By Daren Butler and Ali Kucukgocmen
ISTANBUL -Turkish students and academics are set to continue protests against what they say is government interference in academia despite President Tayyip Erdogan’s ousting of a rector whose appointment in January triggered months of demonstrations.
Students and teachers at Istanbul’s Bogazici University have defied a government ban on protests since Erdogan installed the rector Melih Bulu, an academic and former political candidate, saying the appointment process was undemocratic.
Protesters have clashed with police and hundreds have been arrested during the demonstrations. Erdogan had described them as “terrorists” and said he would not allow the unrest to grow into anti-government protests.
After Bulu’s surprise dismissal was announced in a presidential decree on Thursday, his deputy Naci Inci has provisionally taken over the role of rector.
Faculty members have been protesting on campus for months, regularly gathering with their backs turned to the rector’s building.
Zeynep Gambetti, associate professor of political theory at Bogazici, said Bulu’s dismissal was a result of protests but that it did not mean government pressure on the university would cease.
“We were not protesting against Melih Bulu’s person. We were against the method of appointment and that he was chosen not through merit but loyalty,” she said.
“We will continue to request the resignation of all administrative staff that were appointed, including the deputy rectors,” Gambetti said.
She added protests would continue until a rector was chosen by university members, academic freedoms were secured and the presidential power to appoint a rector was revoked.
Faculty members would work to choose their own candidate, Gambetti added.
An activist group named “Bogazici Solidarity” said nothing had changed and listed grievances beyond the university, including other appointments of state officials in place of elected representatives and the dismissal of various academics.
A group of around 150 protesters later gathered in Istanbul’s Kadikoy district, chanting “this is just the beginning, the struggle continues”, among other slogans.
“The struggle continues for a sovereign democratic university,” and “We want the king, not the pawn”, two of their signs read.
A pro-government commentator cited unnamed sources as saying the High Education Board had unanimously sought Bulu’s dismissal and Ankara felt he failed to carry out desired steps, notably setting up law and communication faculties.
“As a Bogazici alumnus, I am concerned about the possibility of a harsher a more hawkish rector being appointed,” commentator Nagehan Alci wrote in a column in Haberturk newspaper.
Another decree by Erdogan in February to launch new Bogazici faculties brought a legal challenge from academics concerned about political intervention in the institution’s autonomy.
In Friday’s Official Gazette, the Bogazici rector’s office sought three teaching staff for the new law faculty in a recruitment advertisement.
The move came after a Bogazici senate meeting on July 7 voted against appointing members to the faculty, according to a record of that meeting.
Later on Friday, provisional rector Inci dismissed Can Candan, a documentary filmmaker and academic who had been outspoken during the protests.
Among the reasons for the dismissal was a disciplinary investigation over posts that allegedly insulted the university’s administrators, according to a letter from Inci shared by Candan on Twitter.
It also said Candan had not applied to be re-appointed to his position after his term ended on Thursday.