Constitutional Court rapporteur Osman Can has been fired from his teaching job at Çankaya University's School of Law, a post he held for four years. Can found out he was fired only when he called the school at the beginning of the academic year to learn his course teaching schedule. The university did not cite any reasons for firing the instructor, who is known for his liberal views.
In his recommendation to the top court on a case appealing against a constitutional reform package last March that would allow the headscarf on university campuses, Can had stated that there were no violations of the Constitution or any other principle of the rule of law represented in the headscarf bill. Despite Can's recommendation, the Constitutional Court, in a ruling in June, annulled the package that would have allowed covered women access to university education.
Can had also given a recommendation to the Constitutional Court advising against shutting down the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), in a case also filed last March by a public prosecutor accusing the government party of eroding secularism. The jurist was also known for his liberal stance on cases regarding Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK), which criminalizes what it defines as “defaming Turkishness,” a wording deemed by the European Union and Turkish intellectuals notorious for stifling freedom of thought. Can is also known for his support for conscientious objectors.
Although Can confirmed that news about him being dismissed was true, he refused to comment on the development. However, sources in academic circles commented that they were not really surprised about the university’s decision, saying they saw Can’s treatment as punishment for his liberal and left-wing views. Şefik Dursun, head of the University Instructors’ Association, was harsh in his reaction. “This incident has pulled down the reputation of Turkish universities in the international education arena.” Tahir Hatipoğlu, head of the Democratic University Platform said Turkish universities have traditionally driven away and dismissed liberal instructors and professors who remain outside official ideology. “Unfortunately, universities cannot keep free-thinking individuals. Can’s dismissal was heard in the media because he was a popular figure. But there are tens of instructors dismissed on the basis of their opinions.”
Çankaya University rector Ziya Güvenç said in a statement yesterday afternoon that his university had not had any problems with Can but would prefer to work with an instructor that had been educated at the university. “Osman Can has been assisting us in the past three or four years for about two hours at the school of law on a pay-per-lesson basis. He wasn’t hired full-time. We are trying to raise our own instructors. One of our Ph.D. students, İlker Kılıç, was recently given instructor status; we wanted to keep him, because we would have to fire him if we did not hire him full-time, under the law.” He also said it was expensive for the university to pay instructors coming to teach from outside the university.
Güvenç said the university had invited Can as a guest speaker to many a symposium on the headscarf and Article 301.
This is not the first time Can has lost a job for allegedly dissenting from state ideology. He was earlier dismissed from Ufuk University, where he taught constitutional law, on the grounds that his in-class usage of the expression “so-called citizenship” was improper. Outside academia, Can is an accomplished jurist as the rapporteur of the Constitutional Court. He reviewed two cases critical for Turkey -- one of them an appeal to get Turkey’s ruling AK Party shut down on the grounds that it was eroding secularism. Can had criticized the prosecutor for attempting to include President Abdullah Gül among the AK Party suspects in this case.
He also recommended that the court dismiss an appeal by the main opposition party to annul the constitutional package to allow headscarf freedom in universities, although the justices voted against the package in March.
Another critical case Can reported to the justices of the Constitutional Court was the so-called “367 decision,” when the Constitutional Court canceled in June of last year the first round of a presidential election where the winner was Gül.