American University in Turkey Says It Will Not Enforce Head-Scarf Ban

October 30, 2007

An American university is courting controversy in Turkey by allowing female students at its newly opened Istanbul campus to wear head scarves, a public expression of their Islamic faith that is forbidden at universities and government offices throughout the country.

The new 30-acre branch campus of Alfred University, which opened this month, offers an English-only curriculum that will focus at first on business courses and eventually include a full liberal-arts program.

Wearing head scarves at universities has been a focal point of controversy in Turkey in recent years, and last month Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan inflamed the debate by saying that his government would seek to overturn the ban.

All universities in Turkey, whether public or private, fall under the authority of the Higher Education Council, a staunchly secularist body that has been an unwavering supporter of the head-scarf ban.

Turkish news-media reports in the last week indicate that the council has already taken action against Alfred, by filing a complaint against the university for violating Turkish law. —Aisha Labi