Turkey’s university faculties unite against being divided

Fehim Tastekin, Al Monitor, April 30, 2018

Turkish academia is in upheaval following the government’s
decision to split up 13 major universities to form new ones, while university
departments say that the proposal is fueled by ulterior motives and that
resources are already spread too thin.
YASIN AKGUL/AFP/Getty Images. Students and faculty members
in front of Istanbul University’s main gate on Beyazit Square to protest
against a bill submitted to the Turkish parliament to spilt up several
universities, Istanbul, Turkey, April 27, 2018.

Hundreds of protesters took to the streets in Istanbul and
Ankara last week, demonstrating against the government’s proposal to split off
faculties from many of Turkey’s universities to form “new” schools.
The government says the move is a pragmatic way to deal with growth, but many
opponents believe the plan is motivated simply by greed and
politics, rather than what’s best for students.

As Turkey quickly approaches its June 24 elections, the
Justice and Development Party (AKP) government’s radical intervention in higher
education is causing turmoil. The intention is to rearrange some faculties from
13 universities — including established, major ones such as Istanbul
University — to create new schools. The government’s explanation is that
some universities have grown too large to be practical. But many academics and
students see the plan
as a government effort to gain full control over schools. Thousands of academics
signed a petition against the proposal, and there were reports that even patients
of Cerrahpasa Faculty of Medicine joined the protests.
Parliament’s Education Commission approved a bill whereby
Istanbul University, Ankara’s Gazi University and several other universities in
other parts of Turkey are to be divided to form 16 new universities. Four new
foundation universities will also be opened. Then there are some proposed name
changes. Uludag University will be known as Bursa Uludag University, and
Cumhuriyet University will be Sivas Cumhuriyet University, adding to their
names the cities where they’re located. Erzincan University will be renamed Erzincan
Binali Yildirim
University in honor of the current prime minister.
Negative reactions have been widespread to all the changes
introduced, but the sternest responses have arisen regarding Istanbul
University, which was founded in 1453, and Gazi University, which was founded
in 1926 by order of Turkey’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. The primary
version of the draft bill called for splitting Istanbul Capa Medical Faculty
and joining it with several other faculties from Istanbul University to create
Istanbul Ibni Sina University, or Avicenna University. (Avicenna, born in
Uzbekistan in 980, is known as the father of early modern medicine.)
When the proposal prompted bitter objections, a new plan
called for Capa and Cerrahpasa medical schools to be consolidated under the
newly established Istanbul Cerrahpasa University and abandoning the Avicenna historical name.
Istanbul University will still lose the following faculties: forestry, health
sciences, sport sciences, veterinary, engineering, dentistry, pharmaceuticals
and Florence Nightingale Nursing. Those departments will be transferred to the
new university.
In Ankara, Gazi University will lose its fine arts,
literature, law, communications and business administration departments, which
will be put under the new Ankara Haci Bayram Veli University.
Professors, students and civil society organizations say
there is no logic behind the decision, that the education system would be
upended and historical institutions would disintegrate. Alaattin Duran, the
dean of Cerrahpasa Faculty of Medicine, joined several former
university presidents in protest and said students want to graduate from the
schools they applied to. Students and professors have already protested
on social media with sites called “Don’t touch my faculty” and “Stay away
from my university.”
With the new schools, there will be 206 public
universities in Turkey. According to those who oppose it, this plan will
mean a sharp decline in the quality of education, which is already
suffering. Currently, no Turkish universities are listed on the
world’s top 500 leading
educational institutions
 as documented by University
Ranking by Academic Performance. Academics cite the need to reinforce
the resources and services of existing universities instead of creating new
Some protesters think the idea of opening new schools
might be motivated by the lucrative
it could create for well-connected vendors for new
buildings, catering and transportation services.
Professor Arzu Kihtir, head of Istanbul University’s
Department of Communications Sociology, didn’t mince words while expressing
her anger
 to the Cumhuriyet daily newspaper: “This decision
means serious trauma for the students, teaching staff and administrative
personnel. I finished my 30th year at Istanbul University and this decision
pains me. It will destroy the intellectual capital of the Istanbul University.”
Tahsin Tarhan, a deputy of the opposition Republican
People’s Party (CHP), raised the issue in a letter to
parliament. When the existing schools aren’t properly managed and the
number of unemployed graduates are growing, “why are we creating new
universities?” he asked. “There are reports that a political party, MHP
[the Nationalist Action Party], which is allied with the AKP, has demanded
[the division] with the goal of appointing 15 new presidents close to the
party. This shows the level the educational system has sunk to.”
Professor Tahsin
, president of the University Teaching Staff Association,
also called the decision politically motivated. He said that at many
schools there are no professors or associate professors, so classes are taught
by instructors. In some places the university president also serves as a dean
and department head and there are deficiencies in libraries, laboratories,
equipment, housing, cafeterias and cultural and sports facilities.
“While all these problems are well known, opening new
universities cannot be accepted. We are concerned about sinking
education and research, a bout wasting the lives of young people for five
or six years under the guise of a university education [when] the real
goal is to provide employment to academics and others close to the government,”
he told Al-Monitor. “Dividing up the universities with a decree and changing
their names is meddling with universities’ autonomy and [will] weaken
the established scientific institutions. If you divide them, they will
disappear. This is to put education under political tutelage.”
Yesiltepe said there is greedy commercial demand for
the campuses of Istanbul Capa and Cerrahpasa medical faculties, which are
in the city’s center.
Professor Cihangir Islam, who was dismissed from
Caucasia University in 2017, apparently for criticizing
military action
against the Kurds, also believes the
government’s actions have political motives.
“This is a plan not designed to meet the goals of
education, but to achieve political ends. I don’t think this plan was
prepared based on logic and wisdom,” he told Al-Monitor. “Today, universities
do not need to split but [rather] need to consolidate their resources. When you
divide them into smaller segments they lose their academic synergy.”
He added, “We don’t need a university in every
province, but universities [need] to be established in a major city and serve
the region. Too many universities have been opened. Most of them have
a serious shortage of experienced, well-trained academic staff. The quality
of education is declining by the day and will get only worse with further waste
of limited resources. The government’s goal is to divide up the universities to
tighten its control over academia. Also, don’t forget, new universities will
mean new administrative staff, new buildings and new equipment, all
of which will mean new tenders.”