One-Third of Turkish Academy Resigns in Protest of Government Takeover

Members of the Turkish Academy of Sciences (TÜBA) are making good on their threat to resign in protest of what they see as government intrusion on the autonomy of the organization. Despite a small change in the government's plans, announced on Friday, at least 54 members—more than one-third of the total—have now said they will cancel their membership.

The government's initial plan, announced 27 August, would have expanded TÜBA's membership from its current 140 members to 300: 100 appointed by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdoğan, 100 appointed by the government-run Council of Higher Education, and the rest elected by sitting members. That announcement garnered letters of opposition from various European academies, the Third World Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (which publishesScienceInsider), and the International Human Rights Network of Academies and Scholarly Societies. The government's exact motives are unclear, but most scientists see it as one more power grab, following replacement of many judicial and military officials with political appointees in the past year.

On Friday, the government made what appeared to be a concession: Instead of directly appointing 100 academy members, it would appoint a small committee to appoint those members, effectively "putting a buffer between themselves and the appointment process," says Erol Gelenbe, a computer scientist at Imperial College London and one of the resigning TÜBA members. But the committee would not be made up of researchers, but of politicians, businesspeople, and academicians. "It's basically the same story except for a cosmetic change," Gelenbe says. "Government appointment of academy members "is just not done anywhere," he adds.

Like the first decree, the change was announced right before a long holiday. The first resignations came in immediately, and the list has continued growing; there may be more than the 54 who have made their decision public, says Gelenbe. Resignation could be a risky step for some, he adds; although Turkish universities have expressed concern about the intrusion, TÜBA members who are state university employees may fear for their jobs.

The members who have resigned plan to begin their own academy, and Gelenbe says they want to import TÜBA's infrastructure and governance system. The harder part will be getting by without state funds, but there's hope that universities, companies, and possibly other organizations in Europe will pitch in.

TÜBA President Yücel Kanpolat, whose appointment is due to end in December, said in a September e-mail to ScienceInsider that he will not resign and leave the academy without leadership, preferring to hand over control to his successor. "He's going down with his ship," Gelenbe says.