Veröffentlicht am 31.03.2021.
Awarded Professor and Alumni sharing their experiences about studying in Istanbul at one of the top ranked higher education institutions in the region
Bertil Emrah Oder is the Dean and Professor of Constitutional Law at Koç University Law School. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Cologne (Germany). She is a full member of Science Academy Turkey and All European Academies of Sciences and Humanities (ALLEA), Science and Ethics WG. She has been selected as Henry Morris Lecturer of international and comparative law in 2012. She holds the UNESCO Chair on Gender Equality and Sustainable Development.
She has contributed to the strategic litigations and human rights activism through advising in matters of constitutional review and European supervision, particularly the European Court of Human Rights. She has served in the executive or advisory committees of reputable research projects, research centers, and associations on human rights, and law journals. She also served as the co-president of the Law Schools Global League, 2015-2018. Fluent in English, German, and Turkish. She holds also LLB and MA/LLM degrees from the University of Istanbul and Marmara University (Turkey).
Alumni Elmar Tillmann studied in Leipzig and finished his LL.M in Private Law in 2020 at Koç University: "The Private Law LL.M. at Koç University offers you a comprehensive, general overview of the most important fields of private international law. At the same time, it is possible to take elective courses which belong rather to public law but overlap with the private law area. The program deals with the law of the European Union without being restricted to it."
Prof. Oder, you are the Dean of Koç University and teaching as professor, specialised in comparative constitutionalism, comparative constitutional review, EU law, international human rights law and gender equality. Why did you choose to become a professor at the Koç University and when and why exactly did you specialize in these areas?
Prof. Oder: Koç University is one of the leading global universities committed to the cutting-edge research and teaching marked in various international and regional rankings. Koç University Law School has been committed to the comparative and international studies law as well as interdisciplinary profile in the field of research supported by external and internal funding schemes.
Endorsing a CORE program of critical thinking in legal education, it represents successful model that combines the law curriculum with the scholarship of humanities, aesthetic and interpretative analysis, and empirical and quantitative studies. After receiving my PhD degree from University of Cologne (Germany), I pursued my career at Istanbul University with a focus on comparative constitutionalism, human rights, and European Public Law. Shortly after my promotion as an associate professor, I received an offer from Koç University valuing my scholarship and research career. Koç University has provided me a working environment supporting my scholarly endeavors in the field of constitutionalism and human rights with the full respect to academic freedom, collegiality, and institutional capacity.
During my legal education, I witnessed a period democratic progression worldwide. This shaped my professional inspirations and research career. Late 80ies were the years of the third wave of democratization and liberal-democratic constitutionalism embracing both Central Europe and Turkey. At the very same time, we followed the developments as regards the rise of regional or international human rights mechanisms in Europe, Latin America, and Africa. The legal and political discussions that surrounded constitutions, courts, and the transformation of law in the light of cosmopolitan approaches opened a new venue to young generation of lawyers worldwide. I was one of them devoted to a deeper understanding and promotion of constitutionalism and human rights.
The law as an institutional network of constructs can serve to its ultimate aim of justice if we do not reduce it to a bare notion of technicalities and pure legal formalism. We all know that the law represents what it ought to be (“Sollen”), but may mask the inequalities, subjugation, or irrationalities. The studying of constitutional law both in times of global democratization and in a context of progressive transformation provided me critical insights what the legal policy ought to be for a just and fair order.
Recently you won the "Defender of Constitutionalism" Prize, which was awarded the first time, by The International Forum on the Future of Constitutionalism. Can you explain the main purpose of the Global Summit and this first-of-its-kind multilingual gathering?
Prof. Oder: The main purpose of the Global Summit is gathering the global community of scholars to discuss the current agenda of constitutional studies worldwide in the best possible way of establishing an inclusionary and vivid model of interaction. During the Global Summit, the scholars from different generations, regions, languages, and scholarly interests shared the most recent research findings or ongoing research projects.
They received feedback from lively discussions of other scholars that comparative and interpersonal insights were sharpened. They developed new ties with the scholars from all around the world representing different scholarly perspectives. The Global Summit is a forum of scholarly exchange, intellectual enrichment, and outreach to the global community on equal footing. It provides an opportunity to listen to the recent scholarship of leading constitutional professors and inspire from them. Significantly, the Global Summit is a forum of constitutional collegiality that you feel inspired, learned, and empowered by becoming a member of the constitutionalist community.
Prof. Oder, you received this prize for your global efforts to advance human rights and equality. Which are, according to you, the challenges and difficulties of “constitutionalism” that we are facing this time and how could you defend your position in your scientific contributions and studies?
Prof. Oder: These are enduring times of liberal-democratic constitutionalism that a phenomenon of democratic erosion is observed in comparative jurisdictions including the entrenched democracies. This is mostly featured by institutional degradation, executive aggrandizement, exclusionary practices, and backlash to gender equality. In majority of erosions, the right-wing autocratic populism has caused a massive distortion on the minimum procedural standards of liberal democracy. The freedom of expression and the civic society are victims of repressive practices.
Different from closed autocracies and sudden collapse of constitutional orders by coups or abrupt usurpation, we observe an incremental form of democratic decline having an electoral base undermining liberal-democratic consensus and manipulating the democratic discourse by a toxic polarization. The democratic erosion abuses the constitutional normativity that some scholars adequately define this new fact as autocratic legalism, the “Frankenstate”, or the constitutional rot.
As a legal scholar committed to the ethical values of constitutionalism, I deal with both the patterns of democratic erosion and democratic resilience. The democratic erosion is the overarching theme of my comparative constitutional law class in our LLM program that we discuss selected issues targeted by regressive politics in a comparative context such as parliament under stress, journalism at risk, constitutional courts, and gender equality.
My classes have always an internationally diverse composition that we have the opportunity to discuss experiences of democratic decline and resilience in an in-depth manner and in an accurate context.
In your opening speech you emphasized with the dimensions of constitutional erosion and the role of constitutional scholars around the world. How did this award and the World Summit support this view and how do you feel about being awarded this price?
Prof. Oder: The Defender of Constitutional Democracy Award values the role and impact of scholarship against all kinds of constitutional declines including erosions and collapses. This award goes to the scholars who defend inherent values of liberal-democratic constitutionalism with their research, teaching, public engagement with an intellectual integrity, and sincere scholarship. It appreciates the academic freedom and hard work of constitutional scholars for democratic aspirations.
It is an honor for a constitutionalist, but more significantly a commitment of global constitutionalists to human rights, equality, and the rule of law. It gives the message to the constitutional scholars they do not walk alone, but with appreciation and recognition of other scholars.
Mr. Tillmann, you just finished your LL.M. in Private Law at Koç University. Why did you choose Koç University and did you have any difficulties with the application process and finding an accomodation?
Mr. Tillmann: Since German law graduates in general decide to accomplish an additional LL.M. more frequently nowadays, I tried to differentiate myself already by the choice of university. After putting Turkey on my short-list, finding the most suitable university within the country was a matter of minutes: Ask someone where to study law in Turkey, and he will recommend you going to Koç if you have the chance to.
Before applying though I visited the campus and Istanbul. Once I had seen that impressive University and the amazing city, I was hundred percent convinced. The whole application process was online and simple, the entrance exam was fair and to be solved at home for the foreign students. I decided not to move to the campus, because I wanted to stay in the city itself.
However, I remember that in my application interview I was offered to live on campus – which is a unique place. If you do not know anyone who can help you finding a flat, I would recommend you considering the dorms or at least a shared flat. Renting your own place in Turkey is not easy-going for foreigners.
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You chose the 1-year LLM Non-Thesis. What are the differences between this program and the Thesis-Program and what are the advantages of the non-thesis program in your eyes?
Mr. Tillmann: As the name suggests, the main difference is the lack of a real thesis in the 1-year program. This was offset by requiring us to accomplish three more elective courses than the thesis students. There is also a small project paper in a field of law of your choice, which is, however, more like a seminar paper.
In my opinion this program is the best choice for anyone who wants to get a LL.M. degree within 12 months. But for sure you will be studying harder than your colleagues within your two terms. If you are uncertain, whether that is the right choice, I can tell you that the Koç University is very flexible: If you wish for switching to the thesis program during the first year, they will endeavor to make it happen.
The location of the University in Istanbul is often referred to as „bridge between East and West“. How did you perceive the cultural exchange among the students and the differences between the legal systems?
Mr. Tillmann: In my one year at Koç, I got in touch with more different nationalities than in my whole life before. My colleagues were from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Russia, Moldova, the USA and Turkey, of course. All of them were interested in sharing their culture and curious about my own. This diversity positively affected the lectures since everyone brought in his or her knowledge about the legal system of his or her home country. A variety of professors made this possible: I learned from Turkish, British, Argentinean and Indian academics. Besides that, Istanbul itself at least doubled those cultural experiences.
Koç University has an alumni community of over 15.900 graduates in Turkey and abroad. Are you still part of the alumni community and the networks and what opportunities did the LL.M. from Koç University provide you after graduation?
Mr. Tillmann: I am, but since I graduated only two months before I am not very involved in the alumni network yet. However, I was told that the KUME alumni network of Koç can be very useful to find jobs, for connecting with other former students and participating in the wide range of events which are organized more and more online to let everyone take part, even in these days. I will definitely keep an eye on the network’s offers.
„The law as an institutional network of constructs can serve to its ultimate aim of justice if we do not reduce it to a bare notion of technicalities and pure legal formalism.“
Prof. Oder, after receiving the award, what can you pass on to your students as a professor in terms of “defending constitutionalism”?
Prof. Oder: Civic consciousness and democratic resilience. These are two guiding principles that I can pass to the students and everyone who would engage in defending constitutionalism. We need to sharpen our civic consciousness that require both the knowledge, internalization, appreciation of liberal-democratic achievements against degradation of human rights and institutions. Civic consciousness secures democratic resilience.
We should never forget that the values of constitutionalism represent the human development of societies, but they are fragile without our care. The lawyers have the responsibility to protect the constitutionalism and human rights. And the law’s transformative potential for constitutional lawyers can be only increased by the resilient lawyers defending constitutional democracy.
Besides your position as dean and professor of law, you are also the president of the UNESCO Chair for Gender Equality and Sustainable Development. What are your obligations in this position and how did this influence your studies, especially with regard to your award?
Prof. Oder: As the UNESCO Chairholder on Gender Equality and Sustainable Development, I support the studies tackling gender inequalities from a multidisciplinary perspective regarding the Sustainable Development Goals. In this respect, we have organized our UNESCO Chair as a hub for PhD researchers, post-doctorate students, and senior scholars that we collaborate for research projects, annual reports, blog articles, and UNESCO Summer Academy. Early career researchers are one of our main focuses that we organize graduate conferences and research methodology seminars.
UNESCO Summer Academy gathers young women professionals from all over the world by establishing a knowledge based network in collaboration with reputable institutions such as King’s College London and Academia Interamericana de Derechos Humanos.
My research studies as well as other activities under UNESCO Chair including the women leadership programs, capacity building projects, and legislative screenings supported by UNWomen and Inter-Parliamentary Union enhanced my public service at both domestic and global scale.
Through the pandemic everyone faces a tough time and the governments are reacting differently to this situation. In your opinion, is this situation dangerous for Constitutionalism in general and is it necessary to defend it right now?
Prof. Oder: The pandemic has showed us the hidden weaknesses of constitutional democracies such as the lack of a reliable emergency regime under extreme situations, failure of parliamentary procedures, difficulties of civic oversight under pandemic, transperancy issues regarding expert commissions, limitations on civic participation due to restrictions, the incapacities as regards the violence against women, and erosion socio-economic rights. The effective leadership based political accountability, public trust in institutions, and performance of welfare states against neoliberal policy preferences will be tested in the post-pandemic period. If constitutional democracies respond to their weakness that the pandemic unfolds, their resilience will be increased. Yet, we should keep on mind that pandemic will be also a test for autocracies.
Speaking of a tough time: how did you as a dean and professor react to the pandemic and how can and could you help your students?
Prof. Oder: Before the pandemic, I had already started the use of technology based and adaptive learning methods and tools because of my personal interest for an inclusive and engaged teaching and learning. This created an advantage for me to provide guidance to my own faculty members and students.
We established Center for Learning and Teaching, Writing Center, and a strong team of IT professionals that assist us in these difficult times. Koç University has also a technology-based learning management system that offers creative tools for students and professors. We have adopted a policy of remote teaching with synchronous online classes that are recorded. We have also increased the student engagement by applying hands-on online learning, presentations, break-out rooms, discussion boards, webinars, etc.
We have organized a variety of graduate panels, progress events, and online social gatherings for our PhD students. Our course evaluations have been rather high during pandemic, although there is no grade inflation. Since Koç University is a non-profit institution committed to a strong support scheme as a priority, we have allocated our resources to our students who are in need of computers or internet access.
Mr. Tillmann, the Corona pandemic challenged the Universities all around the world. Did this situation influence your time at Koç University and how did you deal with this difficult time?
Mr. Tillmann: In the end of February 2020, the situation changed fundamentally. No more face-to-face lectures, no more meeting your colleagues. In my opinion, the University did a good job in handling those extraordinary circumstances. It took them only one week to organize online lectures via Zoom which went all quite well and smooth. Compared with the situation right now in my traineeship, the time I studied at Koç feels like from the future.
Apparently the University received more applications from Germany. According to you, is there a higher number of German LL.M. students and how would you generally describe the student and campus life at Koç University?
Mr. Tillmann: Besides me, there was only one more German LL.M. student during my time at Koç. A few of my colleagues have been speaking German though. Being at the University really gives you the campus life experience. It is placed a little bit outside of the actual Istanbul. Look around and you will see nothing but forest – and the sea. That is the reason why you can find all kind of restaurants, a grocery store, a post office and even a gym on campus. It is always busy, students are hanging around and spend their free time or study together.
„In my one year at Koç, I got in touch with more different nationalities than in my whole life before. “
What was your most exciting, interesting or funny experience at Koç University and what advice would you give to prospective students?
Mr. Tillmann: Stray dogs are commonplace in Turkey. Soon I learned that people love them, feed and stroke them whenever they can. On campus, there was one permanent four-legged resident. One day, he followed a few of my colleagues and me into the law faculties building, to our lecture hall and laid down between the rows. The professor appeared, caught sight of the dog, smiled and started her lecture. If you consider studying at Koç, prepare for making experiences you would never in Germany, England or the USA. But I can assure you, your academic and individual life will be enriched sustainably.
Prof. Oder: We are in times of global uncertainties triggered by democratic erosions, pandemic, and other serious challenges such as climate change. Future lawyers in all professions need to adapt and respond to the times of uncertainty by keeping on mind their transformative role for just and equal societies. Critical mindedness, global cooperation and resilience are crucial for lawyers more than ever to develop rights-based solutions for promotion of justice and eradication of inequalities.
Mr. Tillmann: Studying a Master of Laws at Koç University was the best decision of my academic career. Not only because of the highly professional and knowledgeable professors, but also for the city it is situated at. There is no place in the world comparable to Istanbul and I will go there again as soon as I can.
Thank you, Prof. Oder and Mr. Tillmann!