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Iran’s President Calls for Greater Academic Freedom

TEHRAN, Iran ― President Hassan Rouhani on Tuesday called for more academic freedom in Iran’s universities, saying restrictions stifle innovation and breed sycophancy.

“Irrelevant restrictions will lead to lack of tolerance, the departure of honest, competent individuals and the promotion of ingratiating people,” Rouhani said at an event marking the start of the academic year at Tehran University.

“Let’s not create a climate of flattery in the university,” Rouhani said in the speech, which was broadcast live on state TV. “We should not be concerned about the expression of diverse views by university professors.”

Rouhani, a relative moderate elected last year, has promised to promote greater openness in the Islamic republic, but has run into fierce resistance from hard-liners in the government.

He complained that no student representatives were speaking at the ceremony, saying: “I am here to listen, not to make a speech. It is a matter of regret that there was no speech by a student association representative in today’s program.”

Rouhani added that “governing and administering the country is not possible without tolerance. Let’s let people express themselves.”

Several students at the meeting were carrying placards reading: “We are waiting to realize your promises,” a reference to last year’s election, when Rouhani vowed change after the conservative rule of his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Iran elects a new president every four years, but Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has the final say on all major issues.

In August Iran’s conservative-dominated parliament impeached and sacked the minister of higher education, reformist Reza Faraji Dana, for trying to reinstate professors and students who had been purged during Ahmadinejad’s presidency. Rouhani has appointed another reformist figure as interim minister.

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