Turkey’s Gebze Technical University has ignited conversations about the essence and independence of academia with its plan to offer etiquette training to its academic and administrative staff. Scheduled for 26 September, the training will be conducted online and is part of the university’s broader 2023 in-service training plan.
Speaking to Sibel Bahçetepe from BirGün daily on Monday, Beyzade Sayın of the Education and Science Workers’ Union (Eğitim Sen), questioned the appropriateness of the training. “In-service training should focus on enhancing skills and adapting to technological advancements. Discussing morals and customs in a scientific institution is unacceptable”, she stated. Sayın also drew attention to the ÇEDES project (the acronym stands for “Çevreme Duyarlıyım Değerlerime Sahip Çıkıyorum” which translates to “I am Sensitive to my Environment, I Stand by my Values”), a government-backed initiative aimed at influencing social and educational spaces. “This is part of a wider effort to impose conservative and religious values”, she added.
Similarly, founding member and former leader of the University Faculty Association Prof Dr Tahsin Yeşildere voiced his concerns. “Etiquette is usually imparted within the family or during one’s early education. The idea of offering such a course to university staff is not just unusual; it’s unacceptable”, he said.
Yeşildere also probed the rationale behind the initiative. “Who is defining the norms of etiquette, and why is there a perceived need for this? It’s disrespectful to the academic and administrative community. Is this a directive from the Higher Education Council or is it a government mandate? These questions need to be addressed”, he urged.
Sayın extended the conversation to a broader context, suggesting that the government might be attempting to reshape societal norms. “This move is symptomatic of a broader trend where social and educational spaces are becoming increasingly conservative and religious”, he added.
Yeşildere wrapped up by calling for universities to resist for academic freedom. “Universities should be bastions of democracy and freedom. The current government, led by the Justice and Development Party (AKP), has undermined these principles. It’s time for the academic community to defend its freedoms”, he concluded.