Turkey's president has plunged the country's 22 state universities into chaos by rejecting all the rectoral candidates proposed by the higher education authority (Yok) in a move that implicitly supports election by faculty.
Acting on legal advice, Ahmet Necdet Sezer set out his reasons in a document, the details of which have so far remained confidential.
Academic observers say that he sympathises with supporters of election of rectors by academics rather than imposition by Yok.
His move follows Yok's imposition of three candidates for the office at Izmir's Dokuz Eylul University. In an advisory poll, two candidates received 449 and 338 votes respectively, 81 per cent of the faculty vote. But Yok put up three different candidates, two of whom won just one vote apiece.
Yok's decision has caused uproar. In one protest march, academics threw their robes to the pavement in disgust, and ads condemning Yok have been placed in national newspapers.
Yok chairman Kemal Guruz defended its stance: "We are in the best position to decide on the candidates for the rectorship of universities." When asked if ignoring staff wishes was fair, his answer was a categoric "no".
Dr Guruz dismissed any political motive for Yok's decision: "It was a purely administrative decision about who we thought was most qualified."
But suspicion persists that the move was part of a drive against academics considered to be sympathetic to more rights for Islamic students. Yok, which is backed by the pro-secular army, has been in the forefront of a national campaign against Islamic activities. Yok was set up after a military coup in 1980 to keep control of higher education. Unrest in universities claimed thousands of lives in the 1970s. Kadir Erdin, chairman of the University Faculty Members Association, said: "YokI is a product of a military regime and has shown its true face. The implementation is illegal and anti-democratic."
Aysel Celikel, dean of Istanbul University's law faculty, said: "I trust in President Sezer's democratic personality. He is also required by law to turn back the list presented by Yok."