Seyyed Mohammad Merendi, advisor to Iran’s nuclear negotiating team, had been serving as the vice rector for international affairs at Tehran University since September 2021. Merendi was dismissed by the Rector in early July 2023. Several newspapers reported that Merendi was dismissed due to his long-standing differences with Rector Seyyed Mohammad Moqimi. In a brief statement, Merendi claimed that Tehran University’s Elborz Campus was selling diplomas in the name of attracting foreign students and discrediting Tehran University, saying that many steps had been taken that did not comply with the regulations.
On July 8, a week after Merendi’s dismissal, Fars News Agency reported in a news article titled “Suspicion of Diploma Sales at Tehran University and Unanswered Questions” that Merendi was a figure who had raised Tehran University’s international standing and that no one in authority had yet responded to what he said at the time of his dismissal.
Yahya Buzerinejad, the Rector of Elborz Campus, was the first to respond to Merendi’s allegations, stating that they would not give in to rumors and emphasized that students were admitted to Elborz Campus in accordance with the regulations of Tehran University and that nothing contrary to the Higher Education Law was done. He also emphasized that the admission process for foreign students is more stringent than the central campus and that one of the most important duties of the autonomous campuses of Tehran University is to attract foreign students within the framework of scientific diplomacy by maintaining the standards and quality of Tehran University.
Following Merendi’s allegations, Tehran University Rector Moqimi made a statement saying that those who make allegations about the university must prove their claims, otherwise they will find the university administration and the academic community against them.
In Iran, the campuses of universities operating outside the center are subject to the regulations of the Ministry of Science, Research and Technology. Accordingly, the Ministry emphasized in the letter sent to universities about foreign students that the classes of foreign students, especially Iraqi students, should be face-to-face.
Nearly two years ago, Iran’s Ministry of Science, Research and Technology issued a circular for universities to work to consolidate Iran’s place in world universities and attract foreign students for science diplomacy.
The Ministry of Science, Research and Technology has authorized 107 universities to admit foreign students. Following this circular, universities have been working on which countries they can attract students from and have started promotional activities for the relevant countries. Many universities targeted neighboring countries and Iraq due to closer relations, and a large number of students went to Iran. The fact that a large number of Iraqi students enrolled in Iranian universities attracted the attention of the Iraqi Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, which announced that some universities and educational institutions would not be recognized and published a list of universities that would not be recognized. After the initiatives of the Ministry of Science, Research and Technology and long negotiations, some universities were conditionally removed from the blacklist. However, the Elborz Campus of Tehran University, which came to the fore with Merendi’s statements, was added to the blacklist again by Iraq on the grounds that it continued to “sell diplomas” and caused controversy. In fact, the Ministry of Science, Research and Technology wrote to the relevant university asking for an investigation into the situation, stating that the students should enter the country with student visas and that the Ministry should be informed whether the students were attending classes or not. According to documents published by the Fars News Agency, it was revealed that many students did not obtain visas, did not attend classes, and some classes were held remotely despite the ban. While Merendi was still serving as vice rector, he wrote to the Rector of the Elborz Campus and emphasized that issues such as whether the students had obtained student visas, whether they had presented the visas to the relevant authorities upon entering the country, whether they had sufficient knowledge of Persian should be examined, and that some students had not entered Iran for a year.
The Rector of Tehran University’s Elborz Campus responded to the allegations in a lengthy statement about the news reports in the news agencies. In his reply, he denied all the allegations made by Fars News Agency and said that the whole process of recruiting foreign students was in accordance with the laws and regulations, and that the wrongdoing was the fault of the dismissed Vice Rector [Seyyed Mohammad Merendi].
Merendi wrote a response to the insinuation of the Rector of Elborz Campus against him, denying the allegations. In his statement, he denied the allegations on the one hand, and on the other hand, he sparked another controversy by raising the issue of the dean of the Faculty of Literature and advisor to the rector, Abdurriza Seyf, calling the students of the Faculty of Fine Arts “rakkas” during a meeting of the university’s board of directors.
Seyf responded to Merendi’s statement in a very harsh language, saying that Merendi should stand on the revolutionary front and be grateful for being in the shadow of the Islamic Republic of Iran, even if he does not have the spirit of unity and solidarity, and should not carry water to the mill of the enemy. Seyf claimed that Merendi, along with the People’s Mujahedeen, the sultanate and the anti-Iranian media, were not happy with the visit of the Hashd al-Shaabi officials to Tehran University, adding that the first clash between Merendi and the university administration occurred when the leader of the Shiite community in India expressed his discontent with the meeting of the Shiite leader with the university rector. Seyf’s allegations include the US-born Merendi’s dual citizenship, his membership on the Sadra University Board of Directors, his frequent visits to Russia without permission from the university administration, and his children’s investments in Russia. In a statement on his social media account, Merendi said that the allegations are groundless and that he only warned against corruption and irregularities.
Science or Propaganda?
What is noteworthy in the discussions between the old and new administrators of Tehran University is that the Advisor to the Rector accused Merendi of being disturbed by the university’s signing a cooperation agreement with Hashd al-Shaabi. It is noteworthy that Tehran University signed a cooperation agreement with a non-academic group like Hashd al-Shaabi, which is engaged in completely different activities. While it is normal for an agreement to be signed between academic institutions or relevant ministries of two countries, the signing of an agreement between a university and a group with different fields of activity brings different issues to mind.
In recent years, within the framework of science diplomacy, Iran has been working to attract students from neighboring countries in different fields of science, preparing posters for the target country and offering various opportunities. Iran’s International Al-Mustafa University, headquartered in the city of Qom, operates in nearly 60 countries and, in line with its founding purpose, is active in exporting Shiite culture as well as its ideological agenda called the Islamic Revolution. In line with the decision taken by the Iranian Ministry of Science, Research and Technology two years ago, many universities in Iran have started to work towards internationalization and have started to admit students in media-oriented fields such as journalism, media, digital media, information technologies and graphics. The fact that Iranian universities make agreements with non-academic and especially pro-Iranian Shiite groups in foreign countries raises the possibility of universities turning into propaganda centers.
Consequently, it should be taken into account that one of the main issues in the process of Merendi’s dismissal was the admission of Iraqi students to the university in violation of the procedures and regulations. The fact that immediately after Merendi’s departure, Tehran University signed an agreement with Hashd al-Shaabi, which is not an academic institution, and that the Advisor to the Rector accused Merendi of being uncomfortable with this agreement shows that there are different dimensions behind the controversy.
Source: Iram Center