The Eleven-Pronged Assault of the Illegitimate Government on Universities in Iran
“The intent behind my decision is to stabilize the leadership, that is, unless there is an urgent need for change. Wherever and whenever I come to the conclusion that there is a need for change, I will act to effect that change but I have not reached that conclusion as of yet.”
These words were spoken by Kamran Daneshjoo, Minister of Sciences, Research, and Technology in Ahmadinejad’s current—that is, second—administration. Daneshjoo, whose educational credentials are ambiguous and have come under much scrutiny, was the director of the Electoral Commission of the Interior Ministry during the scandalous Tenth Presidential Election in June 2009. In recognition of his loyalty in holding the fraudulent 2009 election, Daneshjoo was promoted to this ministerial position: according to Ahmadinejad, Daneshjoo was sent to the Ministry of Sciences, Research, and Technology in order to “engineer” the transformation in that ministry.
During his one year as Minister at the Ministry of Sciences, Research, and Technology, Daneshjoo has made an effort to have as his guiding principle and key strategy Ayatollah Khamenei’s and Ahmadinejad’s criticisms of the situation in the universities: in order to put this strategy into practice, he has chosen to pursue the following eleven-pronged strategy.
1. Continuation of the Policy on Mandatory Retirement and Dismissal of Professors
One of Daneshjoo’s most important initiatives has been the continuation of the policy on mandatory retirement for professors who have been critical of the regime’s policies and alternative thinkers, as it were, especially in the fields of humanities and social sciences: this policy was initiated during Ahmadinejad’s first administration (2005-9) and has been implemented with greater speed in the course of Daneshjoo’s tenure as minister. Most of these professors have taught in fields such as political science, law, literature, philosophy, history, communications, sociology, psychology, etc. These fields fall mostly under the rubric of humanities: Ayatollah Khamenei has personally announced his dissatisfaction with the situation in these fields of study.
2. Elimination of the Autonomy of the Universities and Colleges in Recruitment of Their Faculty Members and Focused Recruitment of New Professors by the Ministry of Sciences, Research, and Technology
Before Daneshjoo’s tenure as Minister of Sciences, Research, and Technology, it was possible for institutions of higher learning to choose their own professors. However, now the task and process of choosing the faculty members of such institutions has been placed solely and squarely in the hands of the Ministry of Sciences, Research, and Technology.
On the one hand, even as discussions are ongoing on the establishment of professorships and chairs in subjects concerned with independence and freedom of thought, we are witnessing, in action, exactly the opposite as professors who are independent thinkers and critical of the regime are forced into early retirement. As a norm, professors are dismissed or forced into early retirement if they do not publish new studies or contribute to their respective fields or if they are deemed inefficient and lacking, for example, in scientific qualifications or credentials. However, in this case, exactly the opposite is true: experienced professors are replaced by individuals who do not possess the necessary credentials and qualifications for holding such positions.
A number of such professors are in prison and, after having been fired by the universities in Iran, have been recruited by some of the best institutions of higher learning in the world. One such professor is Dr. Hossein Bashiriyeh, who was one of the best Political Science professors at Tehran University. Bashiriyeh’s classes were so popular among the students that his classes were usually oversubscribed and were not able to accommodate all the interested students. Dr. Bashiriyeh is currently teaching at Syracuse University in the U.S.A.
It is as though if someone criticizes the regime in Iran, he or she will pay a high price. In the last year, in an open letter, a number of the most distinguished economists and professors at the ‘Allameh Tabatabai University voiced their criticism of the economic policies of the Ninth and Tenth Governments (Ahmadinejad’s first (2005-9) and second (2009-present) administrations). Since then, most of these professors have been either retired or dismissed.
Certain officials in the Ministry of Sciences, Research, and Technology are trying to convince people that the dismissal and elimination of some professors is due to their disagreements with Islam and not with the government. A number of these officials are of the opinion that, under any circumstances, the goals and regulations of the Islamic regime can have priority over any viewpoint.
Some time ago, Ms. Zohreh Elahian, a member of the Parliament--previously in charge of the Basij Female University Students’ Mobilization Militia--announced that to foster knowledge and make productive scientific advances on the basis of divine principles, Ministry of Sciences, Research, and Technology must give the highest priority to the matter of dismissal of secular professors who are active enemies of the regime and who seek to pursue their own political agenda--directed from abroad.
Using religion for political ends is a potent strategy from which many officials have profited in the past years.
3. Assisting in the Arrest and Dismissal of Student Activists in Institutions of Higher Learning
At the start of Daneshjoo’s tenure as Minister of Sciences, Research, and Technology, a large number of university students who opposed the regime and who were arrested during the 2009 post-election protests were still in prison. However, under Daneshjoo’s tenure as Minister, the courts began to issue heavy sentences for the said students. During this time the disciplinary bodies of the universities themselves as well as the Ministry of Sciences, Research, and Technology began to issue and impose much more stringent disciplinary actions against the protesting students who were critical of the regime as well. For example, during Daneshjoo’s ministry, Mohammad Amin Valian, a member of the Central Assembly of the Islamic Association of University of Damghan received a death penalty verdict from a charge of “moharebeh” (waging war against God [and the State]) as punishment for having thrown a few stones on ‘Ashura (the sentence has not yet been carried out). A large number of students were arrested at gatherings assembled at various universities for the purpose of protesting the post-2009 election protests: these students are still incarcerated. Under the said circumstances, due to the cooperation of Ministry of Sciences, Research, and Technology itself with the courts in their encounters with student activists, clearly the staff and bureaucracy of the ministry did not make any attempt to havw these students released.
4. Weakening and Eliminating Independent University Student Organizations
The encouragement of the voicing, and the co-existence, of alternative opinions are among the prerequisites of a free scholarly environment such as an institution of higher learning. However, given the current stance and approach adopted by the Ministry of Sciences, Research, and Technology, the only associations or organizations that are currently able to sponsor and participate freely in activities at universities are those which support the regime. In his speeches, Daneshjoo has repeatedly announced that he will not permit organizations that do not side with the regime to be active in universities. This is why there is almost no sign of Office for Consolidating Unity, the longest standing university association or organization in Iranian universities at this time. In fact, even this association’s very name has been expropriated by students who support the regime. Of course, the pressures applied to associations or organizations that have not sided with the regime appear to have prevented the revelation of various and different opinions and tendencies: however, it cannot be denied that various organizations and viewpoints have taken shape nevertheless. This is the case because the existence of a multiplicity and variety of opinions within the prevailing discourse has become part of the fabric of the universities’ existence.
5. Strengthening and Equipping the Institution of the Basij University Students’ Mobilization Militia
While a large number of Islamic Associations at various universities are either shut down or about to be shut down, the Basij University Students’ Mobilization Militia is being strengthened with the support of the government, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the Majles, and even Iran’s courts. The Basij Students’ Mobilization Militia in the universities is active under the direction of the relevant District Basij University Students’ Mobilization Militia, itself one of the sub-sets of the IRGC. Members of this organization are usually authorized to engage in name-calling and even physical assault against students who protest the policies of the government. The Basijis enjoy a certain degree of immunity from persecution for engaging in the above-mentioned actions. Following the extensive, post-election anti-government assemblies and protests in the past year, Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Naqdi, Commander of the Basij Mobilization Militia, became directly involved in the situation: he replaced the President of the Basij University Students’ Mobilization Militia for the purpose of more severe suppression of alternative thinkers or dissidents at the universities. Given the large budgetary allowance it receives, through the training sessions and summer camps it sponsors, this organization justifies its membership and prepares its members for encounters with protesting assemblies during the upcoming academic year at the universities.
6. Shutting Down Critical and Independent Student Publications
Pressure for the prevention of publication of independent student publications at universities was intensified quickly during Ahmadinejad’s first administration, but this was the first time that the Minister of Sciences, Research, and Technology himself announced in one of his speeches that he will not tolerate these types of publications. For this reason, a large number of such student publications were shut down and the student activists who contributed articles for them were summoned by disciplinary committees. In addition to these pressures, with the cutting off of financial assistance, in practice, the capability of publishing a number of such publications no longer existed. This was the case because student publications are published largely with financial assistance in accordance with the Press Code and cutting off financial assistance made it impossible for such publications to appear.
7. Organized and Systematic Assault on Fields of Studies in Humanities
According to senior officials of the Islamic Republic, humanities have played an important role in provoking negative public opinion toward the confrontation with the regime. Last year, Ayatollah ‘Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic, made the following announcement: “The basis of humanities (which are taught at the universities in Iran via translated text books) in the West is a materialistic worldview which is in conflict with our Koranic and religious values. We must search for the basis of humanities in the Koran.” Fear of this materialistic Western worldview, has caused the ruling body to strive to solve this problem by dismissing and eliminating longstanding professors and extensively attracting professors who side with those in power in the arena of humanities. In addition, in the past year, in cases wherein it agreed with the creation and extension of new fields of study at the country’s universities, the High Council of Cultural Revolution has strived to minimize its approval of humanities sub-fields and to concentrate its attention on technical and religious programs.
8. Ultimatum: Either the Universities will Change (i.e., Toe the Regime’s Line) or The Leaders of the Country’s Top Universities Will be Relieved of Their Duties
This summer, Daneshjoo announced that he will dismiss those university presidents or supervisors who either do not side with the policies of the regime or do not demonstrate the requisite cooperation in executing his declared policies. Accordingly, the presidents of Khajeh Nassireddin Toussi University, Chamran University in Ahvaz, and the supervisors of Qom University, Shiraz University of Industry, Mazandaran University, Vali-e Assr University of Rafsanjan, University of Comprehensive Applied Sciences and Technology, and Sharif University of Industry were all relieved of their duties.
In connection with these changes and replacements, Professor Sobouti, President of Zanjan University, who had outstanding scholarly and research credentials and experience, was dismissed by Daneshjoo. Members of the Majles from Zanjan in the Islamic Consultative Assembly took umbrage at this action taken by Minister of Sciences, Research, and Technology and asked that he re-examine his decision.
Extensive protests against the fraudulent 2009 Presidential Election took place at the majority of these institutions of higher learning. For example, at Khajeh Nassireddin Toussi University, protests took place several days in a row. During these protests, students chanted slogans against the Ahmadinejad Government and demanded the release of students who had been arrested.
At Mazandaran University too, students pulled down Ahmadinejad’s photo. At Shiraz University, students objected to the presence of ‘Ali Larijani, Speaker of the Majles: furthermore, from the podium, a student declared the Majles illegal. At Kerman University, following a visit by Hossein Saffar Harandi, then Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance in the first Ahmadinejad Government, students chanted slogans in protest and tore up a photo of Harandi along with one of Ahmadinejad.
9. Reduction in Authority of Scholarly or Scientific Boards, Colleges, and Universities and the Concurrent Increase in the Powers of the Ministry of Sciences, Research, and Technology and External and Para-University Institutions
In addition to the reduction in the authority of scholarly boards, colleges, and universities in attracting new professors, application by Daneshjoo of his direct and personal power and pressure vis-à-vis the various aspects of activities in universities has resulted in a situation where, in effect, instead of scholarly boards, colleges, and universities being the key decision-makers in matters concerning institutions of higher education (as has been the tradition), these institutions essentially have been rendered powerless and passive. In their place, external and para-university institutions--e.g., Office of the Supreme Leader, Basij Mobilization Milita, the Ahmadinejad Government, the Judicial Branch, the Intelligence Ministry, and the IRGC—have, in practice, become the main decision-makers in the university and academic spheres of Iran.
10. Facilitating the Entry of a Backward Seminarian Mentality into and at the Universities
Before the Ahmadinejad Government, a backward and anti-university mentality was fostered by individuals such as Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi in seminaries in Iran. During Khatami’s presidency, this mentality did not make inroads into universities. However, once the Ahmadinejad presidency began, especially in the Tenth Government (2009-present), not only the universities but also all the key institutions of the Islamic Republic--e.g., the IRGC and the cabinet--were encouraged to take note of and follow Mesbah Yazdi’s stances. Mesbah Yazdi has now become one of the key spokespersons in government and regime circles, to the point where, in his latest utterances, he mentioned that the seminaries now suffer from an inferiority complex and the universities suffer from a superiority complex.
11. Organized Efforts towards Changing the Direction and Alignment of University Jahad and ISNA News Agency
Since 2005, the Ahmadinejad Administration’s efforts have focused on dominating two relatively independent-thinking institutions within the universities: the University Jahad and Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA), the student-run news agency. Despite repeated changes in their respective leaderships, these two institutions have not fallen under the complete control of the Ahmadinejad Government and the ruling regime yet. The attempt at forceful takeover of the Molavi Hall of the University Jahad by the leadership of Tehran University is but one such example. It is worth noting that Molavi Hall has been one of the pillars of the independent student theaters for decades.