Head of Iranian Institute Fired as Regime Crackdown Widens

The Iranian Ministry of Science has fired the founder-director of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Basic Sciences (IASBS) in Zanjan and replaced him with a nuclear scientist known to have links with the pro-government Basij militia. The militia, widely seen as Iran’s moral police, has violently quelled student protests on campuses over the past year. According to Iranian press reports, the government has also replaced the leaders of at least 17 other academic and scientific institutions over the past month, including the chancellors of Sharif University of Technology in Tehran, the University of Golestan in north Iran, and Arak University.

The changes appear to be part of an ongoing campaign to cleanse campuses of political dissidents. Five months ago, Iran’s minister of science, research, and technology, Kamran Daneshjoo, warned that that faculty members who did not share "the regime'sdirection" and were not committed to the rule of the Supreme Leader would be fired.

Last week’s dismissal of the IASBS’s founder-director, a well-regarded theoretical astrophysicist named Yousef Sobouti, sparked protests at the institute, according to Persian news reports and blog posts such as this one. Some students and faculty members are demanding that Sobouti be reinstated. He has been replaced by Rasoul Khodabakhsh, who was until recently an administrator and faculty member at Urmia University in northwest Iran.  

The government also recently replaced the chancellor of Sharif University of Technology in Tehran with Reza Roosta Azad, a chemical engineering professor who until recently served as the university’s vice-chancellor for research.

Azad has been an outspoken supporter of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinijad and is reportedly a senior member of the central council of the Isargaran Society, a conservative organization founded by Ahmadinijad. Sharif University has traditionally chosen its chancellor by a faculty vote.

More institutions could be in line for similar changes. “We see a trend here,” says Ali Nayeri, an Iranian-American physicist at Chapman University in Orange, California, and a supporter of the reform movement. “The government is putting universities under the control of people who are sympathetic to Ahmadinijad.”

The Iranian government and the academic establishment have been clashing since the run-up to the presidential election in October 2009 when thousands of scholars and students actively campaigned against Ahmadinijad. They protested after Ahmedinijad won the election; opponents alleged that the victory was the result of massive ballot fraud.

In April, Science reported that the regime had begun weeding out academics opposed to Ahmadinijad through firings and forced retirements.