More than one-third of the members of the Turkish Academy of Sciences (TÜBA) have announced their resignations after the government made only minor amendments to its plan to take control of the organization’s administration.
TÜBA is a scholarly society that recognizes outstanding scientists, conferring awards and fellowships to distinguished researchers, and makes scientific policy recommendations to the government. This past August, the Turkish government announced its plans to nearly triple the number of TÜBA members to 300, with most new members to be appointed either by Prime Minister Recep Erdogan or the Council of Higher Education, an organization under government control, instead of being elected by current members. In addition, the government would terminate the current president and appoint a new one, rather than allowing one to be elected by the members. But despite cries of protest— including letters of opposition from several European academies, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and others—the Turkish government responded on Friday (November 4) with only one minor change, ScienceInsider reported.
The concession—agreeing to appoint a committee to appoint 100 of the new academy members, rather than appoint them directly—was of little consolation to the researchers, who see the move as a power grab by the Turkish government, as the committee would be made up of politicians, businesspeople, and academicians. “It's basically the same story except for a cosmetic change,” Erol Gelenbe, a computer scientist at Imperial College London and one of the resigning TÜBA members, told ScienceInsider. “Government appointment of academy members is just not done anywhere.”
The government still has not provided an explanation for its decision, but because the academy is publically-funded and attached to the office of the Prime Minister, such changes are within the governments’ rights. So far, 54 of the 140 existing members have announced their resignations, and there may be more coming, according to Gelenbe. The resigning members have plans to start an academy of their own, he added, but without state funds, it may be difficult.
The current TÜBA President Yücel Kanpolat still plans to stick with the academy until his successor is appointed, ScienceInsider noted.