Bosphorus University won its resistance to Erdoğan

Professors of Turkey’s Boğaziçi University led the resistance to President’s Erdoğan’s appointment of a Rector they found uneligible. Almost every day for the last six months they turned their back to the rector’s Office, and refused to take any instructions. Erdoğan had to dismiss Dr. Bulu whom he apointed six months ago. (Photo: Twitter / Can Candan)

President Tayyip Erdoğan dismissed Dr. Melih Bulu as the Rector of Turkey’s prestigious Boğaziçi (Bosphorus) University on July 14 whom he appointed more than six months ago on January 2. Professors, students, families of students, employees, and graduates of the Bosporus University have been protesting Bulu from day one by peaceful demonstrations because of a number of reasons. He was not from the University, having unclarified plagiarism claims, and because he was an active member of Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
Founded in 1863 as Robert’s College and transformed into Boğaziçi in 1971 the University is one of the oldest and deep-rooted in Turkey, renowned for its liberal tradition.
This is not the first case that a university rector has lost his job after the resistance to a partisan decision by a government. In 1977, the Nationalist Front coalition of the time had appointed Dr. Hasan Tan as the Rector of the Middle East Technical University (ODTÜ) in Ankara despite the University’s resistance. That the faculty members, employees, and graduates had also supported the resistance but it was led by the students’ boycott. A former rector of the Bosphorus, Prof. Dr. Üstün Ergüder particularly drew attention in a recent article for YetkinReport that the resistance persistently carried out by the faculty members has been the first of its kind in Turkey if not in the world; they turned their backs to the Rector’s Office in the campus almost every day and refused to accept any instruction from him. Forty-four years later, the Boğaziçi students started the protests, beaten up, dragged on the ground, banned from their schools by the police, taken before the courts but found faculty members taking the lead and they got what they wanted.
Dr. Bulu who was given the Rector’s office with a middle-of-the-night decree by Erdoğan was taken from the office with a middle-of-the-night decree also by Erdoğan; he left as he came.
This was thanks to the University’s taking care of itself with all its components which found strong support from civil society and opposition parties and groups.
This indicates that the democratic veins in Turkey have not been clogged despite AKP dominance not only in politics but also in many areas including education. Like in the case of the local elections where the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) won 10 big metropolitan municipalities from AKP, including country-size cities like Istanbul and Ankara, people show resilience to claim for their rights and gains.

Why did he go, who will come?

The official reason, or cover, for Erdoğan’s dismissal of Bulu, presumably to bring all universities in line, has not yet been disclosed. But during the last few weeks when things got out of hand and faculty members were not allowed on campus by the security forces, complaints about Bulu’s plagiarism claims have been submitted to Turkey’s Council of Higher Education (YÖK). The Council’s starting proceedings about the complaints meant that a justification was underway, if and when it is needed. But has Bulu gone because of plagiarism? Whether pro or anti-government, the public perception will be shaped as Erdoğan’s favorite name for Bosphorus is gone upon the resistance by the University.
A friend from Bosphorus, whom we corresponded with on the news of Bulu’s dismissal, said, “It is very important who will replace him and how.” I agree. I’m sure President Erdoğan was not pleased when he dismissed Bulu, whom he brought as the head of the University only slightly more than six months. I wonder who advised him that Dr. Bulu was his man to put one of the best and prestigious universities in line.
There are mainly two options. Erdoğan can appoint a more capable academic, loyal to him to set an example to whom it may concern, or appoint another name whom the University would show no allergenic reaction, preferably among those elected by the University Senate. That is important. But the importance of this question does not overshadow the importance of the departure of Bulu; a Turkish university resisted the strong president of the country and won.


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