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Iran: Wrangle Continues Over Diploma Mill

In his 16 September Friday Prayer sermon in Tehran, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati demanded to know why nothing has been done about the case of the American University in Hawaii. Approximately one year ago, Iranian legal officials reported that the American University of Hawaii, a diploma mill with headquarters in the United States, was issuing degrees --> /features/features_Article.aspx?m=09&y=2004&id=D526607D-299E-40CD-A6DF-6324A396767A that the government did not recognize.

This institution granted degrees in exchange for the payment of fees, and it did not require class attendance. On 15 September, "Iran" newspaper criticized the judiciary for its failure to take action.

In August, the university case was referred to the judiciary for action. But since then, according to a 7 September "Jomhuri-yi Islami" report, there has been a bureaucratic tie-up. When the case first came to light, Iranian newspapers noted that a number of government and judiciary officials had gotten their credentials from the American University of Hawaii.

Justice Minister and Judiciary spokesman Jamal Karimirad tried to allay in early September any concerns about the possibility of a conflict of interest. According to the "Jomhuri-yi Islami" report, he said, "Some media organs have suggested that since a number of individuals who are currently working in different parts of the judiciary are graduates of that university, the judiciary as a whole does not intend to investigate and process this legal dossier seriously." He continued, "Full investigative and judicial work on this dossier will commence during the coming month."

According to its website, the American University of Hawaii has campuses in 19 countries, and Iran is not the only place where it is having problems. The U.S. state of Hawaii's Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs has filed several injunctions against the institution. The founder of the institution, Hassan Safavi, will go on trial in the state on 7 November 2005. The complaint against the institution notes that it is not accredited by any recognized agency or association, is "engaged in the operation of the unaccredited degree granting institution," and "offered to sell and sold post-secondary degrees."

This is not the only Iranian case involving a diploma mill. When Ali Saidlu was being considered as the prospective oil minister in President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's government in August, it was revealed that he had received a doctorate in strategic management from Hartford University. Hartford University is registered on the Pacific island of Vanuatu and offers degrees in exchange for money, according to "Time" magazine on 5 September.

There are other diploma mills operating in Iran. The Russian Voronezh State University's branch in Iran was fined and closed, and the Eastern Studies Institute, which is affiliated with France's Sorbonne University, was investigated.


The appeal of such institutions reflects a phenomenon called "madrak gerayi," roughly translated as "degree-ism." This phenomenon also is referred to as "credentialism," which is an excessive emphasis on formal educational qualifications in employment. Some see a higher degree as an entree to a higher position and the commensurate increase in salary, benefits, and prestige. Others just want a higher degree to satisfy their egos.

Credentialism and the related problem of diploma mills are not peculiar to Iran. A May 2004 report ( by the U.S. General Accounting Office found that some U.S. government officials have enhanced their resumes by getting degrees from diploma mills. Such institutions "require no academic work at all and merely sell degrees for a fee." The GAO investigation found that in some cases these institutions structured their charges so the federal government would pay the students' fees.

A second GAO report ( showed that a diploma mill can be created with relative ease. The main requirements for creating a diploma mill are a website, a telephone number, and a post office box.

The outcome of the Iranian case involving the American University of Hawaii is far from obvious. Legal cases in Iran sometimes just fade away without being resolved. But as long as Iranians retain the hope that academic credentials could lead to jobs, when the country is experiencing double-digit unemployment, the problem of credentialism is unlikely to disappear.

See also:

The Problem With Iran's Diploma Mills

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