Why is the government targeting Boğaziçi University?

Boğaziçi University is one of Turkey’s oldest higher education institutions. 

It was founded in 1863 by Christopher Robert, an American philanthropist, and Cyrus Hamlin, a Protestant missionary teacher.

In 1878, the institution stated that "The object of the College is to give to its students, without distinction of race or religion, a thorough educational equal in all respects to that obtained at a first-class American college and based upon the same general principles."

From 1971, Robert College became the name of the high school affiliated to the university, while the university became a public institution called Boğaziçi University.

Boğaziçi University was the only Turkish university listed in the top 100 universities worldwide according to the Times Higher Education World University Rankings of 2013–2014.

Alumni of the university include former Prime Ministers Ahmet Davutoğlu and Tansu Çiller, film director Nuri Bilge Ceylan, author Aslı Erdoğan, former central bank governor Murat Çetinkaya and comedian Cem Yılmaz.

Courses at Boğaziçi are taught in English, and the university is known for its liberal and Western-oriented culture. 

As such, it has been a cultural stronghold of anti-government politics during the Erdogan era, and a target of repression by the state, which has been seeking to exert control over the university.

Turkey’s AKP government has taken to replacing elected politicians, especially in Kurdish areas, with appointees. Now it is doing the same to universities. 

Melih Bulu, a former Justice and Development party (AKP) parliamentary candidate, was appointed rector of Boğaziçi by President Erdoğan in a presidential decree on Jan 1 and sworn into office Jan 5.

The government imposed rector is the first from outside the university community since the 1980 military coup as the Turkish presidency gained the right to appoint university rectors with the nex executive presidential system that was approved by the constitutional referendum in 2017.

His appointment was met with anger by students, who accused Bulu of having plagiarised multiple academic papers he had authored. 

Bulu’s proficiency in English was also questioned. Students were met with aggressive policing when they demonstrated outside the university.

The protests continue...

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.