Melih Bulu, a member of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) whose appointment as rector of Boğaziçi University by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sparked ongoing protests, was named dean of the newly established communications faculty of the same university, Turkish media reported.
Bulu was appointed by the country’s Higher Education Board (YÖK) as dean of the communication faculty, which was founded by a presidential decree on February 6.
Students and alumni as well as politicians and activists have since the beginning of January protested the appointment of Bulu as rector of the university, arguing that it is a part of Erdoğan’s broader effort to centralize control over universities and that it undercuts academic freedoms and democracy.
Hundreds demanding the resignation of Bulu have been detained for participating in the youth-driven protests.
Critics slammed the appointment of Bulu, saying he was not qualified for the job and that a state-appointed rector harmed the independence of the university.
Bulu is a founding member of the ruling AKP’s Sarıyer district branch in İstanbul and unsuccessfully ran for parliament in the 2015 elections. He was also the leader of a team of “virtual raiders” that was established to respond to negative comments online towards Turkish President Erdoğan and the AKP and to spread pro-AKP propaganda.
There have also been claims that Bulu plagiarized his master’s and Ph.D. theses. Following the allegations, YÖK closed Bulu’s theses to online access.
In March more than 70 academics from Boğaziçi University filed a petition with the Council of State requesting the cancellation of Professor Bulu’s appointment as the university’s rector.
The academics claimed that members of political parties shouldn’t be appointed to the position of rector, citing the country’s Higher Education Law.
The most recent changes to the appointment of rectors came while Turkey was under a state of emergency after a July 15, 2016 coup attempt. A state of emergency decree (KHK 676) granted the president the authority to appoint rectors, and another decree in 2018 (KHK 703) reduced the requirement for candidates from five years as a professor to three.
Between 2016 and 2018, the government used decree-laws to shut down 15 private universities, dismiss more than 6,800 academics and prosecute hundreds in academia based on alleged terrorism links.