'Chador' row at top of state contained

President Abdullah Gül put an end to a nascent controversy with the staunchly secular institution

'Chador' row at top of state contained

President Abdullah Gül said yesterday that there have been problems with the existing rector appointment system but emphasized he had not accused the Higher Education Board (YÖK) of falsely reporting that a rector candidate's wife wore an Islamic chador, putting an end to a nascent controversy with the staunchly secular institution.

In a statement released soon after YÖK President Erdoğan Teziç denied the accusation at a hastily arranged press conference, Gül said his remarks, published in Today's Zaman and other newspapers yesterday, were meant to underline how a completely false allegation concerning a rector candidate could make its way to the office of the president due to deficiencies in the current system. "I didn't say the note in question came from YÖK. This incident has nothing to do with YÖK," Gül said.

In remarks aboard his plane en route to Pakistan on Sunday, Gül said he was amazed by how serious the problems in the current higher education system could be and revealed, as an example case, that he had received a document in the early days of his presidency concerning rector appointments and saying that the wife of one of the candidates wore a black chador. But a subsequent investigation revealed that the candidate in question -- reportedly Osmangazi University Rector Fazıl Tekin -- has never been married.

Gül also said he would be pleased if a "pro-freedom personality" becomes the new YÖK head. His remarks came just days before the four-year term of current YÖK head Teziç expires on Dec. 8 and were widely interpreted as bringing to the surface once again a deep division between YÖK and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) of which Gül was a member before being elected president in August.

YÖK, accused by critics as being a remnant of a 1980 military coup, suspects the AK Party government is trying to undermine the secular regime by undermining its firm grip on rector appointments and the university administration system. Pro-government critics say it is trying to turn universities into an anti-government platform and promote only like-minded academics in administrative positions.

YÖK has also opposed the government's plans to reform the Constitution drafted under military rule in 1982, calling for the suspension of the reform drive, but the government has responded sharply to such criticisms, saying YÖK should "mind its own business."

But relations appeared to thaw after Gül's election as president. Teziç paid a visit to Gül in September during which the two discussed problems of universities and sidestepped controversial issues such as the headscarf ban in universities. Teziç, in remarks made after that meeting, also appeared to soften his opposition to constitutional reform, saying his criticism was only aimed at the method of the reform and that his remarks were misinterpreted.

In a press conference yesterday Teziç said YÖK documents presented to the president contained only brief academic curricula vitae of the rector candidates named by his institution, echoing a statement released by YÖK earlier in the day. YÖK names three candidates for each university, from amongst which one is appointed by the president as rector.

Teziç also said Gül had told him about the "chador" incident and that they had laughed at the baseless allegation together in a Sept. 25 meeting. "I told him that such notifications come to many state institutions at times," Teziç said, adding that he had not asked the president what the report's source was.

Teziç went on to say that YÖK has never sent reports on rector candidates' spouses to the presidency. "We have never thought we needed additional information on the rectors' spouses. No rector candidate has been questioned concerning their spouse. We are examining the rector candidates -- we are not interested in their private life or family," he said.

The government-YÖK divide remains a potentially explosive issue days before Teziç's term in office expires. The main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) immediately sided with YÖK after Gül's remarks were published in the newspapers, saying the president was still acting as the AK Party's spokesman and unjustly blaming constitutional institutions like YÖK.

"The president made a baseless accusation against YÖK to undermine this institution," said the Republican People's Party's (CHP) Mustafa Özyürek hours before Gül denied accusing YÖK in his statement.

OECD: YÖK should have no place in student placement system

Meanwhile, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said YÖK played a "highly controversial" yet central role in the student placement system in universities and added that the Student Selection and Placement Center (ÖSYM), the main authority in charge of the university selection and placement system, should be free of any control exerted by YÖK.

The OECD report also noted that students in vocational high schools, including the religious imam-hatip schools, were subject to unjust restrictions in university entrance and called for removal of these restrictions. According to the report, student enrollment in imam-hatip high schools dropped by 27.5 percent between 1997 and 2001 after new regulations practically blocking graduates of these schools from entering universities were put into force. Only 2.8 percent of imam-hatip graduates were able to gain entrance to a four-year university department in 2003, it noted.

According to the report the current university placement system provides only a small chance to high school students to enter a university if they do not attend one of the elite high schools, which are limited in number.

Today's Zaman

Güncelleme Tarihi: 04 Aralık 2007, 15:35