Policy or puzzle? The foundation of the University of Tehran between ideal conception and pragmatic realization

Christ! Catanzaro

“The night in which the university was born” is the title of a chapter in ‘Ali Asghar Hekmat’s memoirs where he claims that it was he who had the idea of establishing the first modern and western style university in Iran in February 1934, only one year before the official inauguration of the University of Tehran.1 In reality many others had come up with the same idea before him, and some Iranians, statesmen as well as private individuals, had already taken the first steps towards its implementation. But did a master plan for the transformation of the existing institutions of higher education into the University of Tehran exist, including its extension and consolidation? In order to answer this question the first part of this article follows the steps towards the creation of the University of Tehran chronologically, focussing on the ideas, concepts, and contributions of two Iranian statesmen who played pivotal roles in its formation. The first significant player was ‘Isa Sadiq who had written his doctoral thesis on “Modern Persia and her Educational System” at Columbia University in 1931. Upon his return to Iran at the end of the same year, he was employed to prepare the first draft of the university law and appointed head of the Teachers’ College which was to become the nucleus of the new university. The second figure was the minister of education,2 ‘Ali Asghar Hekmat, who supervised the legislative process and presided over the official inauguration ceremony in 1935. Analysis of the contributions made by these two statesmen will be followed by discussion of the role played by Reza Shah and his motives. By looking at the actual implementation of the University of Tehran the second part of the article aims at contextualizing some characteristics of the modernization of the educational system that were paradigmatic for the modernization process as a whole during the era of Reza Shah.

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