In a society where employees are only expected to perform well according to predetermined criteria, where loyalty to superiors and management is permanently tested through the nightmare of contract non-renewal, where there is a desire to transform universities into subsidiaries of monopoly capital, those who say “a university should not be like that” will be treated as spanners thrown into the works. Such dissenters will be terrorized in order to threaten their followings, especially if they think that organizing is the best path to power and try to maximize their numbers despite being silenced and condemned to isolation.
That’s the very reason why an investigation was opened on seven academics at Ordu University for hanging on their doors left-wing education workers’ union Eğitim Sen‘s cockades and banners declaring “We Want a University for the Benefit of Humanity, Nature, and Society.” The hastily prepared investigation minutes said only that the academics hung the banners without permission, omitting information about what the banners were about. On the same day, however, Assistant Professor Deniz Yıldırım, who is one of the aforementioned seven, learned that he was inflicted with a disciplinary punishment because of his speech on the draft law on the Council of Higher Education (YOK).
The development at Ordu University may be seen as an indication of what is in store for academia, for whose neoliberal transformation the draft YOK law is to pave the way. On the other hand, according to academics speaking at the “workshop” held on February 2, organized by the “Academia Won’t Be Silenced Platform,” what happened to Deniz Yıldırım and his colleagues is only the tip of the iceberg. A much greater operation is underway in the depth below. Academics who are not liked by the university administrators who are in step with the trend of political power are exposed to many threats, such as getting denied tenure, disciplined, and fired. But it is not just dissident academics who are on a knife-edge; all universities are being subjected to adjustment. Among the victims are research assistants working under 50-D (contract positions) who have been forced to fight a long fight to get back to work.
But there is more to universities than this dark picture. Every form of oppression inevitably provokes resistance organized against it. The METU incidents and 50-D research assistants’ organizing brought together many platforms, initiatives, and unions, large and small, within academia. “What Is to Be Done?” was the title of one of the sessions at the February 2 conference mentioned above, expressing the need to come together. Soon afterward, as if to answer the question, it was announced that the University Solidarity Platform (UDP) was founded. It is a pretty significant development in terms of uniting fragmented forces. The UDP was initially composed of 31 member organizations, and the number is growing every day. The conference organized by METU students on March 16 was a result of students seeking to organize themselves as one of the UDP components. Universities are on the move.
In the case of the academics being investigated because of the Eğitim Sen cockades they hung on their doors, if they were not organized, probably what they faced would not be well known to the public. The education workers’ union and the UDP did not leave their comrades at Ordu alone. For the story of what’s happening at Ordu is an emblem of what’s happening at all universities throughout Turkey. If the procedure against Deniz Yıldırım and his colleagues is not exposed, the same game will be played at other universities as well. Therefore this “case” is of critical importance.
The political authority and its appendages in academia mean business. They are definitely opposed to a “University for the Benefit of Humanity, Nature, and Society.” If this commitment to act for the benefit of them is removed from universities, nothing will remain of science, education, or reason. But they hardly care about any of these. On the contrary what they expect from universities regarding benefits has nothing to do with universities themselves.
Nuray Sancar may be contacted at <firstname.lastname@example.org>. The original article “Ordu’da bir memleket hikayesi” was published by Evrensel on 19 March 2013. Translation by Aynur Özcan.