Simon Fraser University

SFU ponders Iran connection

Oct 31, 2002 , vol. 25, no. 5

By Marianne Meadahl
A nine-day visit by a team of SFU representatives to Iran could pave the way for a bold new international involvement for the university.

The trip came about in part as a result of two local retired doctors who recently endowed a lecture series at SFU. Fereidoun and Katharine Mirhady, both active members of the city's Iranian community, created the annual endowed lecture to promote greater awareness of the region's rich culture and history, in both academic and community circles.

During the visit, discussions about such unique opportunities as a field school and student and faculty exchanges were begun. Donations of academic books were also made.

“There is an enormous opportunity here for SFU to be involved in Iran,” says Nello Angerilli, executive director of SFU international, who made the trip with Randall Martin, director of international cooperation and mobility, and history professor Derryl MacLean, (above) who specializes in Persian and Iranian studies at SFU and had last visited the country 30 years ago. “The enthusiasm we found for cooperation was remarkable.”

The trio met with a host of government and other public officials as well as academics from some of the country's most prominent institutions. All expressed a strong desire for the creation of a variety of academic programs involving SFU. “No other Canadian university is doing anything like this in Iran,” notes Angerilli, who found the country much more liberal and open to reform than he anticipated. “It's an untapped opportunity. We are thankful for the Mirhady's involvement and hope this can lead to some exciting initiatives.”

The Mirhadys are happy to see their initial idea of a lectureship grow further. “We saw the endowed lecture as a way to give something back to the community while promoting studies about the region,” says Katharine Mirhady, who is from Ontario and met her Iranian husband while studying in England. “We hope that as time goes on other initiatives will perhaps include professorships and even a centre for Iranian studies.”

The couple moved to Vancouver in 1952. They have five children, including David, who is an assistant professor of humanities at SFU.

“The Iranian community has grown tremendously since we settled here,” notes Katharine. “My husband was one of the very first Persians in town. Now there are thousands living in the city.”

The Oct. 25 lecture at Harbour Centre drew a standing room only crowd. It featured one of the world's prominent Iranologists, Hamid Dabashi, chair of the department of Middle East and Asian languages and cultures at Columbia University.

The lecture and other potential developments will greatly enhance the department of history's focus on Middle East studies, says Tom Perry, associate dean of arts. The department, which has the largest undergraduate program in Middle East studies in Canada, will soon also be hiring its third Middle East expert. “This is another way in which SFU can develop town and gown relationships,” he adds, “much as it has done with the Hellenic and Asian communities.”