University Purge in Iran: Crisis in Higher Education
Today, we look into the sweeping dismissals of professors across at least 150 universities and the university purge in Iran.
This situation is both timely and alarming. The expulsion of students began several months ago, and now, in August, professors are also facing termination. These actions coincide with the approaching first anniversary of the nationwide uprising in 2022 and are driven by the regime’s fear of another revolt. Their goal? To quash last year’s leaders—the students—and stifle the university, which served as a focal point for protests.
During last year’s nationwide movement, universities played a vital role in the protests. Today, numerous university students and professors have been arrested, summoned, banned, suspended, or terminated.
In August, the pace of professor dismissals increased significantly. They were let go for various reasons, including retirement and academic performance. So far, we have verified the names of over 60 dismissed professors, including a dozen women.
At Tehran’s Sharif University of Technology, a student association voiced their objection to the dismissal of a professor, noting that security measures have intensified to the point where it feels like the university is under the control of security agencies. They also issued a warning: “The dismissal of professors who do not align with the government’s agenda and the security confrontations with students will not only lead to the university community’s disillusionment with the government but also result in a daily exodus of Iran’s intellectual elites.”
In Iran, the university has long been a symbol of freedom and a breeding ground for progressive ideas, which has drawn the hostility of the regime since its inception.
Khomeini, the mullahs’ first supreme leader, viewed academics as products of Western education and labeled them as arrogant. In 1980, he declared that the actions of academic institutions influenced everything in the country.
This led to a ‘Cultural Revolution‘, resulting in the dismantling of universities in April 1980. The universities remained closed for three years, and tragically, 17 students lost their lives, with over 2,000 students injured. Many students and academics were arrested, and detained, and some even faced execution.
The regime’s Cultural Revolution Council purged professors and academics, established committees for control, and introduced measures to reshape higher education institutions according to the ruling regime’s ideology.
During the first Cultural Revolution, 45% of university admission slots were allocated to the paramilitary Basij and the Revolutionary Guard Corps members and their families. Additionally, a law was passed to facilitate the enrollment of Iran-Iraq war combatants in universities, all aimed at exerting control and reshaping the academic landscape.
Today, the dismissal of professors, often labeled as university purge has continued with professors who supported protesting students and opposed the regime’s policies being replaced by individuals aligned with the ruling regime.
The Iranian Union of University Professors protested against these dismissals, revealing that a resolution by the National Security Council, dated January 10, 2023, sought the recruitment of 15,000 academic staff aligned with the “Islamic Revolution.”
A state-run newspaper expressed grave concern, warning that welcoming 15,000 individuals into academic positions could potentially lead to a catastrophe for higher education in Iran.
This complex history highlights the regime’s persistent efforts to control and reshape the academic landscape in Iran, suppressing voices of dissent and progressive thought.
A state-run media outlet acknowledged the futility of the ‘purification’ process in universities. It stated, “Fundamentally, the notion that the new generation will be controlled is entirely false.”
Notably, the regime’s repressive actions targeting universities will not shield it from the determination of Iranian youths and students. These developments reveal a regime struggling to maintain control as it approaches the anniversary of last year’s uprising and the final stages of its rule.