When Tehran University of Medical Sciences professor Siavosh Nasseri-Moghaddam was a medical student in Shiraz, Iran, he and his male peers were not allowed to talk to girls unless “it was a very important or vital issue.” He and his classmates were also forbidden from taking photographs of people because of Islamic law.
But that was two decades ago. At a Davenport Master’s Tea on Thursday, Nasseri-Moghaddam showed the audience a picture of the most recent graduating class at the Tehran University of Medical Sciences. More than half of the students were female.
During his talk, Nasseri-Moghaddam addressed this dramatic shift since the early days of Iran’s fundamentalist Islamic revolution in 1979 and discussed the complexities of modern life in Iran. After using pictures to give a brief overview of modern Iran and his own life, Nasseri-Moghaddam focused on the revolution’s suffocating effects on academia and the subsequent loosening of restrictions.
The impact of the revolution was felt immediately after all Iranian universities being shut down for approximately one and a half years. The government clerics who ordered the closure felt that the work being done there “didn’t comply with the principles of the revolution,” Nasseri-Moghaddam said.
From the time of the revolution to approximately twelve years afterwards, both students and faculty were subject to frequent government investigations if they wanted to work or enroll at any Iranian university, Nasseri-Moghaddam said. Almost two-thirds of the professors in Iran were laid off during the shutdown because they failed these investigations.
When asked how he passed them himself, Nasseri-Moghaddam said, “Good question.”
Of Nasseri-Moghaddam’s high school graduating class of 410 students, only six passed the initial investigations and were cleared to go to university, he said.
Nasseri-Moghaddam said the government investigated the private affairs of professors and students, asking questions like “Do you go to parties? Do you listen to Western music?”
But in recent years, particularly under the administration of Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, there has been a loosening of restrictions, Nasseri-Moghaddam said. University faculty has grown both in size and diversity, and government investigations are less frequent and less rigorous.
In a dramatic change, women have not only been welcomed into academia, but they have become the majority of the student body at medical schools in Iran, Nasseri-Moghaddam said. In addition, some occupations, such as obstetrics and gynecology, are now open only to women.
Nasseri-Moghaddam said he experienced these changes first-hand — as a medical school student in Shiraz from 1983 to 1990, as a resident of internal medicine at Iran University from 1990 to 1993, and as a professor there and at Tehran University of Medical Sciences, where he is currently a professor of gastroenterology.
Students who attended the talk said they enjoyed hearing about life in a country with which they were largely unfamiliar.
Don Perretta ’06 said the talk “probably quadrupled” his knowledge of Iran.
Alan Kennedy-Shaffer ’06 said Iran’s current political situation made the talk interesting.
“It’s unique to be able to learn about a country — that’s in transition as we speak … from a secular dictatorship to a more religious democracy,” Kennedy-Shaffer said.
But Kennedy-Shaffer added that younger Iranians may be more critical of the current Iranian government than Nasseri-Moghaddam is.
“The talk was more focused on how the older generation sees it,” Kennedy-Shaffer said.