The Turkish Higher Education Council (YÖK) has instructed private universities not to extend contracts with academics who voice dissenting opinions in the media, as reported by Altan Sancar of Diken news website on Tuesday. A representative from YÖK tacitly admitted to the pressure, who justified the intervention by implying that certain academics need to focus more on their educational responsibilities and less on engaging extensively with the media.
With nearly 80 private universities in Turkey, contracts between academics and universities are typically renewed at regular intervals, most commonly in August and September. However, as the contract renewal period approached this year, some universities received unofficial ‘instructions’ regarding the academics within their institutions. These instructions specified that contracts should not be renewed with academics who both teach at universities and appear in ‘opposition media’.
At least three universities in Istanbul and two in Ankara received warnings along these lines, and at least one university in Istanbul has decided not to renew the contract with a professor within its institution. The instructions were conveyed through unofficial channels, probably to prevent the application to legal remedies.
The decision not to renew contracts with academics who express dissenting views in the media has reignited concerns about academic freedom in Turkey, a matter that has been a subject of contention since the dismissal of the Peace Academics on 22 November 2016. These scholars were removed from their positions through statutory decrees (KHK) after signing a declaration titled “We will not be Party to this Crime,” in which they voiced opposition to the militaristic approach of the Turkish government to the Kurdish issue. This incident has become emblematic of the ongoing struggle for autonomy within educational institutions and the right of academics to engage in free and critical discourse without fear of reprisal. Recent legal victories have allowed some of these academics to return to their universities, but the issue continues to be a focal point in debates about academic independence in Turkey.