Hello dear readers of this blog! I haven’t been blogging these past few days because I’ve been incredibly sick, with cold and fever and shivers and I’ve been taking some heavy medication and I even dreamed I’m marrying Argentina (either the country appearing in the form of a girl or a girl named Argentina). This story is some days old, but it’s very important, and in fully demonstrates why Rouhani’s administration matters and what perils and obstacles it faces.
Reza Faraji Dana, Rouhani’s Minister of Science, who’s responsible for running the academia and research institutes, is about to be impeached by the Iranian Parliament. The Parliament’s chairman, Ali Larijani, who is a moderate conservative who has proved an ally to Rouhani’s administration, is trying to prevent the impeachment and trying to resolve the issue, but the MPs who want to impeach him have the required number of votes to make it happen, and it’s unlikely that Larijani can prevent this from happening for too long. Especially since all reports indicate that impeaching conservative MPs are too furious and very unlikely to change course.
Now what are the “crimes” of this minister? The impeaching MPs have mentioned these reasons:
- Faraji Dana’s ministry revealed one of the many illegal activities which happened during Ahmadinejad’s period. During that time about 3000 illegal scholarships were rewarded by his science ministry, to people who did not meet the minimum requirements (some had awfully bad GPAs, for example) because they were politically close to Ahmadinejad. The impeaching ministers claim this revelation harms the reputation of the regime.
- They object to his deputies who are famously reformists and support more freedom for universities. Two of his deputies are former candidates for the ministry position who were very popular among professors and students, and since they were rejected by the Parliament they MPs consider this an affront to the Parliament.
- Many notorious hard liner fundamentalists were appointed as the deans of different universities during Ahmadinejad’s period, these people were responsible for student crackdowns, appointing incompetent faculty members for political reasons, and making a police state in universities. These deans were removed by the acting minister and Faraji Dana during Rouhani administration and were replaced by moderate and reformist deans.
- Many of the students who were fired because of political activism during the previous administration have been able to return to university and resume their studies. These students were called “starred” students because a star was placed next to their names on their student files.
- Many great university professors were prematurely retired or fired for political reasons, which includes not only liberal and/or reformist professors but also apolitical professors who were not conservative enough. Many of them have returned to universities and resumed teaching.
- The university deans are, by law, chosen by the minister of science. Now Faraji Dana has said that the faculty members are able to elect one or more candidates for the position themselves and then he will choose among the candidates and if there is one he will introduce that person. The MPs are furious, saying this reduces the authority of the government inside universities.
- Overall, Faraji Dana has reduced governmental intervention in academic and executive affairs of the universities considerably, and that has caused him to be the target of ire.
- He has “delayed” the process of Islamisation of the universities. This means that no new university has seen gender segregation, although the previous administration meant to force all universities to be segregated on gender, and the theocratic atmosphere of the government has not been strengthened since.
As you can see, what I have listed above is a good series of reasons of why “Rouahni has done a fabulous job regarding universities”, but exactly these reasons have caused him to be about to be impeached. Since even the Supreme Leader himself has criticized him, asking him to make sure that the atmosphere of universities are calm, it’s very likely that he will be removed.
Some liberals and reformists have criticized Faraji Dana too, mentioning that although he has given universities great autonomy, he has not changed the system and a future potentially conservative minister can easily reverse all of his changes, and that although he has returned a great portion of starred students and fired professors, he has not returned all of them, and that student activists groups are still much less active than they were during Khatami’s time, and although no new university has been segregated on gender the previous ones (I think it’s two or three, not sure), and that the content of lessons continues to change and being “Islamicized”.
I disagree with all of these criticisms. One of them is because of ignorance, as the content of lessons is mostly determined by the Council of Cultural Revolution and the ministry has minimal role in it. The others, while true, only exhibit the difficulty he faces. Like the rest of Rouhani’s administration, Faraji Dana is making every change that he can facing extremely hostile conditions, and if we judge him based on the situation his achievements are not only fine but extraordinary, and it is now very possible they will cost him his position.
Actually, universities are one of the most successful areas when it comes to Rouhani, and the change in atmosphere is completely visible. No one feels like they are in a police state, despite all the challenges that remain. And this is no accident – university students have always been at the front-line of every political movement and change in Iran, and they directly involve the interest of Iran’s largest demographic. Conservatives know that Rouhani can win any election if professors and students enthusiastically support him.
And they are stupid. Impeach Faraji Dana, and he will become a hero, and Rouhani will be even more popular among people.