Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Somewhere, universities remain relevant and important

And that place is called... Iran.

A battle over the largest university in Iran, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, also shows the divisions within the Iranian establishment. Here is part of a long article:

By Golnaz Esfandiari
A dispute over control of one of the world's largest universities has turned into a fight between government bodies that is exposing deep fissures within the Iranian establishment.

At the center of the tug-of-war is Azad University: its leadership, board, 1.4 million students, and tens of billions of dollars in assets.

On one side are hard-liners within the Iranian establishment, most prominently President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, who appears ready to punish Azad University for its alleged support for opposition candidates in the 2009 presidential election. Supporting Ahmadinejad is the Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution (SCCR), whose resolution to alter the Azad University's charter, replace its current head of Azad University, and change its governing board was recently approved by the president.

On the other side are the conservatives within the same establishment, mainly former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who co-founded the university in 1982 and now the heads its board of trustees. Also supporting the conservatives are parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani, and Abdollah Jasbi, the university head who is up for replacement and is a close Rafsanjani ally.

Matters came to a head on June 19 when the university's board secured a temporary injunction that prevented the SCCR from enforcing its revision of the university's charter.

The next day, a bill was rushed through the 270-member parliament that effectively circumvented the government takeover of Azad, by allowing universities to endow their properties to the public.Azad University's board had previously decided to endow the properties of the university, which has 357 branches and satellite campuses throughout the country.

The legislative move was quickly met with demonstrations outside parliament by Ahmadinejad loyalists.

In the wake of the heated protests, 100 legislators made a counter move by voting for emergency discussion of legislation that would support the SCCR's authority in the matter. This, in turn, could result in a bill that would effectively overturn the endowment bill passed on June 20. The counter move led to an uproar in parliament, with legislators exchanging insults.

Now it is up to the Guardians Council, which must approve the legislation, to decide on the matter, and for Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to weigh in. The result could either strengthen Ahmadinejad and his allies or give some leverage to his rivals who are trying to curb his influence.

High Stakes

The fight has already been ugly at times. During the June 22 protesters outside parliament, which included members of the Basij militia, threatened to place the parliament "under fire" unless it backed away from its bill.

And that's just the various factions of conservatives fighting each other!

Image: picture taken from Wikimedia Commons. The photographer is named, believe it or not, Mani Parsa. Talk about your archetypal name!

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