Thursday, May 7, 2015
Interview with Michael Karlberg on the Bahá’í Institute for Higher Education Resistance to Iranian Oppression
An Interview conducted by Austin VanKirk, Editorial Assistant for the Journal of Educational Controversy
In his article, “Constructive Resilience: The Bahá’í Response to Oppression,” Dr. Michael Karlberg discusses the resilience of these people. In my interview with him at Western Washington University on April 10th, Dr. Karlberg proposed that the reason for the scarce media coverage is due to the non-violent and non-adversarial way in which Bahá’ís respond to their oppression. Were their response charged with bullets and bombs, media outlets would grant them more attention.
But the Bahá’í situation in Iran has come to the attention of the Journal of Educational Controversy because of a unique and special way they are organizing to resist oppression. The Bahá’í Institute for Higher Education—BIHE—is a network of educators working to give Iranian members of this faith access to higher education. Prevented from attending or ousted from Iran’s universities, Bahá’ís have come together, along with educators from around the world, to share knowledge with those who seek it.
BIHE classes operate mostly online. According to Dr. Karlberg, who himself teaches such courses, BIHE online courses operate nearly identically to standard online courses. Instructors from around the world who are experts in their fields teach online courses. Some classes do meet in-person, but this isn’t as common given its increased risk and complexity.
BIHE set down its commitment in 1987, and since then now offers thirty-two university-level programs in Sciences, Engineering, Business, Humanities, and in other fields. A strong belief in education has been a longtime commitment of the Iranian Bahá’ís when approximately eighty years ago, Bahá’ís established the first schools for girls in Iran. Previously none had existed formally. Today, Iranian girls can attend school, Bahá’ís and non- Bahá’ís alike, because of the Bahá’ís’ commitment to education and equality.
Dr. Karlberg has been involved with the institution for about three years now after being approached by BIHE. He teaches his courses in English, with most students being able to understand the language. Students who do not speak English well or at all, receive assistance by their fellows, demonstrating a communal commitment to education. Participating in these online courses does pose risks for the Iranian Bahá’í students, who face imprisonment if caught. In fact, it isn’t uncommon for students to have to drop their courses due to some governmental intervention.
Even though the students of BIHE face constant danger and are obliged to learn under non-traditional conditions, the quality of education is not diminished. As proof, an increasing number of universities are accepting the validity of degrees awarded by BIHE and accept students from BIHE into masters and doctoral programs. Though the pitfalls are many, Iranian Bahá’ís are unwilling to forsake education and remain resilient against the attempts of a regime to bar them from it.
The tenth year anniversary issue of the Journal of Educational Controversy will feature a special scholarly article on the topic.