Voices from (the) Off
Off-University creates new strategies to uphold and sustain academic life and knowledge threatened by anti-democratic and authoritarian regimes. It was established for and by academics from Turkey yet addresses itself to academics all over the world. We aim to bring together people and institutions that share a commitment to global peace as a defining ideal and the vision of a less hierarchical, more democratic, and free academia.
How does this look like in practice and how is Off-University different from other institutions? Paying tribute to the collective spirit on which our association lives, the following questions have been collected by our project coordinator A. and answered by various people who hold different positions and positionalities within our organisation and society as a whole. We invite you to listen to our voices from the Off and imagine an academia otherwise.
What does Off-University mean to you?
A.R. (former lecturer at Off): Off-University means not giving up. My experience motivated me to pursue my studies and carry on despite hardships. It also symbolizes an endless search for a free and democratic academic environment, not limited to physical spaces.
T. (founding member): Off-University means a secure place to keep on doing what we were accustomed to do. It also means being in solidarity with our colleagues who are stuck in the country.
J (founding member): To me it means a little bit more than “just” continuing what we were doing before. I am unhappy with the way university works in many places. In addition to supporting academic freedom and rewiring academic networks that were shattered by persecution, flight, and exile, I hope that Off-University can be part of establishing another academic culture.
When and why did you found Off-University?
T. (founding member): We founded Off-University in May 2017 with 24 founding members. The idea behind the foundation was (re)establishing our network – with our students and colleagues – despite the restricted travel rights we had. It was obvious that the internet could provide us all rights that were taken from us.
J. (founding member): In Berlin, we also were in a specific situation. I knew both Tuba and Christoph from Istanbul. Everyday other friends and colleagues from Turkey where arriving in the city. To some degree it was this “thrown-togetherness” that enabled us to make the step from having a crazy idea to actually implementing it. The situation for scholars in Turkey got worse in the days after the attempted coup in 20161. For the signatories of the peace petition, this crackdown had begun already a couple of months before.
Scholars were fired on publicly released lists that were published during the night. When you appeared on such a list, that didn’t only mean that you lost your job, it also included a travel ban and a professional ban. While people were no longer allowed to work and travel, they were waiting for a verdict by a court. We woke up every morning with news from scholars detained in early morning raids. For many, these measures meant total social isolation. We felt that we needed to do something that quickly made a difference in the life of scholars. To use the internet – and this was basically what we knew about online education back then – seemed possible.
I for myself also always thought and still think, that the signatories are the crème de la crème of the universities in Turkey and people I would like to work with. In this sense this “thrown-togetherness” or shared fate, if you like, was an advantage. A university of signatories would be the best university of the country!
How does Off-University address the material aspect of political persecution?
J. (founding member): The scholars at Off-University earn a living wage that enables them to continue life as a scholar at least for the time they are teaching.
How is teaching at Off-University different from conventional universities?
A.R. (former lecturer at Off): Teaching at Off-University has a charm, arising from the voluntary participation of students across the globe. Students bring their unique experiences into the online classes, and they learn from not only the instructor but also their classmates. It is a challenge to teach students from different settings and with diverse interests. Still, it is delightful to see that participants’ enthusiasm and the smooth functioning platform usually combine to enhance not only the student learning but also the teaching experience.
How was your experience as an online course participant at Off-University?
Participant from “Academic Freedom in the MENA Region”: In the beginning of the course, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but my experience as an online participant turned out to be extremely enriching. In the course I took, we were constantly invited to critically think and challenge beliefs. Also, the focus on a region outside of Europe and the course being thought by lecturers from this region made the experience valuable, and different to many other seminars usually offered by universities.
If you would like to get involved with Off-University as a volunteer, host institution, or lecturer, please get in touch with us via mail[at]off-university.de. To participate in our free online summer term courses, visit our website.
English: We are a group of a bout 70 persecuted and/or exiled scientists, enthusiastic learners and dreamers of a different education system. Some of us have come to Germany from Turkey as a result of the recent political developments, others have been working here for years.
German: Wir sind eine Gruppe von etwa 70 verfolgten und/oder exilierten Wissenschaftler*innen, begeisterten Lernenden und Utopist*innen eines anderen Bildungssystems. Einige von uns sind aufgrund der jüngsten politischen Entwicklungen aus der Türkei nach Deutschland gekommen, andere arbeiten seit Jahren hier.
1 On July 15th, 2016 there was an attempted coup d’état in Turkey. During the state of emergency that followed the attempt, the Turkish government didn’t only target supposed supporters of the coup, but also other government critics such as human rights activists, LGBTQI* activists, and academics. A more recent attack on academic freedom in Turkey has occurred in the assignment of a government-backed rector to Boğaziçi University. More information is availabe here: https://bianet.org/english/education/237853-bogazici-solidarity-calls-for-protest-against-the-appointed-rector