Right To FoodUniversity

The city-campus-student relations at the exit of the pandemic

Mustafa Özaydın

Click to read in Kurdish or Turkish.

We looked closely at the changes in the enterprises and dining halls in METU and city-campus-student relations. 

The pandemic, which lasted more than two years, is about to end. It affected significant marks on our lives, points of view, and health and so affected METU with its all components just like everybody else.  


After being shut down for 16 months, the businesses in METU opened their doors and welcomed the new academic year under the pressure of crisis, rectorate policy, and heavy hikes. By November, the business owners who thought they would breathe a sigh of relief with the postponement of taxes in the first period of shutdown (April-May-June) couldn’t open their shops but had to pay double taxes such as stamp duty, temporary taxes, etc. Moreover, while the shops were shut down and had no income, the shopowners were forced to pay rent. In particular, the commission proposal, which the canteen enterprises met with the Ankara Chamber of Commerce (ACC) and presented to the school, was not taken into account on the grounds that these enterprises were registered with the ACC and were not in the status of merchants. Although there was a non-payment of rent due to force majeure (flood, flood, earthquake, etc.) under their contract’s Article 8, there was no result in favor of ninety-eight merchants in a four-month meeting with the rectorate. The rectorate demanded that these rents be paid. The rectorate did not consider the outcomes of the applications made to various institutions such as the Council of Higher Education (CoHE), Directorate General of National Property, and Ministry of Environment, Urbanization and Climate Change and demanded a “Presidential Decision” from the tradespeople. As a result, METU business owners incurred huge debts. Where the monthly rents are up to 15.000 TL, the business owners say that they had left their investments and even some sold their cars and houses. ​​Of course, the situation is grim for those with no other assets except their shop.

As a result of the above situations and the crisis, once a relatively cheap life on campus in the past now no longer last. With doubled and tripled prices, the conditions on the campus became unbearable for students and workers.

The results of research conducted by a METU Economics department student, who made a presentation at the Turkish University Students Independent Economics Congress held in METU this year, showed that while 25 percent of the students have 2000-3000 Turkish liras as income, 40 percent have only 1000 to 2000 Turkish liras. Considering that these budgets are not enough for even three healthy and efficient meals per day, the gravity of the situation is evident.

The METU Cafeteria failed to be an alternative

Students, who were looking for a solution or a way out against the high living costs, had to turn to an alternative that could be considered cheap compared to the food prices in private restaurants or cafés. That is the METU Cafeteria. But, of course, this effort was also fruitless. Besides its inadequacy in the first term, by increasing The METU Cafeteria meal prices by 44 percent at the beginning of the second semester, the METU administration left students with malnutrition and hunger. The METU Cafeteria appeared as an institution that couldn’t fully meet the nutritional needs of the students, only provided incomplete and inadequate portions, only served two meals on working days, both of which are the same, and had no alternative for vegans.

Although one of the core reasons for these problems is the lack of personnel, the main reason is to create a demand for the privatization of the cafeteria. While the 120 employed-staff wasn’t efficient five years ago, now there are only 22 personnel works for higher demand.

The METU administration’s policy, which had its share of the privatization policies of the current government, did not use its resources to improve the cafeteria and fill the personnel deficiency but tried to form the following question for students: “Would I still eat a quality meal if it was the same price as in a private business?” Thousand of students in the middle of the economic crisis and poverty answered this question with more than five thousand petitions and actions and said “NO.”

Two particular elements stood out in students’ demands: healthy, sufficient, free meals and fair working conditions for cafeteria workers. As a result, students, who were organized with class consciousness and did not give up pursuing their rights, reached a point where they got significant achievements even though they could not grasp their whole demands. Some accomplishments include portion enlargement, replenishment of missing portions, and a vegetarian buffet.

Student-city relations

Let’s look at the city’s relationship with communities by putting the students at the center of the crisis in the triangle of Capitalist Power – Political Capital – Campus.

Le Corbusier, one of the pioneers of reinforced concrete, had an approach using “gross concrete” (brutalism), which is left bare without plaster or paint. According to the view, the columns are outside and visible. Thereby relieving the load of the walls and -so to speak- saving the design of this lightweight structure from being stuck between four walls.

This approach, which has an important place in the design of METU, shows itself, especially in the Faculty of Architecture. But unfortunately, although the first-period buildings remained faithful to this understanding after the foundation and moving to the main campus, this integrity was broken as time passed, and the harmony could not be preserved. Regarding the structures that disrupt this harmony, the following picture emerges: While there stand the magnificent and harmonious traces of brutalist-experimental architecture along a line, the rest are buildings with plastered concrete and cheap ugliness as a solid opposition to the university’s founding architectural roots!

With the assumption that space is a tautological approach that explains itself, the fact that cities, buildings, and spaces must have harmony with the intricate nature of social life within the complementarity and effect of the relationship between society and the individual is indispensable. While Robert Park describes the “marginal person” as the person at the center of conflicts in modern culture, he talks about a perception in which subjectivity is produced in society. He also explains a situation where the problems of the city and the individual often conflict and intersect.

It also becomes one of our realities that the person who creates their social existence with the city has problems of marginality. Therefore, while trying to construct their subject in a multicultural field, the individual seeks a solution to eliminate the confusion they experience. This remedy is harmony within the city. Likewise, the individual and the city are interlocked with an inseparable structure in today’s society.

On the other hand, the interests of the capitalist powers and the bourgeois call for the individual to liberate them in harmony and form a city that paves the way for modern slavery and labor exploitation which constitutes a building community where not aesthetics and function but dissonance but obedience are obligatory. And the individual moves away from the city to avoid staying in this pile and gives a new meaning to the city: OUTBUILDING!

Even though living on campus in the political capital where they can meet most of their needs, the students cannot be separated from city life. In a way, this has a counterpart for this group of people, which we can say to live in two cities simultaneously. The students are a “marginal community” that is stuck in the culture of two cultures, two places.

In the face of the complexity and countless possibilities of the outside, a campus with relative simplicity and freedom cracks the door to a process that leads this marginal community to another problem: the construction of the subject and the construction of uncertainty. In the grip of the pressures of political power and the economic crisis, students who try to maintain their lives and create their identities seek an escape route. A student is a piece of metal waiting for the day to join the system’s gears. But, of course, the student cannot swallow this and asks, “Can I change this?” This question is the reason behind this highly unemployed group’s organizational potential and organization. Organizing is now the only way to ensure that the mass and the structure are demolished and rebuilt, but this time for the benefit of the builder, the working class.

In the ongoing continuity of trends and rapid change, there are undoubtedly many problems for the student. Today, identity construction with method and theory awareness is an indispensable escape for students. The achievement of this identity construction will undoubtedly be the most realistic way out.

*July 2022

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