Iran Faculty Dismissals Seen as Result of New Policy
Iran’s government has begun to remove academics who oppose the authoritarian regime of President Mahmoud Ahmedinijad, according to human-rights activists in the country. Activists say that the dismissal this month of two electrical engineering professors at the Iran University of Science and Technology in Tehran is consistent with a recent edict by the Iranian science minister to fire faculty members who do not share “the regime’s direction.” Science was unable to ascertain the official reason for the 13 April firings of S. Ali-Asghar Beheshti Shirazi, an expert in telecommunications, and his colleague, Alireza Mohammad Shahri, who, among other things, studies the detection of landmines. But human-rights activists say the pair were among 56 faculty members at the university who signed a 10 January letter to the chancellor decrying disciplinary actions taken against students who had participated in political protests on campus. The letter also expressed unhappiness over the beatings of protesters by outsiders, noting that universities needed to be maintained as “a place for political growth and social growth for students.”
Hadi Ghaemi, the New York City*based executive director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran (ICHRI), says the 5 April ouster of Morteza Mardiha, a philosophy professor at Allameh Tabataba’i University, is another example of the government crackdown. Ghaemi points to a 4 March statement by Kamran Daneshjoo, Iran’s minister of science, research, and technology, that faculty members who do not share “the regime’s direction” and are not committed to the rule of the SupremeLeader would be fired. In addition to the firings, ICHRI claims that more than 50 prominent faculty members who are sympathetic to the reformist movement have been forced to retire over the past year.
In parallel, the Iranian government appears to have opened thedoor to hiring and promoting faculty members who openly endorse the regime. Science has obtained a recent directive from the science ministry to universities describing procedures for evaluating existing faculty members and applicants. One form, titled “scientific qualifications,” lists academic criteria such as scientific publications and conference presentations. The other, titled “general qualifications,” ticks off some 17 criteria, including belief in the system of the Islamic Republic, being active in a local mosque, and cooperating with the institutions representing the Supreme Leader. The memo includes a form addressed to the intelligence ministry, asking for a report on the applicant’s political and social background.
This new evaluation process “opens up the system to political influence,” says Farhad Ardalan, a physicist who retired last year from Sharif University and is now a researcher at the Institute for Research in Fundamental Sciences in Tehran. “They have lowered the minimum so much that pretty much anybody could be hired,” he says. “It’s the worst thing that has happened to Iranian universities in the past 30 years.” Adds Ghaemi, “These policies will cause severe damage to the quality and reputation of Iranian academic institutions.”