Sharing the experiences of displaced researchers and fostering an academic community despite authoritarian oppression.
What is your community? Who is involved? Why did you start it?
We are a group of about 50 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. In Off-University, 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. A first milestone of Off-University research collaboration was the ‘Tough Questions about Peace’ online conference in October 2017. More than 10,000 active participants were involved in the discussions during the conference. In the second phase, we will develop a distant learning program that includes people from all parts of the world who have been forced to give up their work, research or studies due to war or political persecution. In the long run, we dream of creating a Peace University that combines in-class and digital educational settings.
What would you say was the main focus or goal of the community?
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: academics who have been purged from their institutions, forced to resign, who are legally and politically persecuted and even imprisoned because of their opinion and research.
Located in Germany, Off-University offers researchers and students with limited opportunity to move around freely an occasion to participate in online education. Off-University combines the good old ideal of academic freedom with state of the art digital communication and collaboration opportunities. Off-University’s mission is based on its commitment to peace in the world and to living together in diversity. It therefore seeks to develop emancipatory education-research activities that are less hierarchial and more democratic.
Why is your work important? What are you trying to do? What's meaningful about your work right now?
Our work is not only important in opening a space for the persecuted/oppressed scholars to be able to teach and research, but it also contributes to the overall struggle for creating an alternative vein for academic activities that is relatively independent from state oppression and the confines of the market mechanisms. It is also important that we use online platforms so that our lectures are open to all the participants from around the world. Having started as a safe heaven for a number of persecuted academics, now we have started to initiate into collaborations with similar institutions, introduce focus projects and slowly turning into a more institutionalized structure that would work as an alternative model.
(How) has the community changed over time?
Over time, our community became more inclusive and with the inclusion of scholars from different countries, the solutions we offer started to be more diverse, both in content and form.
(How) has publishing openly changed your organization/model?
We are aware that the alternative teaching form we offer should be complemented with independent publication mechanisms. We are currently aimed at giving more stress to publications. In that regard, open and alternative platforms such as PubPub gives us the opportunity to establish a basis for publications and broadcasts that are in tune with our goals.
Why did you choose PubPub? What other platforms did you try?
As mentioned above, the independent structure of PubPub is fitting into our overall aims. The opportunity of turning academic articles into a "living text" and keeping them relatively away from already marketised and alienated processes of academic publication is highly important to us. The first thing we did was to apply Off-University's brand identity, designed PubPub exclusive headers and background images.
For now we have three different collections and each have their distinctive styles. We would like to try custom CSS option in the future when we feel comfortable using it. We can say that we probably experimented with quite a wide range of elements, from sound and video to connections which we find very handy for referencing to the translations of the articles. We're still experimenting, learning the possibilities of PubPub. So we feel it would be premature for us to make comments on the features. However it would be nice to be able to edit certain style elements without the need of basic CSS knowledge.
What are the conditions in Turkey that lead to the necessity of this community?
In particular, the incentive was the wave of persecution that hundreds of academics from Turkey have faced due to their support for a peace petition that criticize the Turkish Government's military operation in the Kurdish regions. More generally, the overall oppression in Turkish universities leave no space for critical knowledge production. So our community is an attempt for answering these needs.
Displaced academics are either dismissed from their jobs by their university administrations, or forced into self-censorship by the same administration, or even worse, their governments. They are unable to go on teaching or conducting their research in a meaningful context. Helping them does not only mean to provide them with means of subsistence (which they almost surely need), but also to provide them with resources to continue with their research, and give them the opportunity to go on teaching. Doing all three at the same time does not only require financial resources (which it does), but also establishing an effective network of solidarity, making it possible to support them in their research and teaching, not to mention providing the intellectual environment which will nurture their advancement as scholars.
How do you address anonymity/privacy?
Anonymity, data protection and cyber security are top priorities for us. In communicating between the community, we tend to use only secure means of communications and applications. All the participants are able to stay anonymous. When it comes to the particular needs of our lecturers, we also keep them anonymous with regards to their own preferences.
Resisting means refusing to abide either by the limits, prohibitions and rules of censorship imposed by authoritarian/autocratic governments (usually in the so-called third- world), or by neoliberal university administrations all around the world, including, and probably mostly in, Europe and North America. Working in uncertainty brings an element of precarity to the academic profession, which was already there since the establishment of the first universities in the form of patronal caprice and arbitrariness, but has reached extreme levels since the neoliberal takeover of higher education. In countries ruled by authoritarian/autocratic governments and strongmen, this caprice and arbitrariness usually reaches extreme levels, maximizing the precarity and usually forcing scholars to seek employment elsewhere.
What are your goals with the Critical Peace Studies?
Funded by Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, Critical Peace Studies in Turkey is a particular focus project of us that is aimed at opening a space for lecturers that analyze the conflict and peace struggles with various dimensions. Building on the already existing academic corpus of Critical Peace Studies, the project aims at both applying this corpus to the conflicts in Turkey (mainly the Kurdish issue) and in return, underlining the particularities of the peace discourses and struggles in Turkey and providing more dimensions to the field.