The Faculty Senate has made a foray into international politics in support of access to higher education.
In agreement with a special report from the Rules Committee, the senate voted last month to urge the government of Iran to restore full rights to higher education to members of the long-persecuted Baha'i Faith. The action was taken in response to the government's recent closing of the Baha'i Institute of Higher Education, in violation of rules set forth by the United Nations.
"The right to access to public education has been recognized as fundamental to all societies," the Rules Committee wrote in its report. "We wish to express our disapproval of the efforts of any government to systematically deny this right to any segment of a nation's population for reasons such as race, national origin, religion, gender or political belief."
The closing of the Baha'i Institute of Higher Education took place last fall, when Iranian government officers raided 532 home in 15 municipalities and arrested 36 people.
According to an account in The New York Times, the institute was started in 1987 in response to the banning of Baha'is from Iranian universities.
"The enterprise that was shut down," the Times reported, "was a stealth university with nearly 1,000 students, scores of volunteer faculty members, basements converted to biology and language laboratories and a network of couriers, foreign advisers and sympathizers."
Classroom furniture, textbooks, scientific papers and records, roughly 70 computers and an unspecified amount of personal effects were seized in the raid, which was carried out by officers under the direction of the Ministry of Information, an Iranian government intelligence agency. Those arrested refused to sign a declaration that the institute would be abolished and that they would have no further involvement with it.
The small scale institute included 10 major fields of study and graduated 145 students with bachelor's degrees.
"We did everything with our own empty hands," the Times report quotes one faculty member, fearful for his safety, as saying. "It was like a miracle that brought hope to the Baha'i youth."
The closing of the institute was condemned by the Clinton administration. The Faculty Senate resolution calls the closing of the institute a "direct violation" of the United Nations International Covenant on economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
The Baha'i Faith numbers nearly 300,000 in Iran and more than 6 million worldwide, including many organized "communities" across the United States.
Although it constitutes the largest religious minority in Iran, members have no legal rights and they are routinely persecuted in their homeland. Baha'i holy places have been destroyed, their marriages are not officially recognized, their children are considered illegitimate and their dead buried only in unmarked graves.
More than 200 Baha'is have been executed over the past two decades.
©Copy Right 1999, The UMass Campus Chronicle