Iranian universities have fired four professors of social sciences in less than a week, in what critics see as further political cleansing of academia.
Sharif University of Technology in Tehran fired Mohammad Fazeli, a professor of sociology on January 21. Then, Shahid Beheshti University dismissed Arash Abazari, lecturing philosophy on the same day, and on January 24 the University of Tehran fired lecturer Reza Omidi and the Iranian human rights news agency broke the news of the dismissal of Arezoo Rahimkhani by the Islamic Azad University in Andimeshk.
The four lecturers and professors were not political activists, and their public record shows they maintained a relatively low profile.
Following the dismissals, while some observers criticized university students for their silence in the face of the firing, some students argued that these and other professors never took part in any campaign to support the rights of hundreds of students who were expelled or harassed for political reasons.
Others criticized professors for their silence, warning that it could be their turn to be fired the next day. Iranian lawyer Mohammad Moghimi opined that the dismissals were a sign of totalitarian rule in the universities.
Hessamoddin Ashna, an aide to former President Hassan Rouhani, wrote in a January 22 tweet that it is not fair and rational to deprive Shahid Beheshti University of a professor such as Mohammad Fazeli. Ashna then encouraged academics to write to President Ebrahim Raisi about the matter.
In another tweet, Ashna said that the dismissals were the result of jealousy among some academics. Others noted that Abazari, a young academic whose book was published by the University of Cambridge Press was dismissed by an old former academic who is alien to modern knowledge.
Meanwhile, former lawmaker Ali Motahari wrote in a tweet on the same day that "firing a knowledgeable and pacifist professor such as Mohammad Fazeli is a threat to freedom of expression." Motahari reminded that his father, a famous ayatollah, was never fired from his university post under the Shah, although he had given a speech against the monarch and had even been briefly jailed for his Islamic political activism.
In the meantime, Javad Safari , a retired professor of Chemistry at the University of Hamadan took his own life reportedly because he was not paid for some time and was not able to make ends meet, social media activists revealed.
An Iranian academic on Twitter wrote that university professors in Iran are being paid around $300 per month, less than what labor groups say is the minimum income needed to survive just above the poverty line.
Pooya Movahhed, a social media activist referred to the Cultural Revolution immediately after the Islamic revolution of 1979 and wrote, since then Iranian officials have been getting rid of modern academics in the interest of their reactionary colleagues who believe in the ideological party line.
Meanwhile, academic Sohrab Salehi warned Higher Education Minister Zolfi on Twitter to be wary that academics are silent in the face of the dismissal of their colleagues. "Those who are silent are more dangerous than those who are vocal. Those who protest still have hope of reforms, but those who are silent do not believe the system can be reformed," he warned.
Cleric and academic Rahmatollah Bigdeli said in a 22 January tweet: "We took part in the revolution so that even Marxist professors would be able to work in universities, but under Presidents Ahmadinejad and Raisi, the universities are getting rid of even [devout] Muslim elites who were once invited by Raisi to come back from abroad and teach at the universities."