Friday, July 22, 2016

Restrictions on Turkish Academics and a statement by MESA

by Salman Hameed


Things in Turkey are taking a further dive. The crackdown following last Friday's coup attempt has so far affected more than 50,000 people. This includes the suspension of 15,000 education workers and a forced resignation of over 1,500 university deans. In addition, the licenses of 21,000 teachers have been revoked by the state. These are all staggering numbers - and to think that this many people had involvement with the coup - is of course ludicrous. Even if all of them are Gulen folks, a purge like this is still deeply deeply problematic. Now there is also a travel ban on educators:
The travel restrictions on educators officially apply to work-related trips, the state broadcaster TRT reported. “There are no restrictions to personal travel,” said a senior Turkish official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with government protocol. He described the travel ban as a “temporary measure.” 
But some professors and others in academic fields claim that their administrators have told them they cannot leave the country for any reason. Several university professors also confirmed that their supervisors told them to cancel vacations and other leave plans indefinitely.
I was supposed to be in Istanbul right now as well. However, I was scheduled to fly last Saturday, but all the flights got cancelled and I end up not going. It is really sad to see what is going on in Turkey and I really hope that some sanity will prevail over this vengefulness.

Here is a statement from the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) on the situation in Turkey:
The Middle East Studies Association, American Anthropological Association, Executive Committee of the American Comparative Literature Association, American Council of Learned Societies, American Studies Association, Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies, European Association for Middle Eastern Studies, German Middle East Studies Association (DAVO), German Studies Association, International Center for Medieval Art, Latin American Studies Association, Linguistic Society of America, The Medieval Academy of America, Modern Language Association, National Communication Association, and Ottoman and Turkish Studies Association collectively note with profound concern the apparent moves to dismantle much of the structure of Turkish higher education through purges, restrictions, and assertions of central control, a process begun earlier this year and accelerating now with alarming speed.
As scholarly associations, we are committed to the principles of academic freedom and freedom of expression. The recent moves in Turkey herald a massive and virtually unprecedented assault on those principles. One of the Middle East region’s leading systems of higher education is under severe threat as a result, as are the careers and livelihoods of many of its faculty members and academic administrators.
Our concern about the situation in Turkish universities has been mounting over the past year, as Turkish authorities have moved to retaliate against academics for expressing their political views—some merely signing an “Academics for Peace” petition criticizing human rights violations.  
Yet the threat to academic freedom and higher education has recently worsened in a dramatic fashion. In the aftermath of the failed coup attempt of July 15-16, 2016, the Turkish government has moved to purge government officials in the Ministry of Education and has called for the resignation of all university deans across the country’s public and private universities. As of this writing, it appears that more than 15,000 employees at the education ministry have been fired and nearly 1600 deans—1176 from public universities and 401 from private universities—have been asked to resign. In addition, 21,000 private school teachers have had their teaching licenses cancelled. Further, reports suggest that travel restrictions have been imposed on academics at public universities and that Turkish academics abroad were required to return to Turkey. The scale of the travel restrictions, suspensions and imposed resignations in the education sector seemingly go much farther than the targeting of individuals who might have had any connection to the attempted coup. 
The crackdown on the education sector creates the appearance of a purge of those deemed inadequately loyal to the current government. Moreover, the removal of all of the deans across the country represents a direct assault on the institutional autonomy of Turkey’s universities. The replacement of every university’s administration simultaneously by the executive-controlled Higher Education Council would give the government direct administrative control of all Turkish universities. Such concentration and centralization of power over all universities is clearly inimical to academic freedom. Moreover, the government’s existing record of requiring university administrators’ to undertake sweeping disciplinary actions against perceived opponents—as was the case against the Academics for Peace petition signatories—lends credence to fears that the change in university administrations will be the first step in an even broader purge against academics in Turkey. 
Earlier this year, it was already clear that the Turkish government, in a matter of months, had amassed a staggering record of violations of academic freedom and freedom of expression. The aftermath of the attempted coup may have accelerated those attacks on academic freedom in even more alarming ways. 
As scholarly organizations, we collectively call for respect for academic freedom—including freedom of expression, opinion, association and travel—and the autonomy of universities in Turkey, offer our support to our Turkish colleagues, second the Middle East Studies Association’s “call for action” of January 15, request that Turkey’s diplomatic interlocutors (both states and international organizations) advocate vigorously for the rights of Turkish scholars and the autonomy of Turkish universities, suggest other scholarly organizations speak forcefully about the threat to the Turkish academy, and alert academic institutions throughout the world that Turkish colleagues are likely to need moral and substantive support in the days ahead.

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