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: October 16, 2023

Attack Types: Loss of Position

Institution(s):Al Zahra University

Region & Country:Southern Asia | Iran

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On October 16, 2023, Neda Tavallaie, a professor at Al Zahra University, posted on social media that her position had been terminated.

Tavallaie’s (also written as “Tolaei”) dismissal comes amidst indications that the Iranian government is working “cleanse” universities of dissent. Observers have reported that the pace at which professors have been dismissed from their positions accelerated in August 2023, ahead of the start of the new school year.

According to Tavallaie, Al Zahra University authorities notified her of her dismissal in a phone call, attributing the decisions to “fluctuations in the confirmation of [her] qualification by the guards.” She pointed out that she had been reappointed three months previously.

Tavallaei had previously expressed support for her former student, Sepideh Rashno, an activist who was suspended from Al Zahra University in May 2023 after being arrested for refusing to wear a hijab on a city bus (see report).

Scholars at Risk is concerned about a higher education institution dismissing a member of the faculty in apparent retaliation for exercising her right to freedom of expression. Higher education officials should respect scholars’ exercise of such rights and refrain from disciplinary actions that punish or deter nonviolent expressive activity. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, disciplinary actions intended to deter or punish support for student protests on campus undermine academic freedom and and harms related higher education values including autonomy and social responsibility.