Rafsanjani and Abdullah Jasbi in a meeting for Azad University in 2007.
If I wasn’t so swamped with school, I would spend more time writing about daneshgah-e azad [Iran's Free University]. Free here does not refer to costs because in fact, Azad Universities do require tuition – unlike state schools which are free. Perhaps a better translation would be “open university” but the school has changed dramatically in the past few decades, and is no longer as “open” either.
Of the hundreds of thousands of kids demonstrating on the streets of Tehran, many were educated and academically bred inside this university.
So what is this institution and where does it come from?
Although this enterprise began under the shah in the early 70s, in Iran it is known more as the brainchild of Rafsanjani and Abudllah Jasbi [pictured above] because of the rapid expansion of the university under Rafsanjani’s administration.
In April of 1983, after the cultural revolution, with the blessing of Ayatollah Khomeini, Azad University began work. Rafsanjani spoke about their plans for the university in a Friday Prayer sermon, and four months later tapped Jasbi to temporarily head the university. The original supervisory board of the university consisted of Ali Khamenei [current leader], Rafsanjani, Mousavi, Ahmad Khomeini and Abdullah Jasbi.
Jasbi has been heading the university ever since and his name is synonymous with the name of the university.
Initially, the university was aimed towards older learners and those who were not necessarily after a formal diploma. The admission process was far simpler than the countrywide entrance exam which state schools required. I remember numerous people in my family, of all ages, signing up for classes during the early years with ease and relative simplicity (compared to the requirements of state schools).
But the university rapidly expanded. Today, it has its own entrance exam, and the complications involved are as numerous as other schools.
[this was why Payam-e Nour university, another open university was initially created. After a decade, it too now has an entrance exam and is expanding rapidly.]
What made the university’s expansion possible was in part that the state-run universities were simply not enough to meet growing demand. As state education expanded after the revolution and the population boomed during the war, more and more applicants were heading to universities and the limited state-run schools were not enough to meet these increasing numbers.
In the past 27 years, the university has had 2,800,000 graduates and currently has 34,000 faculty/staff. [from Jasbi's welcome page on the university's news site].
Azad University is famous for having a branch in every village or city and as the joke goes, every village has one grocery store and one Azad University.
But it’s NOT a joke.
Even today however, state universities remain the most academically qualified – or so the popular belief goes. Sharif and University of Tehran and other prominent state schools do not give Azad university students the time of day and consider them “uneducated sissies” [as my friends would often say].
On their own part, my Azad university friends would always say: ” you nerdy students who go to state schools have no manners and no social skills. You’re too busy studying all the time to learn anything else.”
So where has this gargantuan institution stood in regards to the recent uproar over the election?
Farhikhtegan, the main Azad University publication endorsed Mousavi’s candidacy. But Jasbi has been mysteriously VERY quiet after the election.
However, there is quite an obvious tension between him and the Ahmadinejad government.
Jasbi has tried to transfer the millions of dollars of Azad University property [land, buildings, etc] to what is called a “vaghf”. Vaghf refers to donating property/funds to the people – that is, making them non-profit on certain religious terms. He did this right after the election, in order to keep the government’s hands out of Azad University’s property [which is estimated at quite a hefty sum].
The government intervened to try to stop him. Then Rafsanjani intervened.
I’m not sure where that has gone.
Here are photos of students taking the Azad university entrance exam in 2007. Jasbi has decided to give them a visit.