Six American University Presidents Travel to Iran

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By Davood N. Rahni, Ph.D.

As a patriotic American with proud Persian heritage, I have followed with much exhilaration the recent travel to Iran by the presidents of the six national American universities. In an increasingly tumultuous juncture of the clashes of civilizations and as exacerbated with the threat of weapons of mass destructions, it is the cultural and [higher] educational exchanges, as was prevalent between Iran and the U.S. before 1979, that are ever more crucial if we are genuinely committed to the independently indigenous reforms in Iran and the U.S. and regaining our credibility worldwide. The lingering rhetorical sloganeering by governments aside, people everywhere, including the 70 million Iranians (three quarter of whom were incidentally born after the 1979 revolution) aspire to leave behind a more secure world with quality of life for their children. Despite impeding socio-political and economic challenges from within, and hegemonic geostrategic interferences from without, Iranian people continue to rank high among the most educated (literacy rate> %80) and vibrant nations in the family of the nations in southwest Asia. Such uplifting people-to-people dialogues, as facilitated through the faculty and student exchanges between the U.S. and Iran, is the prudent option if we are truly committed to moving beyond the current rhetorical hostilities and insecurities into a sane ambiance of common purpose that benefits both peoples and brings a much needed sustainable level of geopolitical stability to the Near East region. After all, irrespective of the type of government in Iran, this nation has resiliently survived through several millennia of existence, while contributing immensely toward the human civilization as a whole.

In fact, and as reported by the American higher education leadership ranks including earlier visits by the U.S. presidents of the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine, nearly 60% of the 2 million Iranian college students are women; the percentage of women is even higher for those majoring in medicine, science and engineering, but not necessarily in law due to a theocratic interpretation of Islamic juris prudence limiting women to serve as judges. That said, however, the ludicrous notion by the ultraconservatives to impose a 50-50-gender quota for college entrance was immediately rescinded when the populace succinctly opposed it in Iran. Furthermore, the Stanford University [Electrical and Computing Engineering] graduate programs and many other tire one universities have steadily been stocked with some of the brightest Iranians who have completed their undergraduate education in institutions such as Sharif University of Technology, the major host institute of the American presidents in their recent sojourns; after all, the exquisite hospitality of the Persians, as narrated through the tales of the Sheherazade & One Thousand and One Nights, recited in the Quatrains of Omer Kahyam and in the lyrical 60,000 verses of their national epic Shahnameh of Ferdoiwsi, is the divine receptions the group of six presidents must have received. Ironically, the acquisition of F-1 student visas for Iranians has unreasonably been restricted, particularly post-September 11 (no Iranian national has ever been implicated, accused or convicted), despite the fact that Iranian students and their parents spontaneously poured by the hundreds of thousands into the street of major cities including Tehran candlelight vigil to express their sympathy with the American people.

More than 65,000 Iranian students who mostly stayed in the U.S. post 1979 Iranian revolution have served as the critical cluster that has now led to nearly one million affluent and highly educated Americans of Iranian heritage. Their contribution to the U.S. annual economic growth is estimated in several hundred billion dollars. In fact, every major university in the U.S., Canada, and most European schools has a number of professors of Iranian heritage. Prominent Iranian-Americans, especially those in the academe could distinctively serve as the bridge between their ancestral motherland Iran, and their adopted Promised Land-the U.S., as they truly understand the commonalities of both nations.  Both countries are better served when clear, unbiased and honest exchange of ideas in the spirit of friendship and cooperation leaves behind a failing ear of siege circumvention and asymmetric subjugation.

Note: These are the recent visitors to Iran:
The university presidents traveling to Iran are: Jared Cohon, Carnegie Mellon University; David Leebron, Rice University; J. Bernard Machen, University of Florida; C. D. Mote, Jr., University of Maryland, College Park; David Skorton, Cornell University; and Larry Vanderhoef, University of California, Davis.

[Dr. Davood N. Rahni is Professor of Chemistry at Pace University in New York, and also Adjunct Professor of Dermatology at New York Medical College: The above article was posted by Payvand News on 12 December 2008 at]


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