Interview with Rector Can Mugan

Interview with Prof. Dr. Can Şımga Muğan

A few weeks ago, there was a change at the top of our university. Rector Prof.Dr. Oğuz Esen had completed his term and Prof.Dr. Can Şımga Muğan took on his position. A woman in the most powerful job at IUE is something we find very exciting, so we were curious to find out more about her and what she would like to share with us.

We heard that you studied at Istanbul University. How was your life in Istanbul? What kind of a student were you?
You wouldn’t want to live my student life. That was in the mid 70’s, right before the 1980 revolution. We had a lot of fights going on between leftists and rightists, so I didn’t really have a student’s social life. I had a university life which was not too enjoyable due to the political and social circumstances of the era.

You worked at different universities such as Bilkent and METU. How different were your experiences?
I also worked at Istanbul University and the University of Buffalo. Educationwise, there is no difference between Bilkent and METU, because they are like brother and sister. And when we compare those two to IUE (I’m from Business so I can only talk for that department), the curriculums are the same.
However, when I attended university, the system was different. We took eleven different courses which went on throughout the whole year. We had the midterms in January and then the finals at the end of the academic year. It was purely lecture based. Later, when I went to teach there, it was semester based, the number of courses was smaller, but still the interaction was limited. The difference between METU, Bilkent and here is the student interaction. When student faculty interaction is better, you get more out of your faculty members. Students make use of their office hours, go and see faculty, and ask questions during the class.
Another difference is that here and now, you can have all your material either printed or online. My advice is to really read whatever course material is required. Do not wait until the exam date. Spare half an hour or 20 minutes every day, not much, but that will save you a lot of trouble. Read it aloud. Some of the words are jargon to your departments. For example, the meaning of ‘structure’ in software engineering and in architecture is different. Therefore get used to hearing them. And keep going in the first year, because you will hear lots of words you do not know. The size of the classes and the number of faculty members here helps a lot.

You are the first woman rector in IUE. How do you feel about it? What do you think about women in Turkish professional life in general?
This is a tough one because I don’t feel anything about it. It is another job to do. More responsibility. More busy hours as you see. So, it is a lot of responsibility. It is challenging. Now I am responsible as both the administrator and as a faculty member to fulfill students’ needs. To satisfy their needs and have them graduate. Sometimes our interests clash; what you like may not be what I would like you to do. But we can come together at some point. I’m a mother as well and I know how to say “no”, but I’m open to discussions and suggestions.
Women and men, I don’t think it makes a difference. Gender should not make a difference. Your quality of doing the job is the most important. In Turkey, we do not really see a lot of working women. No, I take that back. We see a lot of women in professional life, but not enough at the higher levels. In the cities, most women work. Even the cleaning lady who comes to your house has a profession, even though we may not see it as such. Look at the faculty members in university and your teachers in prep school. Most of them are women. In the Business School and in IUE as a whole, the balance is a very nice fifty-fifty. We don’t see that in large companies.
I believe that if you work hard, you will make it to whatever you want. I’m not the only woman rector in Izmir. There are 14 of us, but you don’t really hear about them right? See, that’s the way it should be. You hear from some people because they do something. Like Bogazici University, you know that Bogazici has a woman rector because she spoke up about something in the past few weeks. Gülay Barbarosoğlu. Also Candeğer Hoca from Ege University. You will hear it when they do something. That’s the way it should be.

You are also a lecturer. Could you tell us some of your funnier experiences?
Funny to them? Funny to me? When I was a beginning lecturer, my professor at that time said “Instructors are like artists in front of a camera. They have to play a part before the students. And they have to be presentable, prim and proper. “ He was absolutely right. How I learned it? My hair is now almost its natural color. A couple of years ago at METU, I sprayed my hair pink or blue or green, according to what I was wearing. My hair was shorter and spiky and I just sprayed. Five or six colors. Just a patch here and a patch there. A few years later, one of my students said “We were always wondering what color your hair would be when you came to class. That was the whole deal before you walked in.” How would it be if I do that as the rector here every day?

Do you ever think that you missed some part of life because of studying and working a lot? Are you happy with your life?
I don’t know. I’m happy. I’m content. Happiness is a moment. You are happy for one moment, full with joy and then something else happens and you are down. So, I’m content. Let’s put it that way. Do I regret that I worked hard? No. It’s the way I was brought up. I’m used to it. I never thought about being a rector, that’s a given. I like being with the young generation. The best thing I like about being at a university is that I can be with young brains. I don’t want students just to sit in the class and do nothing, playing with their phones. Like “ah, okay, let me have my attendance and let me go please.” That doesn’t help her/him or me.
If you take a hundred students, I can’t do anything for about fifteen of them because they are the way they are. They want to enjoy life when they are young. Fine, it’s a choice. I also can’t do anything for the top ten students, they will do good whatever I do. I can’t ruin them. I can help the remaining seventy five. The more I can push them to think about things, to think about every aspect of an issue, the more I help them. It’s not like high school. We have to open up your brains to new developments, ideas. Be creative. For example, if there is a program that somebody else has written, you don’t just accept it but you start playing with it. Think how your program B would be more efficient and shorter. Just think about how you can improve things instead of accepting the status quo.

If you do that, you work hard but because you like what you do, you don’t really think about what you miss. Because this is what you have.

What are your expectations for IUE?
To move on. To go up high in the rankings. We expect more of you, both when you are a student and when you graduate. Use the resources of the university, spend your time here, all year round. We offer a lot, but many students in the departments come to class with no notebook, not even a pen. We offer you blackboard, a camera system. Because lessons are in English, you may experience a language barrier and with blackboard you can go back to a lesson or lecture and watch it again. Use the available facilities: that’s what I expect from students.
If you are here, use what we offer you wisely. Enjoy your life. Of course you are young, you can never be 18 again. So, live to be 18, but manage your time wisely. It’s not all pleasure, it’s not all work. What will that give you? That will make you a good graduate. And, if we have well-known graduates, they will help you to get better jobs. All together we can help IUE to improve. And as that improves, we all grow together.

What changes will you make?
I don’t plan any serious changes, but what I would love to do? I would love to meet the students occasionally. To see how they are doing, what they are doing. I want to have a closer relationship. More ways to learn what is best for your education.

Remember that when you are bored in a lesson, the only way to stimulate a lecturer to give better lectures is to actively listen and ask questions. As a lecturer, when nobody listens or asks anything, I just stop and shout at them that “I know all this already, I don’t have to learn it again. You guys need to learn it. So, stop me, ask a question.” It’s an interactive process. I will try to understand generation Z better and be open to all suggestions. Because you are the upcoming generation. Start up the Z!