Erdogan dismisses Bogazici University rector after months of protests

Shock announcement leads to celebrations among students and staff at one of Turkey’s best-regarded universities

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday dismissed a university rector whose appointment in January led to protests by students and staff.

Melih Bolu was dismissed from his post at Istanbul’s prestigious Bogazici University in the same way he was appointed – a midnight presidential decree published in the Official Gazette.

The shock announcement led to celebrations among students and staff at Bogazici, one of Turkey’s best-regarded universities.

“It was totally unexpected,” said history student Enes Sayin. “People are really happy but we know the protests aren’t over. It’s a small victory but we don’t know what’s going to happen now. But today we’re happy.

“This is the first time in a long time that President Erdogan took a step back.”

Prof Bolu’s appointment led to daily protests that continued on Thursday as faculty members demonstrated against government interference in academic freedom.

Placing Prof Bolu, a former member of Mr Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party who once applied to be an election candidate, as rector of Bogazici was a departure from previous appointments from within the university’s staff.

His appointment was the first from outside the university since a military coup in 1980.

Peaceful demonstrations led to hundreds of arrests and police brutality against students. Senior government figures attempted to demonise the protesters by labelling them terrorists and using homophobic slurs.

Founded in 1863 by an American philanthropist and a missionary, Bogazici, or Bosphorus, University counts former prime ministers, captains of industry and leading artists among its alumni.

Prof Bolu appears to have been uninformed about the decision to sack him and posted a comment on his Instagram account calling it “unfounded news”. He later closed the account.

No reason was given for his dismissal but it reportedly came after a meeting of the Council of Higher Education on Wednesday that discussed Prof Bolu’s six-month tenure. A report was later sent to Mr Erdogan.

There have also been claims of plagiarism relating to Prof Bolu’s PhD thesis.

His deputy, Mehmet Naci Inci, was announced as an interim replacement. Prof Inci was one of the few Bogazici faculty members to recognise Prof Bolu’s appointment, breaking ranks with colleagues who staged daily protests in which they stood with their backs to the rector’s office.

The students and academics will now focus on putting forward a candidate for a new rector, as well as fighting the restrictions and security measures imposed on campus during Prof Bolu’s tenure.

“It’s undoubtedly a significant victory but that’s only a fraction of what we want,” said Feyzi Ercin, a cinema and music lecturer barred from teaching at the university under Prof Bolu.

“Our goal was to show that the appointment was incorrect and [now] our main goal is to get a rector elected. The fact that there is a victory right now gives everyone a lot of morale and strength. But from now on, it's going to be a new journey, different from what’s happened so far.”

Updated: July 16th 2021, 6:59 AM