The Struggle for Iran’s Largest Private University

By Zep Kalb for Al-Monitor. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iran Business News.

Struggle over Iran’s Largest Private University Heats Up

On April 23, hours after the conservative daily Kayhan proclaimed that “[Islamic] Azad University is awaiting major restructuring,” four members of the institution’s nine-member board of trustees called a special session.

Later in the day, Hamid Mirzadeh, the president of Islamic Azad University (IAU), received a note telling him to either resign voluntarily or be discharged by the weekend.

Mirzadeh’s sudden replacement drew an outcry among Reformists, who fear that the country’s largest private university is slowly falling into the hands of rival conservative factions.

Parvaneh Mafi, a Reformist member of parliament, told the Azad news agency, “Attacks and intrusions against IAU have a political and electoral undertone. … Questioning Dr. Mirzadeh’s management is one of the key strategies of a dishonest media.” The ministers of science and health, both members of the IAU’s board of trustees, also expressed opposition to the move.

Rumors first emerged that Mirzadeh would be replaced by Farhad Rahbar, a staunch conservative and former president of Tehran University. In the end, however, the board of trustees appointed Ali Mohammad Nuriyan, a less controversial figure, to temporarily oversee university affairs.

Since former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the founder and longtime leader of IAU, died in January, conflict over who gets to inherit his education legacy has heated up. Less than three weeks after his death, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appointed his foreign policy adviser Ali Akbar Velayati, a powerful conservative, to head the board of founders — the institution’s highest decision-making panel. Soon afterward, Velayati asserted authority over the board of trustees, putting him in a position to control IAU’s general direction.

The political struggle over IAU invokes parallels with other contested models of private education in the region, notably the school system run by Fethullah Gulen in Turkey.

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