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Council of Higher Education’s (YÖK) Indefinite Suspension of Students’ Representative Council (ÖTK) Has Weakened Students’ Representation

Ekin Bal

Click to read in Kurdish or Turkish.

ÖTKs which provide solution-oriented actions for each and every subject concerning students- from their academic problems to their daily needs since its establishment were suspended by YÖK

In the year 2022 in Turkey, we are faced with a condition that spaces in which students come together, debate and express themselves are shrinking day by day. Events organized by student societies are being precluded; the grants of students who endeavour to speak up are being cut and even regulations to dismiss students attending protests from dormitories are being proposed in the METU Senate. Under these circumstances, students’ gathering has become a growing exigency. 

The elections of Students’ Representative Council- a constitution for students to come together, be involved in the decision-making process and react even to the slightest issue,   were indefinitely suspended by YÖK on the grounds that a legislative amendment would take place in the 2018-2019 semester. Then, how ÖTKs emerged, what METU students experienced regarding that  and how well ÖTKs are recently can be asked.

I am writing this paper in order to scrutinize what a Students’ Representative Council (ÖTK) is, how it has emerged, what METU students experienced on it and  what its recent condition is.

What is ÖTK?

The elections of ÖTKs- solution-oriented constitutions in which the slightest concern or demand of students can be discussed and in result, a mutual network for struggle can be set up and anyone’s demands can be public,  are held in a democratic atmosphere. In constantly controlled ÖTKs, each and every student is counted as a natural member of the constitution by just being a student. 

How ÖTKs emerged?

Despite the fact that there is still an attempt to introduce ÖTKs- which  were established in METU for the first time, as “a given right”, they indeed emerged as an attainment resulting from the 6-month-long boycott  started in April 1975. 

ÖTKs which weren’t official constitutions in the beginning were recognised by the METU Board of Trustees by the year of 1978. It was stated that ÖTK would deal with any issues concerning METU students by the METU Board of Trustees’ decision for its recognition as the most authorized constitution to represent students. 

The Executive Committee forming the foundation of ÖTK consisted of 9 students elected by all METU students. While Department Representatives were also elected by the students from respective departments, there were dormitory representatives for each dormitory and one representative for all METU dormitories in general to represent them as well.

In short, METU-ÖTK enabled the opinions of all METU students to be reflected in the actions taken in response to any issues from students’ academic problems to their daily needs and empowered the students to participate in the decision-making process. 

METU Students’ Experiences In Recent Years

In recent years, while anything related to democracy in universities is being terminated, ÖTKs also had  their share of it.  Department representative office mentioned above has been rendered nonfunctional as well as the dormitory representative office has ended a long time ago.  The ÖTK elections almost turned  into a career competition and the control mechanisms of students were taken away. Nevertheless, METU Prep ÖTK experiences in the 2015-2016 and the 2017-2018 semesters are of great significance as being attempts trying to overcome the state ÖTK was in. 

So far a brief outline of ÖTK was given and to examine it more closely, various examples can also be considered. For instance, while undertaking an activity for the lately announced amendment in the average score required for passing at a level of language in METU, the 2015-2016 semester METU Prep ÖTK also organized a boycott to state “We Want Peace Not War!” and memorialize Ozan Can Akkuş and Berkay Baş who lost their lives due to the bomb attack which took place in Güvenpark. That is to say, students had a constitution in which they could stand together in the face of any issue from the slightest problems to their classmates’ being murdered. 

metin, ağaç, açık hava, kişi içeren bir resim

Açıklama otomatik olarak oluşturuldu

The 2017-2018 semester Prep ÖTK was of a different character though. In a period of time in which there was an attempt to render ÖTK nonfunctional by means of careerist, self-seeking and groupist tendencies, a democracy was built up beginning with students representatives’ choosing their candidates. In an atmosphere in which ÖTK was seen as being made up of  only a president and vice-president, acting with the purpose of being inclusive of all prep students was a significant difference. Representative meetings were taking place in regular intervals and as being open to all prep students.

In 2018, in an atmosphere in which the first signs of the economic crisis began to appear, the  price determination commision would make a meeting in order to determine the uttermost prices in all butteries of METU.  In the meantime, METU prep ÖTK were debating the issue class by class, floor by floor and block by block as well as thinking about what kind of an association would be carved out. In the meetings of buttery price determination commission, the administration as well as  the buttery enterprises have an attitude for price rises and the meeting was concluded by ÖTK’s adding annotation. Right after that, a buttery boycott was organized in METU prep school with the statement that “ Cancel the Rises, Improve the Quality.” Students who set an alternative buttery ended the boycott before the end of the day, by getting 100% success. Students not only made rises withdrawn but also gain their right to control butteries.

metin, kişi, iç mekan, bina içeren bir resim

Açıklama otomatik olarak oluşturuldu

ÖTKs’ Situation Today

In the 2018-2019 semester, YÖK announced that ÖTK elections would be indefinitely suspended on the grounds that “a legislative amendment” would take place. Regardless of ÖTKs’ being suspended, METU students from Biological Sciences Department and Faculty of Architecture elected their own representatives.

On 13 June, 2020,  a regulation on  ÖTK was published in the Official Gazette. The regulation also included two significant articles. The former was that student representatives must be registered at least in the second year of their faculty, conservatory or vocational school of higher education. The latter was that the student council president position would be runned by the student representative of the department  specified according to the alphabetic order of the faculty/school of higher education/ conservatory within the institution. Thus, the right of representation of  first year and prep students was taken away and by the alphabetic order regulation, students’ right to vote for their own representative was restricted. 

Since the regulation was published during the pandemic, how it would be runned was ambiguous. However, when students turned back to their campuses, they were confronted with, so to speak, “the lowdown.” In practice, some observed results of the regulation were ÖTK elections’ still not being made in METU, students’ being quite lately informed about ÖTK elections in Hacettepe University, the student representative of Bioengineering Department in Yıldız Technical University being forced to resign on the grounds of the post they shared on social media.

Hereinbefore mentioned, ÖTK is a constitution for students to come together, be involved in the decision-making process and react even to the slightest issue. Today the presence of those kinds of constitutions has become an urgent need. Therefore, as they defend their universities, campuses, academic freedom and democratic universities, university students’ making ÖTKs functioned again might result in new experiences.

*July 2022

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