Dear Prof. Harvey,
I am deeply honored that you will be our guest at Istanbul Bilgi University.
I realized that an open letter is addressed to you about your visit and talks at the university I have been lecturing.
I did need to write to clear some of the arguments in that letter which is obviously written under emotional and sectarian manners.
There have been several problems at Istanbul Bilgi University but these are not worse or grave than any other universities in Turkey. Why you can hear about them is because Bilgi U. remains to be the most transparent one in the country and many feel anger and anxiety about this openness and frustration that they cannot dominate the campus life.
Bilgi U. is legally a non-profit private/foundation university and it is not much different in that sense from the major private universities in US. Some of these those who share the open letter at social networks do in fact work at other private universities whose local owners can easily be seen as sources of capitalist exploitation. Or some depend on transnational funding networks who are as suspicious as can they be. Not to mention State universities some rely on…. Thus in terms of institutional context, no one is more clear.
In that letter it is claimed that “Bilgi University is … one of the major agents of gentrification around its three campus locations”. If anything, Bilgi U might be given as a best-practice example in gentrification debates in Istanbul. In an ill-intentioned manner, Bilgi’s neighbourly and constructive campus formations are juxtaposed to state-centered or other neo-liberal gentrification practices. Wherever Bilgi appeared, neighbours actually benefitted… The authors have either ill intentions or they are just plain ignorant of what they talk about.
Bilgi U. actually allowed unionization. This is a rare stance among Turkish universities. As a member of the union, I can state that the failure of the union is due to sectarian struggles among the Union members, not the University administration.
Finally, Bilgi U. remains to be the headquarters of freedom of expression in Turkish academia. Prof. Esra Arsan was definitely not fired because of her ideas. Our Communication School continues to have opponent scholars and is proud of this but as can be expected those authors are full of resentment against Bilgi U and are biased in most of their claims. I can probably refute most of the other claims in that letter but I assume I have already provided another view point to you.
This is not to state that all is good at the campus but we remain to be an intellectual island of freedom against all sorts of attacks, from the left to the right…
We will be honored to welcome you.
Assist. Prof. Erkan Saka
Istanbul Bilgi University
School of Communication
Lecturer at Media and Communication Studies MA/Public Relations BA