During the Covid-19 curfew declared for the 4-day period covering the New Year's, students, academics and alumni of Turkey's one of the most prestigious universities, Boğaziçi University were shocked to see appointment of a trustee rector, with full disregard of the institution's democratic tradition of electing its rectors in over a century-long history. Students, academics and alumni reacted instantly on social media, as the hashtags sustained for three days in the trending topics list; finally leading to a mass protest on campuses on January 4.

#dokuz8/Gürkan Özturan

On the first hours of the new year, on January 1, AKP chair & President Erdoğan appointed a trustee rector for one of Turkey's most prestigious universities Boğaziçi University. The new rector, Prof. Dr. Melih Bulu was a former candidate running for parliament under AKP.


The university which was established as the first international campus on earth by the American Senate in 1863, has sustained a democratic tradition of electing its rectors. There was a brief moment during the 1980 military coup, when the university lost its autonomy and a rector was appointed by the military rulers. Students & academics reacted against appointment of a trustee rector once again and it was noted "since the 1980 military junta, this is the only time a rector was appointed from outside of the university." #WeDoNotAcceptWeDoNotGiveUp! has become the most popular hashtag used by protesting students.


In his first statement as the appointed trustee rector of Boğaziçi University, Dr. Melih Bulu said "as a university our primary duty is to stand against all attempts that will detach us further from scientific production. I would like to thank President Erdoğan for this appointment". Pro-AKP journalists flooded the social media in support of Dr. Bulu claiming "national will is entering to elitist campuses" claiming scientific and democratic principles are elitism. The appointed trustee rector, Dr. Melih Bulu is also claimed to have committed plagiarism in his academic works, including his PhD dissertation. While Dr. Bulu refuted claims, paragraphs were spotted in his work, directly copied from other academic articles. Thousands of alumni came forth to state that a serious academic institution such as Boğaziçi University should never tolerate plagiarism, adding that "this alone should be a reason why he cannot become a rector."


As the students & faculty members announced a protest scheduled to start at 14.00 local time on January 4 against appointed trustee mayor, police were deployed to Boğaziçi University. Buses full of police were allowed inside the campus prior to the protest as students campaigned for rectorate elections under the hashtag "We want elections for rectorate at Boğaziçi".

The security guards locked the university's South Campus gates to prevent students and alumni from meeting. Students inside Boğaziçi University's South Campus demanded the security to open the gates to unite the two protesting groups. Earlier in the day, police was deployed to the campus. Following increasing police pressure in and around Boğaziçi University campuses, the students announced they will start marching from South Campus to North Campus. The students of Boğaziçi University started their protest march against the appointment of trustee rector to the university, "AKP's trustees are surrounding us all but we know we will prevail."

During the protest march, Boğaziçi University students chant "Not my rector". Thousands of students and academics filled the university's North Campus, marking one of the biggest mass protests on a campus in a long time.


Boğaziçi University students & academics lateer started a campus forum to discuss the path ahead, after appointment of a partisan trustee rector to the university by AKP chair & President Erdoğan. Previously during the 2011 #OccupyStarbucks protests on campus, the former rector Prof. Dr. Kadri Özçaldıran had refused to grant the police authorization to enter campus to disperse protests saying "this is Boğaziçi University and we resolve any problem based on our democratic tradition, through dialogue and discussion."


During the student forum on North Campus, it was claimed that Dr. Melih Bulu made his entrance into the rectorate hall, breaking the students' seal at the hall's entrance. Upon hearing this claim, students ended the forum and started marching towards the South Campus. Police set up barricades to keep students outside of the campus and harshly intervened the peaceful march. During police intervention two students were reported forcefully detained. The police was spotted beating the detained students.


dokuz8TV aired a live program inviting Boğaziçi University student citizen journalists Ebrar Başyiğit and Beyza Kaya as well as Boğaziçi University alumni dokuz8NEWS Executive Manager Gürkan Özturan and main opposition Republican People's Party CHP vice chair Gökçe Gökçen to discuss the appointment of trustee rector to the university. Citizen journalists Başyiğit and Kaya summarized the day's developments and while they were narrating the timeline of the day, police started another stage of intervention against the students on live broadcast. Police used rubber bullets and teargas, ordering the thousands of students to disperse from the campus. CHP vice chair Gökçen commented on the ongoing spree of appointed trustees in various institutions, "it cannot continue like this, they are unable to govern their own party let alone the country. They are appointing trustees everywhere and the only merit of these people is their loyalty to the governing authority. Sooner or later they will have to withdraw their steps; this process cannot continue like this. Today we talked to the students, their message is loud and clear; they want resignation of appointed trustee rector and democratic elections for rectorate."

dokuz8NEWS' Gürkan Özturan also stated "this is a first in the history of Boğaziçi University which is the oldest international campus on earth. In the university's 158 year history, except for a brief moment of military junta in 1980s the university always democratically elected its rector but this principle was shelved by AKP in 2016 when a presidential executive decree was announced cancelling university elections, opening the way for appointment of trustee rectors. Today Boğaziçi University's tradition of democracy has been under attack, they may continue appointing trustees but they cannot sustain governance through this. Nowhere in the world could it be possible to advance in any field through suspension of meritocracy, replaced by loyalty to partisan decisions." [embed]https://youtu.be/RUT17SgO0U8?t=896[/embed]


After mass campus protests, pro-AKP media started airing news claiming that the protestors were indeed terrorists aiming to assault state's police officers. The manipulative coverage of pro-AKP news outlets also included CHP's Istanbul chair Canan Kaftancıoğlu, framing her as supporter of terrorism on campuses. At 1 am on January 5, Minister of Interior Süleyman Soylu went out and posed with a police officer, sharing this photo with the note "I am with the police, I am against those who say 'murderer police' and I am aware of those spineless slugs."


In the early hours of January 5, anti-terrorism police conducted coordinated raids against students' homes in Istanbul, detaining at least 16 students from various universities for joining Boğaziçi University protests the previous day. Anti-terrorism department is still looking for 12 other students for "resistance against on-duty officers."


Following yesterday's protest, the gates of Boğaziçi University were handcuffed. The gates remain locked to students and police barricade remains around the university. Students announced they will boycott classes on Tuesday and continue protests as of Wednesday. On campus it is also claimed that the rectorate handover ceremony will take place at the gate of the South Campus today.