In the Pursuit of an Alternative Academy: The Case of Kocaeli Academy for Solidarity

133

In the Pursuit of an Alternative Academy: The Case of Kocaeli Academy for Solidarity

Güven Bakırezer, Derya Keskin Demirer, Adem Yeşilyurt*

Kocaeli Academy for Solidarity, Kocaeli, Turkey, www.kocaelidayanisma.org

Abstract: The Turkish government declared the state of emergency on 20 July 2016, in the aftermath of the July 15 coup attempt, which provided the State with the pretext to launch an academic purge against the Academics for Peace, who had signed a peace petition in January 2016 addressing the civil deaths in the South Eastern part of the country and urging the State to take responsibility to restart the peace process. Having the largest number of peace petitioners among the provincial universities, Kocaeli University was the first to dismiss all 19 of the peace academics from their positions on September 1, 2016. Already active in defending the universal values of the academia in other venues, the dismissed peace academics founded the Kocaeli Academy of Solidarity in the pursuit of an alternative academy that aims to bring to- gether students and others in the city in a cooperative understanding of education and scientific research.

Keywords: Academic Purge, Turkey, Academics for Peace, Alternative Academy, Ac- ademic Labour, International Academic Solidarity.

1. Academia in Turkey

Academic world is still structured hierarchically with inequalities around the world. Sci- ence is still produced mostly in developed countries, and transferred to and imple- mented in developing countries. There exists a certain number of universities inte- grated/trying to be integrated with global scientific production in the metropolitan cities of the developing countries. However, scientific production is not much of a concern in the provincial universities that make the majority, since these universities are expected to provide teaching for the masses.

There have been very painful consequences of the publishing pressure in the academia accelerated in the neoliberal phase of capitalism, particularly in the provin- cial areas of developing countries. Academics in most universities of Turkey are over- whelmed by the excessive course load because of the excessive numbers of students due to the intense young population yet insufficient funds for education. Nonetheless, universities and scholars are forced to publish because of the ever-increasing compe- tition with the marketization of education. Academics find themselves in a conflicting position to choose between spending all of their time in maintaining the quality of their teaching or allocating time for publication and not putting enough time in teaching and thus giving way to decreased quality in that area.

2. Kocaeli University

Kocaeli University was founded in 1992 in Izmit, Kocaeli, about 100 kilometers east of Istanbul, the largest city in the country. It is one of the most populated universities with over 81 thousand students, 74 thousand at undergraduate and 7 thousand at graduate levels. At the same time, it is one of the worst with respect to scholar per student ratio with its only about a thousand academic staff holding doctoral degrees. The univer- sity’s educational program has been mostly focused on the training of the labour force for the industry, for it was established in the largest industrial area of the country. While the engineering departments accommodate about 11 thousand students, nearly half of the undergraduate students (about 36 thousand) are enrolled in two-year vocational schools in order to find intermediary positions in the industrial sector. Being the home of the university’s rectors, except the founding one, the Medical Faculty traditionally has a dominant position at the university though its primary concern is to give health services at the regional scale rather than high quality medical education and research. While the Faculty of Theology was established in 2015 despite the arguable need for it, the long-waited Sociology Department is yet to be founded, even though there are academics holding PhDs in sociology and already offering sociology courses in various faculties of the university.

These examples represent the mind-set of the university administration as well as how universities are perceived in general from the perspective of those who have been holding the political power in the country. Universities in Turkey have never been autonomous, but this situation has worsened under the Justice and Development Party (AKP) regime since 2002. In a centralist understanding in which the president of the country appointing the rectors of the universities, rectors appointing the faculty deans, and deans appointing the department heads; AKP government has filled the universi- ties with academics close to its ideological orientation mostly without taking into ac- count their merits.

3. “What Kind of University” Initiative at Kocaeli University

Although Kocaeli University was founded mostly with somewhat left-oriented scholars, this composition has been depreciated in the last 15 years. “What Kind of University?” (NBU1) initiative was founded by about 50 social democrat and socialist academics working at Kocaeli University against the marketization of higher education and the distortion of the autonomy of the universities. In their manifest, NBU members have defended academic freedom, scientific merit, democratic participation and financing of the universities with the national budget as opposed to private sector involvement. This initiative has been effective particularly in the presidential elections at the university, as well as organizing national and local actions. Its nominee has succeeded to get one quarter of the votes in the last election for the rector in 2014, though lost against the current rector who had been openly supported by President Erdoğan.2 Both the university and the city administrations have been hostile to the group members in severaloccasions for their critical views and political stance against the university policies as well as AKP politics. For example, one of the NBU members was sued by Kocaeli mayor of AKP, because of the results of his scientific research pointing at the industrial air pollution in the region. Another member was nominated for the mayorship of met- ropolitan municipality from Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) at 2014 local elections.

4. Education and Science Workers’ Union at Kocaeli University

Education and Science Workers’ Union (Eğitim-Sen), became the representative of all staff with the largest number of members at the university in 2015. In addition, it had maintained the necessary number of members to become a separate branch at the university mostly due to the efforts of the NBU members; however, this picture changed dramatically after the Peace Petition became public in January 2016. Eğitim-Sen mem- bers were forced to resign from the union or preferred to leave it gradually because of the fear caused by the state reactions to the Peace Petition, the detainment of the peace petitioners and finally dismissals of 19 peace academics from Kocaeli University in September 2016, most of whom were Eğitim-Sen members and the rest belonging to the Health and Social Care Workers’ Union, (SES) both being part of the Confeder- ation of Public Workers’ Union (KESK).

5. The Peace Petition and Academics for Peace

In January 2016, 2.218 scholars from Turkey and around the world signed a petition titled “We will not be a party to this crime,” also known as the Peace Petition3. The peace petition, initially signed by 1.128 academics to end the civil deaths in the South Eastern part of the country, drew a severe reaction from President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, because it deemed the State responsible to restart the peace process in the country. The president criticised the peace academics violently after the peace petition became public on January 11, 2016. On a public statement following the petition Erdoğan said; “These [academics] are tyrants, despicables, because those who are with tyrants are also tyrants themselves… I called all judicial authorities and university administration for duty to punish these acts against our Constitution and laws…”4 Since then the signatories (“Academics for Peace”) have been subject to heavy pressure and persecution. Hundreds of them have faced criminal and disciplinary investigations, custody, imprisonment, or violent threats.

6. The July 15 Coup Attempt and the State of Emergency

The Turkish government declared the state of emergency on 20 July 2016, in the af- termath of the July 15 coup attempt. The cabinet passed several successive decrees since then and dismissed more than 100,000 public servants claiming that they were affiliated with or connected to “terrorist” organizations. The list included faculty mem- bers of public universities who signed the Peace Petition.5 The number of Peace Aca- demics dismissed from public service reached about 400 between September 2016 and April 2017. Many others were forced to resign or leave the country. In addition, the passports of the dismissed academics have been cancelled. The State of Emergency had provided the government with the pretext to launch an academic purge that was based on a political cleansing of the universities from critical thinking. Dismissals of thousands of civil servants along with the mass arrests including journalists, academics and other opposition figures made the country resemble the 1930s Germany.

Kocaeli University is among the largest number of peace petitioners within the provincial universities, and the first to dismiss all 19 of the peace academics at once, as a result of the first emergency decree of such on September 1, 2016, decree no. 672. In fact, the signatories at Kocaeli University were the first ones to be detained by the counter-terror police on January 15, 2016, just a few days after the peace petition became public, mainly because such an opposition could not be tolerated in the pro- vincial areas and it was easier to intervene in such conditions in provincial universities. Almost all of the signatories were the members of NBU and they had already been known with their critical views at the university which accelerated the investigation pro- cess and the final dismissal from their positions. However, for the same reason, their supporters at the university and in the city of Kocaeli in general have played a signifi- cant role for an organized reaction against their detainment on January 15, 2016.

7. Kocaeli Academy for Solidarity

The academics who were dismissed from their positions at Kocaeli University left the university with a slogan “We will return! We are not leaving our students and the city” right after their dismissal. This declaration paved the way to the foundation of “Kocaeli Academy for Solidarity” (KODA)6 which had its opening on September 28, 2016 with a big crowd including academics from other universities around the country as well as from abroad.

Kocaeli Academy for Solidarity was established on three basics; legal struggle against the related investigations and dismissals from their positions; political struggle against the Council of Higher Education of Turkey (YÖK) and the political power, and finally academic struggle to establish an alternative venue for education and scientific research.

In terms of our legal battle, we have been applying to every possible court within the domestic law, while also applying to the European Court of Human Rights. We have been pursuing our political struggle in different forms. Members of the Academy in Kocaeli are also active members of the Kocaeli Democracy Initiative. In addition, one of the members is co-chair for the Peoples’ Democratic Congress (HDK), while another is the general coordinator for Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey (DİSK). One of the medical doctor members of KODA is also a board member for the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TİHV), while another takes part in the activities of Doctors Without Borders Turkey Branch.

Yet, our academic labour has become more important in due course. We have been trying to put into practice our ideals as academics within the Kocaeli Academy for Solidarity, which we could not have done in the established academy. We have been offering weekly seminars free and open to the public since October 2016 which will continue until the end of the semester at the Eğitim-Sen conference hall at the city center with an audience of around 100. During these seminars, scholars from various disciplines initiate interdisciplinary discussions removing the boundaries between arti- ficially separated disciplines.

We have already applied for research grants in order to fund our research pro- jects in the fields of democracy, human rights, urban studies and environmental pro- tection, equal citizenship and gender equality. Moreover, we have planned a two-year educational project under the title of “The School of Life” for which we are hoping to receive funding. This “alternative school” is planned to be free and open to all. It only consists of elective courses in conjunction with different disciplines, yet requires differ- ent liabilities to complete the critical program. One of the main aims of the program is to break down the hierarchical structure of the established academy and the problem- atic character of the teacher-student relations. The general aim is to sustain education and research not only by the KODA academics but also with the students, researchers, other academics in the city and across the country.

Because of the administrative obstacles under the state of emergency, KODA has yet to be legally established. But it has continued its de facto institutionalisation. KODA is meant to continue its activities and survive no matter what comes in the future near and far, even the members win their legal struggle and go back to their positions at the university. In addition, KODA members wish to continue their struggle against the established academy under an umbrella organisation in/out of the country together with other alternative academy initiatives and solidarities, because they are aware of the fact that their imagined academy could only be achieved through coordination and solidarity with a countrywide/worldwide network of similar entities.

Can KODA succeed? It seems that the overall success of KODA depends on its ability to become a local part of a more general organisation for an alternative acad- emy. There exists a number of objective conditions to this end, such as local and na- tional connections, public interest, on-going pressure over the established academia, as well as the awareness of the fact that nothing will ever be the same at the universi- ties even all dismissed academics return to their positions one way or another. Such an alternative academy can succeed only if it has the capability to create a solid alter- native against the marketized educational system, going beyond only a utopian pursuit and becoming a locus of power to transform the society.

Maintaining the quality of educational and research activities is important and it can only be achieved through equality in obtaining resources and eliminating academic inequalities at the national and international levels. It is a must that research activities should provide ways of solution for the vital problems of the large and poor segments of the society. Certification of the educational activities is also a must in the existing capitalist conditions in order to provide legitimacy when needed. Still, financial question exists as the elephant in the room. In this respect, an alternative academic organisation can only exist with the support of civil and democratic mass organisations at the na- tional and international levels. KODA members are determined to overcome these challenges and committed to set an example with the support of those around the world with the same ideals related to education, scientific research and academic labour.

 

 

About the Authors

Güven Bakırezer

He got his PhD in 2001 from Boğaziçi University, Turkey, with a dissertation titled “the Turkish Liberalism and the Social Question, 1908-1945”. He is the co-editor of Trabzon’u Anlamak (Understanding Trabzon) (2009). He worked in the department of Political Science and Public Administration at Kocaeli University, Turkey, between 2003 and 2016. He was dismissed by a governmental decree for his signature for the so-called “Peace Petition”. He is now a member of the Kocaeli Academy for Solidarity. His current project is to inquire the moral and political conditions of living together with differences with a special interest in the Turkish modernist Islamism.

Derya Keskin Demirer

Derya received her Ph.D. in Development Studies from Marmara University in Istanbul, Turkey, and M.A. from the Ohio State University, in Columbus, the USA. She worked as an assistant professor of Labour Sociology in the Department of Labour Economics and Industrial Relations at Kocaeli University, Turkey from January 2012 to September 2016. She was dismissed from her position through a governmental decree issued under the State of Emergency, for signing a petition titled “We will not be a party to this crime,” also known as the Peace Petition which was a call directed to the State to end the civil deaths in the South Eastern part of the country and restart the peace process.

Her work has been published in journals related to education, labour and the Middle East. Her research interests include migration, women’s labour, gender and social policy, reli- gion and women in addition to education. She continues her work within the Kocaeli Academy for Solidarity, as the founding member of the academy with the other Peace Academics also dismissed from Kocaeli University for the same reason.

Adem Yeşilyurt

He is a PhD Candidate at the Department of Political Science and Public Administration, Mid- dle East Technical University (METU), Ankara, Turkey. He got his M.S. degree in 2014 from the same department with his thesis “The Role of Reporters in Corporate Media: An Inquiry into the Labour Process of Reporters in Turkey”. His research interests include digital labour, political economy of media, cinema and social theory. His PhD research is about the question of “free-time” in modern capitalism with respect to technology, organisations and working rela- tions.

He worked as a research assistant at METU between 2011 and 2014, then he worked at Kocaeli University until he has been dismissed by a governmental decree at September, 2016 because of the “Peace Petition” he has signed. Since then, he has been working as the coordinator of the Kocaeli Academy for Solidarity.

* Corresponding author. Email: [email protected]
  1. Abbreviation for “Nasıl Bir Üniversite?” in Turkish.
  2. It was literally the last elections, because the elections for university rectors has been abolished by a governmental decree no. 676 at October 29, 2016 under conditions of State of Emergency. According to new regulation, President of the Country will appoint the new rectors for universities.
  3. For the full text of the Peace Petition in English and other languages, visit https://barisici- nakademisyenler.net/node/63
  4. http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/erdogandan-akademisyenler-bildirisine-sert-sozler-40040876
  5. For the updated list of the rights violations against Academics for Peace, visit https://barisicinakademisyenler.net/node/314
  6. For more information, visit www.kocaelidayanisma.org