Turkish council attacks reforms

January 10, 2003

The head of Turkey's higher education council has attacked the new government's plans to introduce reforms aimed at giving universities more autonomy.

Council chairman Kemal Guruz said the reforms would undermine secular education. He went on to accuse the Islamic-leaning government of packing the parliamentary education committee with religious-school alumni.

Dr Guruz, a powerful defender of secularism in higher education, added:

"There are some people who want to establish a mullahs' regime in Turkey. But despite these efforts, Turkey will never be stuck in such a swamp."

Prime minister Abdullah Gul reacted angrily, stating: "The status quo could not continue." His AK Party has frequently criticised the centralised powers of the council, which can appoint and dismiss academics and drafts the shortlists from which the country's president chooses rectors.

The council has in the past five years dismissed 43 academics for "activities against the Turkish republic" - code for supporting religious groups.

Minister of education Erkan Mumcu dismissed charges that the AK Party wanted to undermine secularism and committed the government to reforming the council. He said the government was "determined to create a democratic, secular, contemporary, efficient and free university structure".

Sefik Durson, chairman of the University Lecturers' Solidarity Association, welcomed the proposals. He said the council was anti-democratic and oppressive.

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