Cohon to visit, exchange ideas with Iranians

On Nov. 14, Carnegie Mellon President Jared L. Cohon will visit Iran in a joint collaboration between the Association of American Universities (AAU), a group of 62 research universities in the United States, and the Sharif University of Technology in Tehran, Iran’s leading science and technology university.

“The delegation’s focus is on strengthening academic ties,” Cohon, who had already left the country on Nov. 4, stated in an e-mail. “While we are there, we intend to visit several Iranian universities and talk about how academic ties can help provide the basis for greater understanding between our two countries.”

Cohon is among a group of six university presidents to be invited to Iran for this trip.

“The Iranian presidents are particularly interested in meeting with the presidents of American universities with strong science and technology programs, and Carnegie Mellon is certainly such an institution,” Barry Toiv, AAU spokesman and the trip’s organizer, stated in an e-mail.

The visit complements a series of exchange visits by American scientists to Iran under the sponsorship of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. Under the National Academies’ program, Iranian scientists and engineers will also visit U.S. universities and participate in meetings structured around specific topics of mutual scientific interest.

Prior to the Iranian Revolution and overthrow of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, such exchanges and visits between the United States and Iran were common.

“For a number of years before 1979, Iran sent the largest number of students to American colleges and universities of any country. Moreover, many current Iranian faculty received their training at U.S. universities,” Toiv said.

However, after the revolution and even more since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, political tensions cut off academic ties between the two countries, Toiv noted.

The upcoming visits on Nov. 14 will be the first meetings between American and Iranian university presidents since before 1979.

“It is our view, as well as that of the U.S. State Department, that such people-to-people exchanges can improve the relationship between the United States and the people of Iran and may also provide a pathway to improved relationships between the two countries in the future,” Toiv said. “We would like to see more Iranian students and faculty be able to come to the United States, and more U.S. students and faculty be able to study and conduct research in Iran, without fear of retribution by the Iranian government.”

Although Cohon’s trip will aid the mission, some people noted that feelings between the two countries cannot be ignored.

“The Iranian regime post-1979 generally was and is still hostile to the United States,” Toiv said.

“[Iran] is not supportive of such exchanges,” said Todd Davis, a junior international relations major. “There are still lots of bitter feelings towards America from Iran, and probably bitter feelings from Americans towards Iran as well.”

Cohon’s trip comes only weeks after an American student from Los Angeles was imprisoned in Tehran for involvement in the “One Million Signatures” women’s rights campaign.

“Unless we get another shah, nothing is going back to pre-1979 days,” Davis said.

Cohon and his colleagues plan on holding an open forum with students at Sharif University.