"When you're working in a totalitarian country--and Iran is a totalitarian country--you have to judge whether your effort is increasing the totalitarianism or if it is helping to open up the country," says Dr. Chase N. Peterson '52, vice president for alumni affairs and development.
If nothing else, Iran has, of late, repeatedly shown a willingness to open up its pocketbook to finance improvement projects deemed worthy by its regime. It was not surprising to learn this week that Harvard has signed its second contract--this time for $425,000--with the Iranian government for the development of a master plan for Reza Shah Kabir University, a proposed 500-student graduate facility in the middle of an Iranian national forest.
Harvard has already received $400,000 from the Iranian government for drawing up theoretical plans for Reza Shah Kabir, and the new contract represents a feeling on the part of the Iranians that Harvard's planners are the best men for the job. And Harvard is resolutely brushing whatever ideological differences it may have with the Iranian regime under the rug.
"If you restricted yourself to non-totalitarian regimes," says Peterson, "you'd only be able to deal with England, France, Germany, two or three South American countries, and that's it. We have to have a positive attitude. If you keep your high standards and it doesn't succeed, you abandon it."
Frederick H. Abernathy, McKay Professor of Mechanical Engineering, says the new agreement basically authorizes Harvard "to continue what we have already started."
The new master plan authorized by the new contract will only establish general guidelines for a non-Harvard architect. "Harvard's involvement beyond the master plan would be zero, Abernathy says.
And Edward L. Keenan Jr. '57, professor of History and a member of the nine-man governing board of Reza Shah Kabir, said the Iranian government "was apparently happy with the general things that Harvard did, so they wanted them to do more."
Planning Office chief Harold L. Goyette, who will head up the new Iranian university project, has already been dispatched to Teheran to begin work.
"Iran is one of the few countries in need of educational assistance which by the luck of history happens to have the funds to pay for it," says Peterson. "If the University could play some role in developing an institution in a country--regardless of its regime--along the lines of free inquiry, then it would be a huge step forward for both countries."