Pro-AK Party columnist instructs YK head to take over 17 private universities

Writing in his column for the Star daily on Saturday, pro-government columnist Cem Kanduandcanduk demanded that Higher Education Board (YandOK) President Yekta Saraandc take over the administration of 17 private universities for their alleged links with the faith-based Gandulen movement.
Kanduandcanduk said that Saraandc, who has the authority to seize the administration of private universities through a recent regulation, was reluctant to pursue and had failed in his fight against the so-called andquotparallel structureandquot. Paralllel structure is a derogatory term President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his political associates developed in order to disparage sympathizers of the Gandulen movement, a civil society initiative inspired by the views of Islamic scholar Fethullah Gandulen. Erdogan has targeted Gandulen and his sympathizers since corruption investigations came to the surface in December 2013, implicating members of his family and senior Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government officials.
In what many have described as a severe blow to academic freedom in Turkey, a newly drafted regulation posted on the YandOK website on Oct. 30 proposes the closure of private universities and”that have become a focal point for activities against the stateand’s indivisible integrity.and” The regulation comes amid increasing concerns over growing restrictions on fundamental rights in Turkey. Following a government-backed decision on Oct. 26 by the Ankara 5th Criminal Court of Peace, the management of Koza ipek Holdingand’s 22 companies andndash including critical TV stations Bugandun TV and Kanaltandurk and the Bugandun and Millet dailies — was taken over by trustees accompanied by police on Oct. 28 on charges of supporting the Gandulen movement. Koza ipek Holding also owns ipek University in Ankara.
The draft regulation poses a danger for private universities run by foundations that are critical of the government. These universities could lose their academic independence and be placed under the academic, administrative and financial supervision of YandOK trustees if the draft is approved. However, Kanduandcanduk implied that a decision had already been taken for 17 universities for their alleged links with the Gandulen movement but said that other private universities whose rectors are critical of the government should not be worried.
Kanduandcanduk also criticized the Union of Foundation Universities (VanduB) for being under the influence of the Gandulen movement. Rifat Saricaoilu, the head of the VanduB and the head of the board of trustees for Bilgi University, said in a press conference on Nov. 1 that the draft regulation threatens the financial autonomy of private universities. and”Trusts and private initiatives invest in private universities therefore, the draft threatens investments in private education,and” he said.
On Friday, the rector of the private Istanbul iehir University, Ali Atif Bir — who was a columnist for Bugandun — was forced to leave his position due to pressure from the pro-government media on the owner of the university.
and”It is normal to have universities whose rectors are critical of the AK Party. Academic freedom is very important and is legally guaranteed [for other private universities]. However, They [Gandulen movement] cannot have a university in Turkey just as al-Qaeda and Pablo Escobar cannot have them in the US,and” Kanduandcanduk wrote.
No court ruling has been issued against Gandulen and hundreds of other people including police officers, journalist, judges, businessmen and bureaucrats for their alleged links with the Gandulen movement in the ongoing government-orchestrated investigations.
Investigations targeting the Gandulen movement have been criticized by many international organizations including Interpol, which has reportedly rejected a number of requests by the AK Party in 2015 to issue international warrants against people alleged to have links with the movement and who live abroad on the grounds that it has not been provided with any evidence of crimes.
Interpol also notified the AK Party government in August that it does not recognize the Gandulen movement as a criminal organization that is attempting to topple the Turkish government.


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