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Politicization of Engineering Students at the time of the 1979 Revolution: Aryamehr University of Technology (1966-1979)

Session III-11, 2022 Annual Meeting

On Friday, December 2 at 8:30 am

Panel Description
In 1966, in collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the Shah of Iran established Aryamehr University of Technology (AUT) as part of a larger campaign to modernize the nation. AUT remains widely recognized both for its reputation as an engineering powerhouse in the Middle East, and for its legacy of student activism and protest. The case of AUT offers a unique historical case through which to examine how politics, culture, religion, and education interact in complex, and in this case, profoundly consequential ways. A fundamental objective of this panel is to theoretically and empirically examine the critical relevance of a premier engineering university within Iranian society and within Iranian civic and political discourse. Through an extended and empirically-grounded historical analysis of AUT from its founding in 1967 up until the revolution in 1979, this panel explores the role technical universities and engineering students have played in the broader sociopolitical landscape of Iran. In particular, these three presentations investigate the politicization of AUT professors who demanded the autonomy of AUT from the ruling elites in the last two years before the 1979 Revolution, and they also look into the ways the student body of AUT was politicized through the various learning processes both inside and outside the classrooms, as well as their identity formation through their various modes of engagement with campus life and in relation to the sociopolitical struggles of the society.
  • This paper investigates the construction of the AUT’s female students’ identity through their various modes of engagement with campus life. It also looks into the ways AUT’s female students’ identity formation was influenced by the gender perceptions both by themselves and their male counterparts, as well as the predominant discourses on women’s liberation and perceived limitations. This paper primarily dwells on lived experiences of interviewed female students who entered AUT in the year of its inauguration, 1967, until the 1979 Revolution. The paper argues that the female students’ identity, instead of being constructed in response to oppression expected to be faced by women in the STEM environment of Iran’s 1960s and 70s, was constructed through their encounter with discourses of politicization and modernization and their adherence to ʼinqilābī (revolutionary) values while repudiating qirtī (consumeristic) practices. The paper argues the prevailing revolutionary ideals enabled female students to transgress the boundaries of gendered spaces and conventions. However, they also constrained their lifeworld through regulations constituted by the perceptions of proper ways of being a revolutionary. This paper provides a cultural-historical perspective of Iranian STEM female students as agents of modernization of the nation in the 1960s and 70s. It also expands the debates on twentieth century Iranian intellectual history by assessing these thoughts in relation with the lived experiences of interviewed female students of AUT. This exploration leads to new understandings of the ways these articulated thoughts influenced the shaping of feminism amongst STEM female students as well as the mode of fashion, political approaches, and social values on the campus of AUT.
  • How can global perspectives, particularly from the Global South, deepen and complicate contemporary discussions on ethics, epistemology, and learning in STEM fields? In this paper we explore the politicization processes of engineering students at Aryamehr University of Technology (AUT), widely considered to be the most prestigious technical institution in Iran. In the historical period under examination (1967-1979), AUT was the site of a unique experiment in Iranianizing and Islamizing the university, as well as the site of a highly radical student movement. Drawing on an extensive archival catalogue, and seven hours of interview conducted with an alumni, we use critical fabulation as a method to construct three revelatory scenes of learning that make visible the dynamic interplay between learning and political identity for engineering students at AUT. We demonstrate that politicization is fundamentally a process of learning, and examine how students’ academic and political identities co-emerge through learning processes.
  • This paper examines the pre-revolution’s political activism at AUT with a specific attention to 1976-1979 during which the faculty achieved its objective of autonomy, administrative independence from the Ministry of Education, through strikes and resistance. AUT was the most prestigious engineering university and simultaneously one of the most significant sites of protest against the Pahlavi regime (1925-1979). From its founding in 1966 to the revolution in 1979, despite its formal relationship to the Shah’s royal court, AUT became a highly politicized educational environment. Students and faculty at AUT, in line with other leading institutions of higher education in Iran, had wide-ranging demands across a range of social, economic, and political issues. Their demands and politics radicalized in the early 1970s to include freedom of assembly, academic freedom, freedom of expression, and the overthrow of the Shah’s monarchical regime. During this decade several AUT students, professors and alumni even played leading theoretical and organizational roles in the Marxist and Islamist armed struggle movements against the Shah (Haqshinas, 2020; Ebrahimzadeh, 2021). In this paper, we draw on 1) a variety of archives including archival records held at AUT, and the declassified records obtained from Iran’s Intelligence and Security Organization, and 2) oral histories conducted with former faculty, administration, and students, to historicize the politicization of faculty and students at AUT. We will analyze Iranian engineering students’ and faculty activism against Iran’s growing militarism and authoritarianism, and examine the extent to which student and faculty activism was directed at the state control over the campus life.