On August 27, members of the Turkish Academy of Sciences (TÜBA) were outraged to find a government issued decree stripping their institute of its autonomy. The decree states that the number of academy members will triple from 100 to 300, with half of new academy members appointed by government officials, and half by the Council of Higher Education (an organization under government control). The existing 100 members will continue to serve. The TÜBA president will no longer be elected, but rather appointed, and honorary members will lose their General Assembly voting rights. Yücel Kanpolat, TÜBA’s current president, has faced an immediate end to his three-year term under the new decree, although the government is allowing him to stay on until it chooses a replacement.
TÜBA members at first considered walking out en masse to form their own independent academy, but any new organization would struggle without government funding. Instead, members have informed Turkish President Abdullah Gül of their discontent and hope to persuade the government to reconsider the decree. Because the academy is a publicly funded agency, the government does have the authority to change its structure, and the academy itself cannot appeal the decision. The government could be challenged through Turkey’s Constitutional Court by political parties or members of parliament, however.
The government has offered no explanation for the sudden changes, though members speculate that the decision does not have to do with censoring sensitive topics like science versus religion. Rather, Kanpolat believes, the Turkish government is on a campaign to “penetrate into the independence of institutions,” he told ScienceInsider. Regardless of the rational, Kanpolat fears the changes are “destroying the most important aspect of this scientific institution”—impartiality.