Science Policy & Funding News

Science Groups Voice Concern for Academics in Turkey

International science and education organizations respond to reports of forced resignations of university deans and mass firings of teachers following last month's failed coup attempt.

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The International Council for Science (ICSU) and other scientific and academic organizations have expressed strong opposition to a reported crackdown on educators and academics in Turkey following the 15 July failed coup d’etat in the country.

The Turkish government has ordered more than 1550 university deans to resign, has fired more than 15,000 teachers and other education staff, and has banned all academics from leaving the country following the coup, according to news reports.

ICSU’s 28 July statement, which deplores the coup, expresses “grave concern” about the current situation in Turkey. It urges the Turkish authorities to uphold the civil liberties and academic freedom of educators and of research, to exercise restraint, and to observe the rules of law. The statement calls for Turkey to restore the Principle of Universality of Science, which embraces the free and responsible practice of science. ICSU is a nongovernmental organization comprising 122 national scientific bodies and 31 international scientific unions.

The statement expresses particular concern about reports that academics and educators have lost their positions “in a summary fashion” since the failed coup.

Providing Support for Turkish Scientists

Leiv Sydnes, chair of ICSU’s Committee on Freedom and Responsibility in the conduct of Science (CFRS), told Eos that the group’s statement helps to shine a spotlight on the issue.

“It is very important for the Turkish scientists to see that people outside the country care about their situation,” said Sydnes, a professor of chemistry at the University of Bergen in Norway, who wrote the draft for the ICSU statement. “To what extent [the statement] has an impact on the politicians and the political development, that is more a question of belief than anything, I think, but we can hope [for] the best.”

He added that he thinks that Turkey’s leadership lacks trust in the nation’s scientists. “I think they are afraid of [the scientists’] ability to talk freely about a number of issues,” Sydnes explained.

Some Turkish scientists expressed thanks for ICSU’s statement and for “being watchdogs for what is taking place,” according to Sydnes.

Sydnes said that ICSU previously expressed concern about academic freedom in Turkey. A January 2016 letter signed by ICSU and others expressed concern about “widespread pressures” on members of the country’s higher education and research communities. Sydnes said the pressure has intensified in the current situation.

Other scientific organizations issuing statements about the current situation in Turkey include the European University Association, the International Astronomical Union, and national academies in the United Kingdom.

At press time, the Turkish government had not responded to a request from Eos for comment.

—Randy Showstack, Staff Writer

Citation: Showstack, R. (2016), Science groups voice concern for academics in Turkey, Eos, 97, doi:10.1029/2016EO056963. Published on 02 August 2016.
© 2016. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
  • Nihat Cubukcu

    As a Turkish-American scientist, I agree that many times scientists in Turkey cannot express their opinion freely. One big reason for that is the Gulen movement who has also orchestrated the coup attempt. Almost all universities were overtaken by their militants (what you may called scientists but I wouldn’t called them so). We are concerned about freedom and ability to be a creative scientist but these so called scientists were taking orders from their Cleric Fethullah Gulen who does not even have a middle school degree. I am now hoping that firing all those 1500 so called scientist (despite the ugliness of such a measure) will cleanse the universities and let the real scientist work freely. In the new cleansed universities, deans, chairs and presidents will be elected with minimal external influence. I don’t know how much but I do know that things will be way better for scientists in Turkey.