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Anneke SmitLaw professor Anneke Smit serves on the steering committee for Scholars at Risk Canada.

Windsor a safe haven for scholar fleeing repression

In 2016, Zeyyat Bandeoglu spent two months in solitary confinement in a Turkish prison. His crime? He is an academic.

Dr. Bandeoglu was among thousands of university professors, civil servants, police officers, journalists and military officials jailed in the aftermath of a coup attempt in his homeland. After an investigation failed to turn up any evidence linking him to the political movement the government believed was behind the insurgency, Bandeoglu, now 39, was released with no charges. He was stripped of his teaching position, and the threat of re-arrest was ever present.

Bandeoglu has found safe haven at the University of Windsor through an international network called Scholars at Risk.

The network protects scholars whose lives, liberty, well-being, or academic freedom is threatened. It arranges temporary positions at more than 400 member institutions of higher education worldwide.

“I am very grateful,” Bandeoglu said in a recent interview in the office of law professor Anneke Smit.

Dr. Smit is on the steering committee for Scholars at Risk Canada, now 23 member-institutions strong. She and fellow law professor Sara Wharton worked to bring Bandeoglu to Windsor and helped him settle here. They enlisted the help of MPs Brian Masse and Tracey Ramsey when travel documents were delayed for Bandeoglu’s pregnant wife and two young sons.

“I am very happy and I’m very relieved to be reunited with my family,” said Bandeoglu, who, until late November, had been separated from his family for nearly three months.

While awaiting his family’s safe arrival, Bandeoglu has been quietly doing research and preparing lectures and course materials for two classes in law and political science he will teach in the winter semester. Knowing the clock is running down on his one-year appointment, Bandeoglu has also been applying for teaching positions and doctoral fellowships.

Bandeoglu has some connections in Canada — he did his master’s in European studies at the University of British Columbia — but “it’s hard rebuilding an academic career,” Smit said.

Bandeoglu, who specializes in border security, international security, and terrorism, used to teach at the Turkish Police Academy in the country’s capital. The government effectively shut the school down, removing faculty and appointing them to new positions. Bandeoglu was made to teach tourism and hospitality at a university in the coastal city of Izmir.

Some of his colleagues who are not still in jail find themselves in menial jobs to make ends meet. “They are working in the bazaar, selling fruits and herbs. There, judges and professors are selling parsley, apples.”

Bandeoglu said he learned about Scholars at Risk through a chance meeting with another university professor on a train. Each had noticed the other use ID to get the customary discount for teachers. The other man, whom Bandeoglu had not met before nor since, told him about the international network.

The University of Windsor joined Scholars at Risk in December 2015. Bandeoglu is the first scholar the campus has hosted under the program.

“The University of Windsor is committed to academic freedom, including freedom of thought and expression, and our joining Scholars at Risk puts us in good company with many like-minded educational institutions around the world,” said Douglas Kneale, UWindsor’s interim president. “We welcome Prof. Bandeoglu as our inaugural scholar, and we hope his time with us is productive and restorative.”

The cost of employing Bandeoglu will be shared equally by law, political science, and the central university budget, Smit explained. She said she hopes the university will be able to host Scholars at Risk regularly in the future.

Given Windsor’s location on an international border, bringing Bandeoglu here was “a good fit,” said Smit. He is an excellent resource for students researching border security and other international issues, and a touchstone to fellow faculty, she said.

“It makes us think about academic freedom and what that really means to us.”

—Sarah Sacheli