Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The Battle Over Azad University

Rooz Online:
The new hardline government’s pressure to take the helm of the Islamic Azad University (non-government) is mounting. When the new Minister of Science recently criticized Azad University as not holding acceptable standards, political observers concluded that the behind-the-scenes struggle to conquer the university was reaching its peak. Jasbi, the chancellor of Azad has reportedly shot back at the Minister accusing him that it is the Ministry of Science that did not meet acceptable standards.

In recent months, the new administration has been trying to change the management of Iran’s universities. But Azad has remained the only institution that Ahmadinejad's men have not succeeded to infiltrate. A pro-government internet site recently published reports that the government had drawn up plans to transform Azad University and replace its chancellor with one of Ahmadinejad's supporters. A chancellor is appointed by the Board of Trustees of a university and can only be removed by board members. READ MORE

Rooz reporter in Tehran reports that Hazed, the Minister of Science has repeatedly brought up the issue in cabinet meetings. On one occasion, his open criticism of Azad University in a meeting of the Cultural Revolution Council reportedly angered other members including Jasbi, the chancellor of the university who also sits on the Council. Informed sources say that even Rafsanjani, the head of the university's board of trustees is now under pressure to remove Jasbi, but to no avail.

The new Minister of Science recently astonished observers when he questioned the future of the university if the government could not appoint its chancellor.

To end the struggle, Jasbi recently met with president Ahmadinejad and talked about the problems of the university, but observers do not believe this will end the struggle. In a meaningful comment, the government spokesman recently implicitly said that the government had the right to make changes in any sector, including the management of Azad University. Ahmadinejad himself had been criticized on a recent trip about the management of the university in relation to the tuition fees it charged. But observers point out that the tuition issue is the excuse that Ahmadinejad will use to make the changes that he has in mind which relate to the control of the school.

During the past 20 years, Azad University has turned into one of the richest and biggest educational institutions in the country. The powerful and influential Board of Trustees appointed Jasbi as the chancellor of the private university that has been successfully competing public universities in attracting students and faculty members.

Conservative websites close to Ahmadinejad have repeatedly called on the government to replace Jasbi and take control of what they call the “Azad University Empire. Jasbi and Ahmadinejad have been in a war of words, in which publicly the president expressly criticizes the tuition fees of the school, on one occasion saying that Jasbi had to lower his fees. Jasbi on the other hand argues that the fees went up again because of the raises given to the faculty members. He proposed that the government provide the university with a budget and assistance, in which case he would lower the student tuition fees.

Ahmadinejad's claim to bring justice in society has turned into direct attacks on Azad University and the tuition fees it charges its students. But political observers believe that the struggles are entirely political and confirm that the ultra-right wing circles of the Islamic Republic intend to preserve their influence and power by any means and everywhere.

So while the outcome of the recent meeting between Jasbi and Ahmadinejad was not announced, the battle is expected to go on behind closed doors. In the meantime, students will have no choice but to pay the high tuition fees, and cope with their other problems.