Active actors of the demonstrations against appointee rectors: Student Clubs of Boğaziçi

Oğuz Berkcan Üstün

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While the impact of the student clubs on students cannot be disregarded, having appointee rectors affected adversely those clubs.

Student clubs of Boğaziçi University create a notable social engagement in student life more than any other universities’ clubs could manage.

We talked to Oğuz from Boğaziçi University Cinema Club and Öykü, a former member of the Executive Board of The Inter Club Council (Kulüpler Arası Kurul; KAK) about the importance of clubs for students and the effects of appointed trustees on clubs.

Student clubs provide sustainability of cultural accumulation

There are two sides that provides the student clubs of the Boğaziçi University to build wider social engagement. First, the students incline to be productive in their major fields of study and to work together. Second, the university has already have generated an intellectually diverse culture that is still a sustainable heritage.

When you talked to an academic in a strict time between his lectures, you learn that he was an active member of many student clubs during his undergraduate years or if you read some publications which were issued more than 20 years ago by a student club, you can encounter a text of discussion mentioning a popular debate topic among students. In summary, cultural accumulation whose cores may be found at Boğaziçi is being carried on mostly by the student clubs and the social environment created by these clubs.

“Graduate from also a student club in addition to your major field of study”

The second and lesser-known function of student clubs are providing a space for free speech where the students can discuss their ideas on any topic, also for creating solidarity.  In this manner the student clubs are one of the most engaged social environments where the determination of the students represented clearly. In addition to that those create networks of solidarity on many social issues ranging from financial difficulties to problems related to education, which urge the students to support each other for these actual challenges of student life.

There is a popular saying the newcomers could be hearing many times from the advisors or in the seminars held in the orientation week of the school, “Graduate from also a student club in addition to your major field of study.”

Oğuz from Boğaziçi University Cinema Club explains the second function of the student clubs as follows:

“When the decision about the appointment of Melih Bulu announced to the public, we were in an event with our cinema club, BÜ(S)K. Almost half an hour later the event finished, and we started to talk about this hot topic. We talked about the feeling of restlessness resulted by this appointment decision and shared our feelings. Many questions have had occurred in our minds, and we were feeling anxious for the potential outcomes we could be facing. Talking at the club made many of us feeling good on that day. All of us were feeling that we were together in that exact moment, we were concerned about the same things, and we would be standing together against the notion of having an appointed rector no matter who he was.”

The Inter Club Council (ICC) provides interaction between the clubs

The Inter Club Council (ICC) while providing to build the dialogue between the clubs representing the students, and the university organs, functions as an upper body in the club organisation.

This council, contributing to the internal functioning of the university, shares its proceedings openly with all the clubs. Even though it consists of a single representative member of every student club, all the students have the right to attend its meetings. In this manner, it holds the largest representative power along with the Council of Student Representation (Öğrenci Temsilciliği Kurulu, ÖTK). Öykü, a former member of the Executive Council of The Inter Club Council explains the dynamics of operation of this council and its founding principles as follows:  

“ICC provides a platform where the current agenda of the country, of the school and activities of the students can be discussed. It aims to create more engagement between the clubs and strengthen their coordination. In addition to that, there is a self-governance system where no one was accepted as a director. It does not have an executive board, rather it only consists of an executive council whose responsibilities are limited to organize the meetings, making moderation in those meetings, and taking notes during the meetings. Its meetings are open to anyone who wants to attend because of its mission to provide a democratic platform. ICC follows the ethical regulations of the university as any other council needs to adhere to the same rules. The most important and regarded rule is the equality principle. It’s being carried on as a platform where everyone may discuss the issues of discrimination.”

The student clubs were effective in denouncing the notion of having appointee rectors

There was an intense discussion environment in university agenda after the appointment of Melih Bulu as a rector. The Inter Club Council with the largest representation of student clubs became a prominent platform where the students discuss this issue among themselves. 

Former member of the Cinema Club, Oğuz summarizes the development of the events as follows:

“The clubs started to debate intensely over how to respond in written form to the appointment of Melih Bulu as the rector. The debate prolonged for two days, and it was followed by all our members. We ought not to be able to proceed acting solely as the executive council. The decisions were taken by voting along the online meetings lasted for hours. At the end of this debate process it’s been decided in consensus, in general by all the clubs, to follow the principles structured by the senate of the university in 2012, and to accept the declaration of the academics who were refusing to accept his appointment. The declaration has been shared on social media, therefore the determination of Boğaziçi announced to the public.”

This function of ICC being the platform for discussing how to respond to the notion of having appointed rectors has continued thereafter.

In the event of the suspension of the candidacy status of Boğaziçi University LGBTI+ Student Club, the announcement protesting this action was signed by 43 student clubs and its first sentences were as follows: “This is the joint statement of 43 student clubs of Boğaziçi University against the unlawfully search of the rooms of student clubs on January 30, 2021, the lynching campaign in social media against us, and arrests.” This statement proves that the student clubs were active actors of the demonstrations against the notion of having appointed rectors.

Sanctions on student clubs imposed by the appointed rectors

In addition to this function ICC has the right to have a member for student representation in the Student Activities Coordination Council (SACC), a university organ consisting of many academics. However, this council stopped to make meetings after the appointment of Melih Bulu to rectorship, and since then the decisions about student clubs of this council have been taken without notifying the students. The dialogue between the university organs and the students has been destroyed by the deactivation of SACC where the student clubs could declare their demands to the management and offer their activity plans to take permission of the university organs.

The management of this appointee rector tried to implement methods of censorship, made decisions without consulting with the students and these undemocratic manners were in consistent with the undemocratic style of appointing a rector who were not a selected candidate chosen by the academics. 

The first notable attack to the student clubs was the suspension of LGBTI+ Student Club (BÜLGBTİ+). The raid on the LGBTI+ Student Club’s rooms was carried out without notifying any of the club members or any academic advisor.

The oppression over the student clubs has been increased after the suspension of the LGBTI+ Student Clubs. The activities planned by the Boğaziçi University Behavioral Sciences Club (BSC) with academic Feyzi Erçin, Boğaziçi University Cinema Club’s with academic Can Candan have been cancelled consecutively by the dean in neglect of ICC and SACC. While the management of the university has not announced the reason for cancelling the event of BSC, the Appointee Dean Fazıl Önder Sönmez informed the students by notifying the coordinator, explained that the reason of the second event’s cancellation for as means of the banning of Can Candan’s entering the school. The Dean’s office requested an explanation for the exhibition organised by the photography club, named ‘Pride Photography Exhibition.” This club answered the Dean’s request by sending a detailed explanation and received a positive answer that the Dean’s office was not against holding this exhibition. Nevertheless, the members of this club were not able to enter their club room in the supposed dates of the event, in so that the exhibition could not have been implemented. At the end of which time 30 student clubs sent a notification to the Dean’s office claiming that the event planned by the cinema club with Can Candan was their joint organisation, and 30 student clubs requested altogether a new permission for this event from the Dean’s office. Yet this new event was also cancelled due to bureaucratic reasons while ICC and SACC, again, were never informed about the process. As a result, a statement that signed by 42 clubs objecting to the censorship and prohibitionist attitude at the school was shared on the social media accounts of the clubs.

In conclusion, the appointee management of the university unlawfully oppressed all the platforms and organisations where the student representation and solidarity were the essential qualities at their core, neglected the cultural accumulation of the university, turned a deaf ear to free speech, ignored the student representation, and oppressed the students in every way. However, it can be said that the students find new ways to overcome this oppression, to strengthen their solidarity and dialogue despite these difficulties. At the end of the day, a phrase can summarize the situation: “The Appointee management is alone, we are not.”

*June 2022

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