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The Middle East Studies Association’s Committee on Academic Freedom has called on New York University to bar the participation of a Turkish scientific agency it says has been directly involved in violations of academic freedom in an event being held on its campus this weekend or otherwise withdraw sponsorship of the event. NYU says it takes MESA’s letter seriously but “given the short timeframe” will proceed in hosting the event in which the Scientific and Technical Research Council of Turkey, or TÜBİTAK, is scheduled to participate as an exhibitor.

TÜBİTAK is among the exhibitors for the event. “What Can You Be With a Ph.D.” being held this Saturday and Sunday in association with Naturejobs at NYU’s medical school. In its Oct. 27 letter to NYU President Andrew Hamilton, MESA’s Committee on Academic Freedom alleges that TÜBİTAK “has played a leading role in the intimidation, harassment and repression of members of the Turkish academic community… Its actions have included the blacklisting of all the Turkish academics who signed the January 2016 peace petition calling on the Turkish government to address the grievances of the country’s Kurdish minority through peaceful negotiations, the denial of funding to scholars, conferences, and academic organizations on the basis of their alleged political beliefs or affiliations, and demands that Turkey’s academic journals purge their editorial boards of anyone the government deems critical of its policies.”

The academic freedom monitoring group Scholars at Risk says that thousands of Turkish academics have lost their jobs and some have been imprisoned in a purge which started with retaliation against signatories of the peace petition in January 2016 and accelerated after a failed coup attempt the following July. The letter from MESA states that “TÜBİTAK’s active collaboration in the destruction of the once-thriving Turkish academic and intellectual community is completely unacceptable by any professional and ethical standard, and cannot be condoned. NYU must refuse to treat TÜBİTAK as if it remains a legitimate scientific organization, and it must make it clear that it expects exhibitors at any event it sponsors to meet a minimum standard of respect for and adherence to the principles of academic freedom.”

The director of TÜBİTAK did not return emailed messages from Inside Higher Ed seeking comment.

Dafna Bar-Sagi, the senior vice president and vice dean for science and chief scientific officer at NYU Langone Health, said in a written response to MESA that this is the first year the medical school has worked with Naturejobs in putting on the event. She said Naturejobs has confirmed that TÜBİTAK’s role “is limited to that of an exhibitor, meaning they are present only to discuss employment opportunities with the graduate students and postdoctoral attendees who are interested.”

“We take your letter about this organization seriously, and we are looking into the issues you present. However, given the short timeframe, the event will move forward with this group as an exhibitor. We will continue to assess as more facts become available, as well as their potential participation in future events," Bar-Sagi wrote.

Nature Research said in a statement that its career conferences “provide organizations with the opportunity to exhibit based on whether they will offer relevant employment and grant opportunities to researchers at the event, and TÜBİTAK has been accepted as an exhibitor on that basis. Naturejobs reserves the right to review the participation of all organizations at future events.”