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Former Turkish president, academic leader honored

By : Sarah Lifshin

Turkey's former president and a top higher education official were honored last week by SUNY and Binghamton University in recognition of a unique collaboration between America and Turkey.

Süleyman Demirel, former president of Turkey, was awarded a SUNY citation, the highest award conferred by the system, by Chancellor Robert L. King at a ceremony October 8. Kemal Gürüz, president of the Higher Education Council of Turkey, was conferred an honorary doctor of humane letters by the chancellor and President Lois B. DeFleur.

King and DeFleur were joined by presidents from four other SUNY institutions, as well as faculty leaders and a member of the University Council, for the ceremony that culminated a day of meetings and talks. “I have been 50 years in my country’s service … as an engineer then as a politician,” Demirel told the gathering in the Anderson Center. “My entire life was spent in struggle. I struggled for democracy, I struggled for human rights and I struggled for my country.”

The dignitaries were commended for their work in advancing educational opportunities of Turkish students and their support of an international collaboration that is breaking new ground.

“Their support of the dual-degree program between Turkish universities and SUNY institutions will yield important dividends both for Turkey and New York,” DeFleur said. “We are delighted to have the opportunity to

President Lois B. DeFleur talks with President Demirel before the awards ceremony.
day to honor their vision and leadership.”

Beginning this fall, students in Turkey are enrolled in programs that will allow them to earn diplomas from their Turkish institution, as well as from SUNY. Up to 75 students are expected to be on campus next fall for study in global and international affairs, and information systems. Eventually, up to 500 Turkish students a year could participate in the program. In addition, American students will be encouraged to pursue similar study programs in Turkey.

During the ceremony, Demirel spoke to the audience about “Turkish-U.S. Relations: the New Political Landscape of the Middle East Since the Collapse of the USSR” and Gürüz spoke about “Higher Education in the Global Knowledge Economy.”

Demirel and Gürüz, along with officials from the University and SUNY, said the collaboration between the two educational systems is important for both nations.

“The joint degree program that is being established between SUNY and Turkey marks a milestone event in the internationalization of our campuses,” DeFleur said. “This is an opportunity to celebrate and strengthen ties between Turkey and the state of New York and to recognize the achievements of two outstanding leaders in international diplomacy and higher education.”

The daylong visit also included an informal a meeting with Turkish students.

Aysegul Aydin, a PhD student in polit

The campus community, including School of Management Dean Upinder Dhillon and Serdar Atav associate professor of nursing, were among those who attended the ceremony.
ical science, said she enjoyed the group discussion where Demirel and Gürüz asked what students enjoy at Binghamton and the cultural diversity and different events on campus. “I told him I came here because of the quality,” said Aydin, who completed her undergraduate studies at Bogazici University, which she described as the Harvard of Turkey. “Binghamton is one of the best universities in New York.”

Cenk Erdil, a PhD student in computer science and president of the Turkish Student Union, said Demirel told students he wanted Turkish campuses to be like Binghamton. He said 20 percent of students in Turkey go on to higher education, but the former president wants to raise that level to 40 percent.

Demirel, an engineer by training, served three times as prime minister of Turkey before becoming president in 1993. King said that the former president’s devotion to world affairs and his country — along with being a champion of higher education — made him a deserving recipient of the citation.

“His accomplishments exemplify what this citation represents,” King said. “Mr. Demirel’s support of higher education, including international educational exchanges, has been one of the hallmarks of his leadership. Higher education in Turkey has expanded profoundly during his political tenure. As both prime minister and president of the republic of Turkey for much of three decades, he has been t

Ziya Kabasakal, a graduate student in political science, speaks to Guruz during a reception.
he leading voice for peace and stability, and democratic development in the eastern Mediterranean region and across the world.”

The visit came a day after Turkey agreed to send troops to aid the United States in Iraq, a decision Demirel said he supported.

“Iraq should not be another Palestine or Israel,” he said. “Law and order should be restored to Iraq. Then there will be an Iraq better than Saddam Hussein’s administration. As a neighbor of Iraq and a friend of the United States, Turkey should be part of setting this up. Violence and terror must stop.”

Gürüz, who holds a doctorate in chemical engineering, is serving his second four-year post on the higher education council. He said expanding higher educational services will not only benefit the students but also the world economy.

Gürüz said that among the 1.5 million foreign higher education students in the world, 600,000 study in the United States, 200,000 in the United Kingdom and 100,000 in Australia. Together, international students contribute nearly $12 billion to the U.S. economy from tuition fees, living expenses and related costs. Global spending on higher education is estimated at $300 billion.

“I am honored that you would find me worthy of a degree from one of the finest universities, not only in the country but the whole world,” Gürüz said. “Universities as institutions have stood the test of time.”
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Last Updated: 10/14/08