Boğaziçi University academics challenge government-appointed rector’s alleged misuse of power

In this file photo, Boğaziçi University faculty members hold small placards showing the number of students detained during protests. The staff have also been protesting the appointment of a pro-government rector to the university by standing with their backs turned to the rector’s office in February 2021.

Five academics from the Istanbul-based Boğaziçi University have filed separate lawsuits against the Council of Higher Education (YÖK) for dismissing their requests to investigate Naci İnci, the university’s government-appointed rector, arguing that İnci has unlawfully weaponized disciplinary measures to silence dissent, allegations that YÖK has refused to probe, the Bianet news website reported.

The plaintiffs, Tuna Tuğcu, Can Candan, Cem Ersoy, Lale Akarun and Ünal Zenginobuz, are challenging YÖK’s November 2023 decision which concluded that there was no need for an investigation into İnci. Each academic filed their case individually with administrative courts in Ankara, seeking to have the decision overturned.

The academics’ filings claim that YÖK’s decision ignores the impact of multiple investigations launched into several teaching staff members and disregards the use of disciplinary investigations as a means of silencing. Moreover, they pointed out that the instances ignored by YÖK include inquiries previously declared unlawful by courts, suggesting a disregard for judicial rulings.

The disputes trace back to November 2022, when seven Boğaziçi University academics, including Yavuz Akpınar and those now suing YÖK, lodged a complaint with the council. They accused Rector İnci of abuse of office, hindering freedom of expression and infringing on academic freedom, among other alleged disciplinary offenses.

After a prolonged silence from YÖK, the academics submitted a letter on October 19 requesting the evaluation of their initial application. The council responded on November 27 with individual decision letters to the academics, stating that there was no need for any disciplinary or criminal investigation of İnci.

This decision has sparked widespread criticism, with allegations that YÖK took the complaints out of context and failed to act on significant legal and ethical concerns raised by the university community.

A prolonged series of protests took place at Boğaziçi University after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan appointed Melih Bulu, a former executive of the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) İstanbul provincial chapter, as rector in January 2021.

Shortly after Bulu’s dismissal by a presidential decree in July 2021, the university community demanded that a democratic election be held at the university to elect a new rector, adding that they would not accept the appointment of a rector to replace Bulu, either from within or without the university, since they oppose the appointment of rectors by Erdoğan.

However, Erdoğan on August 20 appointed İnci, a former deputy to Bulu, as the new rector, despite a 95 percent disapproval rating he received in polls held among the university community to determine possible rector candidates, again prompting outrage among academics and students.

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