CAUT/ACPPU Bulletin Online
By Deborah K. van den Hoonaard, Pierre-Yves Mocquais, Niky Kamran, Redwan Moqbel, Claire Lapointe, David R. Smith, Will C. van den Hoonaard, Lisa Dufraimont, Lyse Langlois, Albert M. Berghuis, W. Andy Knight & Michael Power
For more than a decade Canadian universities and professors have played a quiet but essential role in providing graduate education to Bahá’í students banned from university in Iran because of their religion. Now, the Iranian government is declaring their Canadian degrees “illegal.” They are also imprisoning Bahá’í faculty and staff involved with a community initiative known as the Bahá’í Institute for Higher Education (BIHE), set up in 1987 after the Iranian government fired all Bahá’í professors and expelled Bahá’í students from post-secondary institutions.
In 1998 Carleton University began accepting Iranian Bahá’í graduate students who had completed the equivalent of an undergraduate degree at BIHE. Based on the exceptional academic performance of the first few BIHE students other Canadian universities admitted BIHE graduates to pursue Master’s and PhD degrees. These include the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University, the University of Manitoba, Queen’s University, the University of Ottawa, McGill University and Concordia University.
Despite the escalating attacks on Bahá’ís, the Canadian university alumni returned to Iran to teach such subjects as engineering, psychology and economics to beleaguered BIHE students. But once home in Iran, they are subjected to a wide range of human rights violations, including denial of access to further education and employment. Their Canadian degrees are unrecognized and they are thus prevented from contributing to the development of their country.
The Bahá’í community is the largest non-Muslim religious minority in Iran. Since 1979, the Iranian government has sought to exclude Bahá’ís from all rights of citizenship through repressive policies. Yet the Bahá’ís’ response has been constructive and even heroic, including the creation of the Bahá’í Institute for Higher Education to meet the educational needs of its young people — an effort the New York Times called “an elaborate act of communal self-preservation.”
Since its inception the institute has grown to almost 300 staff, including international volunteer educators, Bahá’í and non-Bahá’í alike, who teach via the Internet. Approximately 1,000 BIHE students study at home in their living room “classrooms” and in laboratories in discreet locations, and they often submit coursework online.
In May 2011 Iranian authorities launched a multi-city coordinated raid and arrested and jailed 16 teachers and administrators associated with BIHE. Several months later, the courts handed down sentences for seven of those arrested for a total of 30 years of incarceration.
One of them, Nooshin Khadem, an MBA graduate of Carleton University, was sentenced to four years in prison. Although her professors at Carleton urged her to remain in Canada, she was determined to return to Iran to help BIHE.
A second wave of arrests on Sept. 14 targeted other Canadian-educated professors who taught some of the institute’s courses. Kamran Rahimian and Faran Hesami (graduates in counseling psychology from the University of Ottawa) were jailed, as was Shakib Nasrallah (counseling psychology graduate from McGill) and Kayvan Rahimian. All four await sentencing.
When arrested, they were charged with teaching without valid accreditation. In addition to alleging fraud in using illegal credentials, Iranian authorities also alleged the group had been arrested for “promotion of prostitution.”
A chorus of opposition is mounting to protest the discrimination of these Iranian Bahá’í academics. Nobel laureates, Desmond Tutu and José Ramos Horta, referred to it as Iran’s “war against knowledge.” As well, Senator Romeo Dallaire went so far as to warn of the “genocidal intent of the Iranian state.” Professors Charles Taylor and David Novak called on the Iranian government “not only to cease its persecution of Bahá’ís, but to provide, and promote, education for all.”
Most recently, Lloyd Axworthy, president of the University of Winnipeg, and Allan Rock, president of the University of Ottawa, published an editorial calling attention to Iran’s recent actions. In it they write, “…we encourage all Canadians to add their voice in calling on the Iranian government unconditionally to drop all charges against educators, to halt all further aggression towards the BIHE and to allow the Bahá’í access to education.”
A human rights campaign called Education Under Fire that has produced a documentary film of the same name is underway at universities across Canada. Co-sponsored by Amnesty International, the campaign focuses on mobilizing universities, teachers and students to stand in solidarity with Iranian Bahá’í students denied access to opportunities for learning in their own country.
Canadian universities have played, and continue to play, an important role in educating the next generation of teachers who will assist BIHE in bringing higher education to Iran’s Bahá’í youth. It is unconscionable that some of those teachers now languish in jail. Is it not our responsibility to speak out on their behalf?
Deborah K. van den Hoonaard is Canada Research Chair in Qualitative Research and Analysis and professor of gerontology at St. Thomas University, and also serves as a BIHE affiliated global faculty member.
Pierre-Yves Mocquais is professor of French and former dean of humanities at the University of Calgary, and also serves as a BIHE affiliated global faculty member.
Niky Kamran is James McGill Professor of mathematics at McGill University.
Redwan Moqbel is professor and head of immunology at the University of Manitoba, and professor emeritus and adjunct professor of medicine at the University of Alberta.
Claire Lapointe is professor of education sciences at Laval University.
David R. Smith is professor of ophthalmology at the University of Toronto.
Will C. van den Hoonaard is emeritus professor of sociology at the University of New Brunswick.
Lisa Dufraimont is professor of law at Queen’s University.
Lyse Langlois is professor of industrial relations at Laval University and a researcher with the Interuniversity Research Centre on Globalization and Work and l’Institut d’éthique appliquée.
Albert M. Berghuis is Canada Research Chair in Structural Biology and professor of biochemistry at McGill University.
W. Andy Knight is professor and chair of political science at the University of Alberta.
Michael Power is professor of education and technology at Laval University, and also serves as a BIHE affiliated global faculty member.
The views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily CAUT.
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