academics for Peace initiative was targeted by authorities, with 21 staff at Mersin City University facing “serious threats and sanctions”. And yet, the higher education system is centralised, with all institutions tied to the Council of Higher Education. This council has 21 members all “subject to approval by the President of the Turkish Republic”. The president also signs off the appointment of rectors to the country’s state universities. Wherefore academic freedom?

And so it is that more than 40 UK National Teaching Fellows have signed a petition expressing “deep concern at the recent state actions against thousands of individuals in Turkey’s universities and colleges in what appears to be an indiscriminate repression of dissent and independent thought”.

The NTFs go on to argue that “there is a danger that, if not quickly reversed, there will be irreparable damage to the reputation and operation of Turkey’s higher education sector and the student experience of learning”.

“While we recognise the right of an elected government to protect democracy, we cannot accept that this includes the indiscriminate targeting of academics or the need to dictate or manipulate what should and should not be taught in higher education where freedom of thought is paramount.”

Now, surely, is a time for evidence-led decision-making, for robust negotiation about the country’s future, and for citizens and students able to exercise judicious and critical thinking and action, built on the backs of effective and independent universities, teachers and researchers.

James Derounian
National Teaching Fellow
University of Gloucestershire

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