Paramilitarisation of Universities in Iran

Open letter to academic colleagues
and the academic community at large

Cyrus Bina and Hamid Zangeneh

The sixteenth of Azar (December 7) marked the commemoration of the 56th anniversary of student protest against Richard M. Nixon, the then Vice-President of the United States, who visited the Shah’s government of the post-CIA coup d’état in the late 1953 in Tehran. This was also an occasion for the continuation of protests against June 2009 post-election bloody crack downs against the Ahmadinejad administration and its benefactor, Ayatollah Ali Khameni, which in large measure would have also brought to light the 30-year unpardonable conduct of the regime to the court of the public opinion again. The Islamic Republic has now turned into a paramilitary regime beyond the imagination of both the Shah’s regime and the founding fathers of the so-called Islamic Revolution. The irony of recent history that had positioned the Iranians between a premeditated tragedy and an impulsive comedy: the former — the CIA intervention that brought the Shah back; the latter — the pathetic post-election coup that metamorphosed the regime toward an all-encompassing paramilitary state. The context below is more pertinent to this year’s Student Day anniversary than ever.

As the universities in Iran have turned into the bastion of paramilitary “Revolutionary Guards” and “Basijis”, the present-day post-revolutionary Sha’abaan bi Mokhs (literally, Sha’abaan the Brainless), like Mr Kamran Daneshjoo and Mr Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, portray themselves as learned individuals worthy of respect. These individuals, whose numbers are skyrocketing and whose purpose has nothing to do with learning and scholarship, have been able to get phony degrees and titles that presumably give them respect and thus prop up their stature to sugarcoat their thuggish and unbecoming mission as the agents of repression in Iran. Mr. Ahmadinejad, of course, is a talented man who wore many hats in the past; he was a one-time assistant executioner in the notorious Evin Prison in which he was reportedly putting the final bullet (tir-e khalas) in a political prisoner’s head. Ahmadinejad and his cohorts in the “Revolutionary Guard” and Basij are thus desperately seeking such titles in order to do their dirty work in disguise — as a “respectable” make-belief academic authority. And this is but a horrifying parallel for some of us who know one or two things about Iran’s recent history that the senior interrogators under the Shah’s regime too used to call themselves “Doctor”, when they engaged in interrogation by means of torture leveled routinely against the tied-up political prisoners in the same prison in Tehran.

For instance, Mr Ahmadinejad, a formerly Pasdar (i.e., Revolutionary Guardsman), who was the Governor of Province of Ardebil (1372-1376 H.S. [1993-1997 A.D.]), and who himself once boasted that he had worked 18 hours a day during the entire four years of Governorship in that province, amazingly “earned” a doctorate degree, perhaps granted to him by “Mahdi” (Emam-e Zaman) himself during the same period. Someone should ask Ahmadinejad where he had found time in the same period to complete a doctorate degree. This is only the tip of the blunder, a telling story of almost all the Pasdar and Basij candidates who were planted as the watchful spies and agent provocateurs in the classroom and then rewarded with bogus degrees in universities in Iran. Yet the genuine students who were often incarcerated and abused for political activity are being marked as “starred” and routinely barred from further study for life.

On the top of this, many individuals — who were decidedly appointed as spies and sent abroad in order to identify the Iranian dissidents within the university circles in major western countries, have falsely claimed to have completed a degree programme or two in these universities, upon accomplishing their job and returning to the country. In this manner, Mr Daneshjoo — comrade-in-arms of Mr Ahmadinejad and his recently appointed “Minister of Sciences”— is a quintessential example. He does not only lie rather outrageously about a “doctorate degree” he has never earned but also continuously photocopies the work of others in broad daylight and publicises it as his own.

Mr Daneshjoo (and his alleged co-author) had literally carbon-copied the original paper (by Lee, Lee and Shin 2002) and in full public view turned it rather magically into a “brand new” paper under his name (Daneshjoo and Shahrawi 2009). Mr Daneshjoo also alleges (which upon ample investigation turned out to be a baseless, and perhaps, shameless claim) that he has earned a doctorate degree from an institution of higher learning in London, England. However, upon ample investigation by our colleagues it turned out that his claim is baseless. As the saying goes, we have seen this movie before in our beloved birthplace and elsewhere, but not in such an outrageous manner and in such a mass quantity that puts the original Ford assembly line to shame. This is only expected of the government of Munchhausen (1) and the community of con-artists under Ahmadinejad. And, aside from their real role as the agents of repression in the Islamic Republic of Iran, we are (in consultation with many of our distinguished academic colleagues) convinced that this tiny gesture — i.e., a formal academic sanction that follows in this piece — is necessary.

The academic community has no border. And the institutions of higher learning in Iran are no exception. We all have a standard to go by, and these outright cheatings and egregious acts of dishonesty have no place in the academic community at large. This also speaks both to one’s character and one’s qualification as a learned person, yet — in the case of Iran under the Islamic Republic — it has become an art form and a class by itself to paramilitarise the universities in order (1) to contain nearly all administrative and faculty functions that lend themselves to education of the most promising intellectual stratum of the population and (2) to control and reverse the atmosphere of tolerance for (universal) academic freedoms, critical thinking, and authentic curricula and genuine acquisition of knowledge, particularly in social and political sciences in Iran.

We need to watch the Iranian universities at the commencement of current academic year, particularly in the aftermath of the post-Election bloodshed that laid bare the paramilitarisation of the economy, polity, and the public space and that had metamorphosed the Islamic Republic since the election of Ahmadinejad in 2005. There are unconfirmed reports to the effect that the Ahmadinejad government is now planning to do away with all “western” social science disciplines in major universities. This is a cause for concern, as it is a reminder of the so-called earlier “cultural revolution” that made all the institutions of higher learning in Iran a target of “purification” and that led to a summary dismissal of “subversive” professors — under the authorisation by Abdolkarim Soroush and Mohammad Khatami (both of whom are now in the opposition) — in the early 1980s. And if this turns out to be true, it undoubtedly would be the largest attempt at obliteration of higher education in Iran, which is a major step toward wholesale Talibanisation of university education under Ahmadinejad. The cruel irony is that (since the 1906-1911 Constitutional Revolution) Iran without a doubt possesses the longest record of democratic movement, scientific endeavour, and advance toward modernisation than any other nation in the region.

The clerical regime is now transformed into a full-fledged paramilitary state. These paramilitary agents of repression are now in the driver’s seat in both the administrative leadership and the faculty committees, and thus set the academic agenda in major universities. Just a few days into the post-election upheaval, the plain cloth Basij picked up Dr Mohammad Maleki — a prominent scholar and former chancellor of Tehran University. These plain cloth Basijis are the member of the same unit that in the immediate aftermath of post-election upheaval suddenly (and unprovoked) stormed through the Tehran University dormitories, destroyed much of the structure, beat and arrested the residents, and tied up several students before throwing them down from the roof on to the concrete pavement below to their eventual death. Dr Maleki has been kept incommunicado in the notorious Evin Prison till the time of this writing. And no amount of appeal to the United Nation Secretary General has so far produced a tangible result. According to his spouse, Maleki — a 76-year old who suffers from advanced cancer of prostate, abnormal heartbeat and diabetes — did not even vote for any of the proposed presidential candidates and certainly had no involvement with Mir Hossein Mousavi’s camp. He is accused of “collaboration with the enemy”, a blanket charge that has been commonly conjured up, and nowadays is rather methodically leveled, against those who defy the arbitrary political arrests by this government and its ruthless and rent-a-cop paramilitary goons. Simply put, barrel of the gun emanates more “reason” than the wisdom of Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, Rumi, Hegel, Russell and Whitehead combined in today’s Iranian universities.

Thus, as Iran specialists and academic persons of international repute — who have approved granting of university degrees and safeguarded the universally recognised standard of qualification for thousands of candidates (American and non-American) for a combined period of nearly 60 years across several institutions of higher learning in the US —

We hereby revoke Mr Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s and Mr Kamran Daneshjoo’s alleged and proclaimed degrees (bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate) by means of this electronic letter and based on the unimpeachable evidence concerning the lack of authenticity in performance, forgery of the academic credentials for political purposes, and simply the integrity of the said persons above on the 16th day of Azar of 1388 (Iranian calendar) equivalent of the 7th of December 2009.

(On the Seventh Day of December of Two-Thousand and Nine)

This action is the tip of the iceberg, as it is miniscule in comparison with the courageous student resistance, which involves risking lives (along with scores of silenced and jailed faculty) in the institutions of higher learning in Iran. Yet, we believe, this is a symbolic task that should speak to the wholesale annulment of all fictitious degrees received by all members of “Revolutionary Guard” and Basij paramilitary contingents — who were deliberately exempted from the entrance exams and other essential curricular requirements and who have deliberately obtained fictitious academic degrees from the institutions of higher learning — over the last 30 years under the Government of the Islamic Republic — in Iran. This also pertains, for instance, to Mohammad Reza Rahimi (Ahmadinejad’s first Vice-President appointee), who is reportedly claiming a doctorate degree from abroad and could not produce it, at the request of the inquisitive deputies —led by those who do not even belong to the “reformist camp” — during his very recent confirmation in the Iranian Majlis. It is important to realise that paramilitarisation of universities has already led to the displacement of the bulk of student body by either silencing or incarceration without cause, arbitrary jail sentences, and even plain torture at the hands of authorities in Iran.

Therefore, the question here — i.e., academic dishonesty and granting of fake degrees that in this case have already led to the destruction of academic environment — is not limited to our professional interest but it also open the Pandora’s box of why the best and brightest Iranian students must be dismissed so arbitrarily from the universities and, more importantly, why, for instance, Tehran University campus (once a Harvard of Iran’s higher education) should become the site the so-called Friday prayers by the government, as if this is the only place to be used as a makeshift freaking mosque in this godforsaken land! We ask our colleagues in Iran and abroad to support this symbolic gesture for it does not only concern our narrow professional responsibility but also our universal duty for unconditional defence and promotion of human rights in Iran and anywhere around the globe.


(1) Baron Munchausen (1720-1797), a German adventurer known for his compulsive lying.

Cyrus Bina, Distinguished Research Professor of Economics at the University of Minnesota (Morris Campus), is an Associate Editor of the Journal of Iranian Research and Analysis, the author of The Economics of the Oil Crisis (1985), and co-editor of Modern Capitalism and Islamic Ideology in Iran (1991).

Hamid Zangeneh, Professor of Economics at Widener University in Pennsylvania, is the Editor of the Journal of Iranian Research & Analysis, co-editor of Modern Capitalism and Islamic Ideology in Iran (1991), and editor of Islam, Iran and World Stability (1994).

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