Until March, Sedat Laciner led Canakkale Onsekiz Mart University (COMU), one of Turkey’s largest state institutions of higher learning, with more than 35,000 students. Laciner, a professor of international relations with a doctorate from King’s College, London, is also a public figure, frequently writing op-eds and appearing on political TV talk shows. He once was sympathetic to the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, but in the past two years had grown critical of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s authoritarianism. This led some pro-Erdogan commentators to suggest that Laciner might be a “parallel,” in other words affiliated with the much-despised Gulenist movement headed by Fethullah Gulen. Others noted that he had a photo of former President Abdullah Gul in his room, not one of Erdogan, allegedly making his politics suspicious.
The presidents of Turkish universities are called rectors and are elected every four years. The renewal process is quite interesting, surprising Westerners used to thinking of universities as autonomous institutions. In Turkey, the academics at universities select candidates for rectorates from among themselves, but the results of these mini-elections are not decisive. According to the centralization-obsessed Turkish Constitution, all Turkish universities are controlled by the Higher Education Board, which itself is controlled by the country's president, who has the ultimate authority to appoint the rectors of state universities.