Canadian Baha'i campus associations defend the right to education

Canadian Campus Associations for Baha’i Studies (CABS) chapters have responded vigorously to the refusal of Iranian authorities to allow Baha’is to attend universities and colleges. The 2007-2008 school year has seen a number of initiatives designed to raise awareness of the way in which Baha’i students in Iran continue to be denied their right to higher education.

In the fall, CABS associations at Simon Fraser University and McGill University hosted booths during student mall events which resulted in, respectively, 500 and 100 letters of appeal being written by Canadian students to UN officials, Iranian officials, and humanitarian groups in defense of the Baha’is in Iran. In September, at the University of Ottawa such appeal letters were sent out on behalf of the Ottawa Graduate Student Association.

In October, a day long symposium entitled: “Denied! - Denial of Baha’i Rights and Education in Iran” was held at the University of Alberta. Sponsored by the local CABS group, it featured three speakers who highlighted the history of education in Iran and the devastating implications of its ongoing denial to the Baha’i community.

The 50 people in attendance also took part in a workshop to assist them in conveying the essential facts of the situation of Baha’i students in Iran to academic leaders in Canada. A similar workshop was held at the University of British Columbia in January. Information letters encouraging written appeals have gone to faculty and administrators at universities across Canada.

At Simon Fraser University, Baha’i students made a presentation to the University Senate and distributed 28 printed booklets of the Baha’i International Community’s 2005 statement: “Closed Doors: Iran’s Campaign to Deny Higher Education to Baha’is”.

At Quest University in B.C., a Baha’i student spoke with the University President, and a student at McGill was in touch with the Advisor to the Principal. They both received a sympathetic response and encouragement for their efforts to raise awareness. At Quest, one of Canada’s newest universities, the campus newspaper approved an article about the Baha’i situation to be published in their first issue.

CABS associations have been busy this school year hosting public talks on the persecution of Baha’is as well as coordinating events with other groups and departments interested in discussing human rights issues. Collaboration included the Amnesty International Chapter at University of Victoria, the Political Science Department at Guelph, and the Iranian Students Association and the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto.

Speakers have included McGill Professor of Law, Payam Akhavan, and Dr. Gerald Filson, Director of External Affairs for the Baha’i Community of Canada. A public talk at Waterloo in September, generated an article in Imprint, the campus newspaper.

On the weekend of April 5-6 the Association of Baha’i Studies Executive Director, Professor Pierre Yves Mocquais, and the McGill University CABS hosted a regional conference entitled: “Scholarship and Social Action: Reflecting on Denial of Education”. Through a series of participatory workshops, students and faculty invited to the conference were able explore the relationship between scholarship, service, and social action, focusing on the denial of education of Baha’is in Iran.

Background:

Since 1979, the government of Iran has systematically sought to deprive its largest religious minority of the right to a full education. Specifically, the Islamic Republic of Iran has for more than 25 years blocked the 300,000-member Baha’i community from higher education, refusing young Baha’is entry into university and college. The government has also sought to close down Baha’i efforts to establish their own institutions of higher learning.

After pressure from the United Nations, governments, and academic, educational, and human rights organizations, the government indicated in 2004 that it would stop asking university applicants about their religious affiliation, which seemed to open the door to Baha’i enrollments.

Since then, the government has developed other methods of denying Baha’is access to university. For the 2006-2007 academic year, a small number of Baha’is were initially allowed to register and then many of them were expelled.

For the 2007-2008 academic year, while 1,037 Bahá’í students were allowed to write the entrance exam last summer, more than 800 were later told their exams would not be graded as their documentation was “incomplete”. At least 36 of the very small number of Baha’is registered (some 121 only) have since been expelled.

For more details, see also the January 2008 Baha’i World News Service story: “New tactic obstructs Baha’i enrollments in Iranian universities”.

For updates and further background information regarding the persecution of the Baha’is in Iran, please visit: www.bahai.org/persecution/iran and www.denial.bahai.org.