The mass sacking of academics in Iran has extended to school principals and even clerics of seminaries as revelations show President Raisi’s purge plans date back to his early days in office.
Last week, hardliner Education Minister Reza-Morad Sahrai said “This year [which started in March], nearly 20,000 school principals have been replaced to bring about changes in schools.”
Mansour Haghighatdoust, a conservative political activist, criticized the “purification process” that is seen in almost all state organizations, describing it as “worrisome” that now educators and cultural figures are under the scrutiny of hardliners, fearing for how the sudden mass redundancies will affect children. “How can 20,000 school principals be replaced in a short period?”
Mohsen Borhani, a professor of criminal law at Tehran university, who was recently sacked for criticizing the regime on social media after the execution of four young protesters, told reformist daily Etemad that the order to remove professors critical of the regime was issued about a month after Ebrahim Raisi took office.
By protocol, the President of Iran is ex officio the chairman of the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution, a hardliner-dominated body with a declared goal of ensuring that the education and culture of Iran remains “100% Islamic.” Its duties include working against outside “cultural influences” and ideologies, a pretext that is used to sack academics who do not abide by regime dogma. It is also the body responsible for depriving the Baha’i religious minority of education, forcing university professors into retirement and gender segregation of educational centers.
Teaching restrictions on Mohammad Soroush Mahallati, a professor of Islamic jurisprudence at Qom seminary, may be a sign that the purge has reached Iran’s seminaries, showing that Iran’s hardliners seek to sideline critics who once were members of their own circles. “These restrictions are clearly because of my critical remarks in speeches and articles, and they intend to dissuade students from engaging with me so that no one has any contact with me,” Mahallati said about removing official credits from the courses he teaches at the seminary.
Although the purge of academics has accelerated since last year’s protests ignited by the death in custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, Borhani said that “based on undeniable documents, the process of purging academics had been planned long before the protests and is now being implemented.”
Raisi embarked on his ‘purification’ in the first month of his tenure, expelling Bijan Abdolkarimi, an associate professor in the Department of Philosophy at the Islamic Azad University. However, Borhani claims that the firing of professors is based on the systematic plan that was started in former hardliner governments, and Raisi just made the best use of Women, Life, Freedom protests as a momentum to expedite the process.
Since the uprising began in September last year, a large number of academics voiced solidarity with protesters and once the unrest was quelled, the Raisi administration intensified the crackdown, pushing professors into early retirement, not renewing teaching contracts, cancelling classes without prior notice, removing and suspending professors, and reducing monthly salaries. Tens of professors have also been summoned or temporarily detained.
In August, Etemad published a list of 157 tenured professors who were dismissed, forced into retirement, or banned from teaching for their criticism and dissenting views from 2006 to the end of August 2023. Of the 157 previously announced names, 58 were removed during Ebrahim Raisi’s administration. The daily published another article to add 52 more names, illustrating the continuing effort by hardliners to eliminate dissenting voices from academia.
The purge of university professors in the past 17 years went beyond that, when non-tenured lecturers were replaced by “religious” and “revolutionary” professors. The trend started after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took office and continued in Hassan Rouhani’s administration. Continuing into the Raisi era, it has seen successive governments in the Islamic Republic systematically expelling seasoned professors for their “secular views,” among other political reasons.
According to a report from the Ministry of Science, Research, and Technology in 2013, during Ahmadinejad’s presidency, approximately 17,000 new faculty members were added to universities payroll. Such a move is speculated to be repeated as President Raisi plans to add 15,000 “revolutionary” professors to the academic faculty of universities nationwide.