YÜKSEK ÖğRETIM KURULU (YOK)
The Turkish Council of Higher Education, a policy-making and planning body.
The Yüksek Öğretim Kurulu originally was established in 1973, but in 1975 Turkey's Constitutional Court found its mandate to be incompatible with academic freedom and in conflict with the administrative autonomy of the universities. However, constitutional amendments after the 1980 military coup enabled its resurrection. Since then it has served as a liaison among the state, government, and universities. Its primary functions are to coordinate all resources allocated to higher education and to regulate academic activities. Its chairperson and some of its members are directly appointed by the president of the republic. The remaining members are appointed by the president from among candidates nominated by the government, the chief of the general staff, and the university senates.
Both in 1973 and much more urgently in 1981, the bureaucratic-military elite felt the need to depoliticize higher education. To this end, YOK ended the tradition of individual university senates electing deans and rectors. Instead, YOK gives the president a list of candidates it deems appropriate. Many political party leaders criticize YOK as an antidemocratic organization that restrains academic freedom, both directly and indirectly. Since the mid-1960s, numerous pieces of proposed legislation have sought to curb YOK's authority to intervene in academic issues.
YOK sought to standardize higher education in the early 1980s by determining the curricula to be followed in all universities, and soon became the target of widespread protests. Its position on the practice of veiling on university campuses also met with vociferous criticism. In 1983, it introduced the first nationwide prohibition against female students attending classes and taking examinations while wearing the veil. The Parliament overruled this ban in 1988 with a law that allowed "the covering of the head and the body on the basis of religious faith," but this law was annulled by the Turkish Constitutional Court. When the escalating Islamist mobilization in the 1990s rendered secularism the most crucial issue, and YOK its most reliable vanguard, the Council's authoritarian decisions went unobjected to by the state elites, despite vehement social opposition.
With the pro-religious Justice and Development Party's accession to the government in November 2002, a proposal to reform YOK's mandate was reinvigorated. This proposal endorsed a maximum of four years of service for Council members and rectors; selection of the chairperson by the Council; appointment of rectors by the President upon the recommendations by the university senates; nullification of all disciplinary charges against the faculty and students; and pardoning of students that dropped out because of academic absence. In this respect, the proposal attempted to restrict the YOK's administrative powers and to restore educational rights to veiled students who had been dismissed from the university. Although almost all social groups agree on the democratization of YOK's mandate, the proposal is regarded, especially by secularists, as hastily prepared and as an attempt to expel its current chairperson, Kemal Gürüz, rather than to initiate real reform.
Bollag, Burton. "Clash of Turkish Leaders Stalls Higher-Education Reform." Chronicle of Higher Education 48, no. 45 (July 19, 2002): A 35.
Özdalga, Elisabeth. The Veiling Issue: Official Secularism, and Popular Islam in Modern Turkey. Richmond, U.K.: Curzon Press, 1998.
YOK. Available from <http://www.yok.gov.tr/english/index_en.htm>.
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