SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: September 01, 2021

Attack Types: Loss of Position

Institution(s):Shahid Beheshti University

Region & Country:Southern Asia | Iran

New or Ongoing:New Incident

In September 2021, following the inauguration of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, prominent sociologist Mohammad Fazeli was dismissed from Shahid Beheshti University, apparently for political reasons. The news of his dismissal became public in January 2021. 

In addition to working with the university since 2015, Fazeli had worked in the Center for Strategic Studies – the research branch of the presidential office – under former Iranian President Hassan Rouhani between 2013 and 2017. 

Some members of the Shahid Beheshti community reportedly claimed that the decision to not extend Fazeli’s contract with the university was driven by his failure to fulfill his university responsibilities due to his roles in the Rouhani government. However, other academics and members of the media have pushed back on these allegations and asserted that his dismissal is politically motivated, as evidenced by the timing of his dismissal after Raisi’s inauguration rather than during or immediately following his work in the Rouhani government. 

These allegations reflect similar claims being made about the recent dismissals of other scholars, including Arash Abazari and Reza Omidi. In a March 2021 letter, the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association expressed concern over all three dismissals and called for their immediate reinstatement.

Scholars at Risk is concerned by the dismissal of an academic, apparently due to political or ideological considerations. University leadership has an obligation to refrain from coercive actions that punish, restrict, or chill academic activity or viewpoints. In addition to harm to the immediate victim, politically or ideologically motivated dismissals of academics undermine academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.