The Teachers College as the nucleus of the University of Tehran: the contribution of ‘Isa Sadiq

It is not possible to trace back precisely where and when - beyond the general demand for educational reforms - the concrete idea of founding a modern western-style university arose.5 In 1910, the Ministry of Education, which up to this time had not made any substantial contribution to the formation of Iranian higher education, was restructured. All institutions of higher education established during the second half of the nineteenth century or early in the twentieth century and aiming at the formation of physicians or the training of military and civil servants had been the fruits of efforts by other ministries. Gradually, all institutions of primary, secondary, and higher education in Iran were placed under the control of the Ministry of Education, which embarked upon the creation of a coherent Iranian educational system. It is in this context that the foundation of the University of Tehran should be seen. It has been said that the idea of a university was discussed in public for the first time in a parliamentary debate in the 1920s; however, this was not pursued any further and no practical steps were taken.6 The events leading up to the following initiative remain equally obscure: in spring 1931 ‘Isa Sadiq received a letter from the court minister ‘Abdolhoseyn Teymurtash in which the Iranian government expressed its intention to establish an institution of higher education (still referred to as dar al-fonun) comprising a Teachers College as well as faculties of medicine and engineering. Following an invitation by Professor Paul Monroe, director of the International Institute of the Teachers College of Columbia University in New York, Sadiq had moved to the United States in order to get acquainted with the American school system and use the opportunity to obtain a doctorate. As Sadiq remarks in his memoirs, by that time he had already visited several educational institutions and collected a lot of valuable information regarding the foundation of a university. Then he was asked to ascertain the number of teachers and kinds of institutions that would be needed and to calculate the costs involved. In order to get further information he contacted his friend and mentor, Monroe. Finally, Sadiq made calculations based on his inquiries and wrote a booklet, two copies of which he sent to the court minister on 6 July 1931.7 A summary of this draft can be found at the end of Sadiq’s doctoral thesis, “Modern Persia and her Educational System,” completed the same month. In Chapter 6 of his dissertation he amended and specified the demands made in the booklet and proposed further measures he considered to be important.8

After his return to Iran, Sadiq reports in his memoirs the following events: immediately after his arrival in Tehran in October 1931 he contacted various Iranian statesmen with whom he was familiar or friends. Among them we find the minister of justice ‘Ali Akbar Davar; the foreign minister Mohammad ‘Ali Forughi Zaka al-Molk; the minister of finance Sayyed Hasan Taqizadeh; and the minister of education Yahya Khan Qaragozlu. He told them about his journey and his impressions, experiences, and new ideas and handed everybody a copy of his dissertation. The ministers agreed that his plan deserved attention and seemed to be practicable. But before starting to execute such a plan it would be necessary to get the shah’s permission through the mediation of the court minister Teymurtash. At the end of January 1932 Teymurtash returned to Tehran and only three days later Davar arranged a meeting with Sadiq, who presented his plans to the court minister. Again some days later Davar informed Sadiq that Teymurtash had passed his dissertation on to the shah, who had then given orders to procure his employment in the Ministry of Education. Following the shah’s approval of Sadiq’s plan he was entrusted with its implementation. Consequently his presence was requested by the minister of education Qaragozlu, who, based on Sadiq’s Ph.D. in educational sciences, appointed him rector of the Teachers College and also charged him with the structuring and centralization of the other institutions of higher education, as well as the establishment of nascent departments and faculties.9

This version of events is the one portrayed in Sadiq’s memoirs and he might have - consciously or unconsciously - rendered many things in a distorted way. It is difficult to prove that the conversation between him and Qaragozlu, or any of the other discussions, actually took place in the described manner. Although indeed all the measures he pretends to have planned in advance with the minister of education he did subsequently carry out. Under his aegis numerous, in part radical innovations were implemented, especially in the fields of didactics and hands-on lessons. These innovations were of particular importance for the development of the University of Tehran, in which the Teachers College was to be integrated. Therefore it is, at least in retrospect, justified to call it the nucleus of the university.10

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