Tehran dismisses university lecturers
Fifty-two more dismissals: this brief news item in the Tehran daily Etemad triggered a wave of indignation at the end of August 2023. The newspaper thus topped off the list of university lecturers who had been dismissed from their posts in Iran in recent years. Since 2005, at least 157 teachers at Iranian universities have been dismissed, suspended or compulsorily retired, Etemad summarised.
The wave of dismissals continued in September. Among those affected are lecturers who displayed a critical stance of the regime during the nationwide unrest following the death of Jina Mahsa Amini in autumn 2022, supported the protests and protesting students, or denounced the political, economic or social course of the Raisi government.
In the few official dismissal notices published on social networks in recent weeks, the dismissal is justified by academic misconduct, the expiry of an employment contract, or even a lack of professional competence.
Some lecturers, such as two psychologists at Tehran's Allameh Tabatabai University, say they were not informed of their dismissal in writing, but only via a phone call. One of them, Ameneh Aali, confirmed in an interview that she had taken part in last year's protests, signed petitions and supported protesting students. Somayeh Sima, a lecturer at Tehran's Tarbiat Modarres University, shared indirectly last weekend that she had been dismissed for choosing not to be a "follower".
This viral video from the University of Kurdistan in western Iran shows students holding hands and dancing while chanting “Woman, Life, Freedom” in Kurdish. pic.twitter.com/cqUo4c2KNq
— Iran International English (@IranIntl_En) November 2, 2022
Loyalty over quality
Meanwhile, details of a government plan to hire 15,000 new teachers at universities and colleges have surfaced in recent weeks. Although the reports have not been confirmed, neither have they been denied by the government. On the other hand, the hiring of "maddah" Said Haddadian at Tehran University has been. A "maddah" is a funeral singer who performs religious songs at mass events on behalf of the regime.
Surprise and bewilderment were all the greater in the social networks when Haddadian's new teaching assignment became known: He is to teach Persian literature in the master's programme. Said Haddadian performs on religious occasions for, among others, the spiritual leader of the Islamic Republic, Ali Khamenei. He thus belongs to the regime's innermost political circle.
The employment of two controversial television presenters as lecturers at the elite Sharif University in Tehran has also been confirmed.
"Prominent lecturers are being dismissed because the authorities hold them responsible for last year's unrest," Ali Rabii, once labour minister in Hassan Rouhani's government, wrote in an article for the daily Etemad. "Incompetent but supposedly loyal figures are taking their place."
Undeterred by a brutal crackdown, male and female students at Sharif University in Tehran—considered Iran’s MIT—chant “freedom, freedom, freedom!”
— Karim Sadjadpour (@ksadjadpour) October 23, 2022
Consequences for educational standards
Experts are sounding the alarm in view of this restructuring at Iran's higher education institutions. In a statement in September, the association of Iranian university lecturers criticised the "mass dismissals" and "mass hiring" of lecturers, but also an "atmosphere of surveillance" and the "curbing of university independence". Last week, Mohammad Reza Aref, a well-known politician from the so-called reformist camp and former Iranian vice-president, resigned from the lecturers' selection committee at the elite Sharif University in protest.
Experts fear the wave of dismissals could cause Iranian universities to slip in world rankings, leading to an increased brain drain and academic frustration. One prominent example illustrating such concerns is the case of dismissed lecturer Ali Sharifi Zarchi.
Last weekend, Zarchi, until recently a lecturer at Tehran's elite Sharif University, announced on the short message service X (Twitter) that he had been elected chairman of the scientific committee of the International Olympiad in Informatics [editor's note: a prestigious annual international computer science competition for high school students].
Zarchi had sided with the protesters during last year's nationwide unrest and informed the public about student arrests.
Those in power, however, remain unimpressed. A lecturer loyal to the regime at Tehran University described the dismissals as "normal and common". The performance of lecturers is constantly monitored and many contracts are not renewed, he said in response to the criticism. Last week, the arch-conservative Tehran daily Kayhan called for stricter measures against "some lecturers" who "poured oil on the rebels' fire" during the unrest following the death of Jina Mahsa Amini.
Still no compliance
The current wave of dismissals at universities is strongly reminiscent of the initial phase of the 'cultural revolution' in Iran. The political campaign launched in 1980 – shortly after the Islamic Revolution – by the then-revolutionary leader and founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, was intended to Islamise the Iranian education system.
Within three years, over 700 professors were dismissed and thousands of students were forcibly de-registered. Such restrictions and dismissals have continued ever since, reaching new heights time and again – including during the term of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (2005-2013) as well as currently under the government of Ebrahim Raisi.
The aim of the political campaign is to strengthen the influence of religion in society and consolidate the results of the cultural revolution. The Islamic Republic is countering the loss of control with ever more stringent measures. Four decades after the establishment of their regime, the rulers still speak of the "need to produce a revolutionary generation".
This is to be achieved through cultural revolution, ongoing waves of dismissals at universities and a strict Islamic education policy. There is a particular focus on the humanities. Ali Khamenei, religious leader of the Islamic Republic, is considered a great critic of the "Western humanities" and is a declared advocate of the so-called "Islamic humanities".
In interview with the Persian-language Internet platform Radio Farda in Prague, Dariush Rahmanian, another suspended university lecturer, stated that parts of the regime suffer from a kind of "university phobia", especially in the field of the humanities. Yet other state organs are also expected to contribute to the "emergence of the revolutionary generation". At the end of July, the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance announced its intention to fill 400 additional posts - with young, active regime supporters.
Many critics, however, consider the Islamic Republic's propagandist cultural policy a failure. This is reflected in the fact that the youth, of all people, who were supposed to be indoctrinated by Iran's post-revolutionary "Islamised" education system, have been protesting against dress codes for a year now, thus rocking one of the very cornerstones of the Islamic Republic's value system.
The mass dismissals and pressure on students, however, were also meant to have a deterrent effect and prevent new unrest shortly before the anniversary of Jina Mahsa Amini's death on 16 September. Summonses and arrests of activists and family members of last year's slain protesters provided confirmation.
Former labour minister Ali Rabii is certain that this too will prove to be a mistake. "Contrary to the intended goal of making universities apolitical places and preventing possible protests there, it is likely that the protests will only increase," Rabii wrote in a newspaper article.
© Iran Journal/Qantara.de 2023
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