Freedom victory for Iranian scholars

March 17, 2000

TEHRAN

The reformist victory in Iran's parliamentary elections has allowed a modernising role for the country's academics and universities.

"This new democratic atmosphere will lead to a greater role for the universities in building our society," said Bagher Sarughani, chair of the faculty of social sciences at Tehran University. He expects the new government to include more academics, replacing the clerics who dominated the old parliament.

Elaheh Koolaee, director general of educational affairs at Tehran University, remembers earlier university involvement. "I was on the streets as a student during the revolution in 1979. Today we have the same aims, but we want to use different means to achieve them," she said.

In the elections, Dr Koolaee won a seat for the Iran Islamic Participation Front, the largest reformist party, led by Mohammed Reza Khatami, brother of Iran's president. She said she counted on students for much of her support. "I can say things that the students want to hear, for example as regards freedom of speech and opinion, freedom to set up societies. At the moment there are restrictions on student life in the universities, but I will change all that," Dr Loolaee said.

There are hopes that researchers will also gain more freedom. Dr Sarughani said research carried out in political science has regularly been censored by the government but he expected the new reformist government to give researchers a freer hand.

But morale in many universities is low. Professors complain of low wages and inadequate facilities. On at least one campus the saying goes: "The university insults the professors once a month with their pay cheque, and the professors insult the university once a week by turning up to give lectures." At Tehran's Alomeh Tabatabai'i University, facilities are limited and professors work three to a room, without computers.

But economics professor Farshad Momeini holds great hope for the future, especially for contact with the outside world. "We have started to have contact with universities outside of Iran, and we have set up exchanges for professors. Now with this new government, we are going to work more on student exchanges."

Dr Koolaee shared the enthusiasm for exchanges. She specialised in international relations, and although she rules out contact with American universities, she is keen to encourage more contact with universities in Europe. "We must get rid of the limitations in university life and in our political culture as well," she said.

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