Appointment of gov’t-linked rector to Boğaziçi a regressive, disturbing move - former rector

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s appointment of a government-linked rector to the country’s top university, Boğaziçi, is a regression from the achievements of the prestigious institution, former Boğaziçi rector, Üstun Ergüder, told Ahval.

The political nature of Melih Bulu’s appointment on Friday by presidential order is a “disturbing’' development, Ergüder told Ahval’s editor-in-chief Yavuz Baydar during a Hot Pursuit podcast, while underlining the need for consultation with the university’s board in executing such decisions.

The appointment of Bulu, known for his work for Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) at the Istanbul district level, has raised eyebrows across Turkey, including from Bogaziçi students and alumni, as well as politicians and activists.

Critics have condemned the move, which they maintain places a pro-government, presidentially appointed rector at helm, and disregards the process of a democratic election.

“A hybrid solution is the answer for appointing a rector to a university,’’ Ergüder, who served as Bogaziçi’s rector between 1992-2000, said.

“It doesn't have to be an election, but the university board's thinking must be taken into consideration when appointing a new rector.’’

Turkish presidents have had the authority to appoint as rectors candidates who failed to place first in rectorial elections, but a presidential decree issued during the state of emergency rule declared in the aftermath of the July 2016 has removed the election process altogether. Erdoğan has appointed a total of 27 rectors over the past year.

Such a hybrid system, Ergüder stressed, would demonstrate “respect for the university’s autonomy.’’

The appointment of rectors has become very much centralized in Turkey, Ergüder said, in what is “quite a disturbing development.’’

The former Bogaziçi rector and political scientist pointed to the strong institutional identity of the university, which goes back 150 years, that he says helped the institution in “dealing with various crises.’’

Ergüder expressed his hope that the recent appointment will not impact the university.

“If a university loses its autonomy, academic freedom, this will definitely hurt its international standing,’’ he added.

Founded in 1863, Bogaziçi is the first American higher education institution to be established outside the United States and is home to over 15,000 students. It consistently ranks at the top of Turkish universities in global rankings.

Skeptics will have to wait to see whether Bulu can adapt to his new identity as rector of Boğaziçi, one of a handful of independent universities in the country, according to Ergüder.

Bulu, who has taught and served as rector at other Istanbul universities, has worked as a founding member of AKP’s Sarıyer district branch in Istanbul, AKP’s Istanbul provincial chapter deputy chairman, and became AKP candidate for mayor of Istanbul’s Ataşehir district and parliamentary candidate for Istanbul in local and general elections.

Bulu, for his part, on Sunday issued a statement via Twitter to express his excitement at returning to Turkey’s top university.

“I would like to extend my sinceretest gratitude to our president and the president of the Higher Education (YÖK),’’ the former Bogaziçi alumni said.