‘This is the UG, not Iran’

Associate professor Sepideh Yousefzadeh was a scholar at risk not too long ago, because in her home country Iran it’s dangerous to research social safety. And then Susanne Täuber was fired, at her own safe University of Groningen.

I had a dream last night. 

It is 2010, I’m still living in Maastricht, and I’m anxiously looking to find a way to stay in the Netherlands. I talk to a friend on the phone and she tells me I may be eligible to receive support from Scholars At Risk (SAR). I look up their website. It’s a global network that aims to protect freedom and safety in higher education, and it consists of predominantly Western institutions and universities that host scholars from Iran, Afghanistan, China, and Turkey, among others.

I am exhausted. The uprising after the presidential election in Iran, the violence of the protests, and the imprisonment of my close friends have taken their toll on me. I look out the window of the small attic I rent in Maastricht and feel the cold air outside. My body is here, but my mind is somewhere far, far away from here. I decide to apply for SAR’s support.

I cannot stop thinking about Susanne Täuber and the events as they develop at my university. Not too long ago, I was a scholar at risk. The irony is, in a country that hosted me so that my academic freedom could be protected, scholars who work on social safety in academia are not protected and can be fired. 

Where I come from, being an activist-academic is a red line

SAR’s map of academic freedom worldwide does not include any Western university that challenges academic freedom. In all the events that SAR arranges (and I can’t say I’m not critical of the colonial aspect of them), it was an accepted and unquestionable fact that academic freedom is challenged in non-Western autocratic settings. Thus, it is taken for granted that Western universities are safe spaces and that they are in a position to protect academic freedom. Our own University of Groningen is a member of SAR.

I am angry about what happened to Susanne Täuber and the court’s verdict. I may sound too naive in saying this, but my surprise weighs a lot more than my anger. Where I come from, a country with an autocratic system in place, teachings or research on poverty, gender, or social justice could be risky and lead to backlash. Where I come from, being an activist-academic is a red line. 

Therefore, academics who do research on social justice or academics who are involved with activism are aware of the risks. They’re aware of the potential consequences; verdicts like ‘propaganda against the establishment’ or ‘a threat against national security’. 

As a result, many scholars have left the country, many have been silenced, some have left academia, and many are in prison. Any incidence of arrest or silencing still hurts beyond imagination, but it is often not shocking news.

If being a SAR member cannot prevent Susanne’s firing, where is the hope then?

The verdict for Susanne is shocking to me because it resonates a lot with what I experienced under an autocratic system. The university that is firing Susanne Täuber once championed Aletta Jacobs and is a SAR member aiming to protect academic freedom. If these facts cannot prevent Susanne’s firing, where is the hope then?

When I bring up the parallels with Iran, my Dutch friends and colleagues could easily feel offended by such comparisons. I cannot help but wonder if a democratic and ‘liberal’ place like the Netherlands can afford to normalise such silencing incidences. 

What happened to Susanne reminded me of the fear and threats that academics experience in Iran. Susanne Täuber has voiced the structural challenges and the gendered and hierarchical struggles of our university. This should not be happening to her.

I look into the mirror and it is Susanne looking at me. I wake up. I am working at the University of Groningen. This is not happening in Iran. This is not happening in an autocratic country. It is happening at the University of Groningen. Susanne is fired.

Sepideh Yousefzadeh Faal Daghati is an associate professor of intersectional wellbeing and decoloniality at Campus Fryslân. 



  1. Thanks for publishing this insightful and thought-provoking piece, Ukrant. And thank you Sepideh for the openness and honesty with which you write, and for tackling this ongoing issue at RUG from a very relevant perspective.

  2. If you are willfully blind to seeing the parrarels drawn here, it is a testament to your racialized sense of superiority and your victim blaming tendencies. Calling Susaune Tauber ‘jealous’ and downplaying her experiences of institutionally imposed differential treatment to a matter of female jealosy is abhorrently sexist. So is undermining the quality of here scholarly contribution, from which many scholars, including myself, draw academic and personal inspiration. I hope this is an instance of humility and reflection, for the institution and its management and for every single on of us who comprise the university, not an opportunity to gaslight women and apologize on behalf of our collective failure to recognize and deal with instances of workplace abuse and unequal exercise of power.

  3. So now we are comparing Tauber, who was jealous of the early promotion of another female colleague and pick up fights with all her colleagues in the department after being advised to increase the quality and quantity of her research (and who will receive a generous severance payment!), to foreign scholars being detained and/or killed in third-world countries by dictatorships? WOW!!

    • I think you misunderstood a little, maybe you should try and read it again :)) And while you’re at it, perhaps you could stop using Eurocentric, racist terms such as “third world”. Just a suggestion. Maybe tomorrow you can do better.

    • I would like to correct your rather deformed version of the truth. Täuber wanted to be treated EQUALLY to her Dutch female college. Täuber was attacked by all 6 professors in her department in response to an academic publication. Then to be told she had to be reeducated (communication/softskills/coaching/mediation). That’s not a dispute, that’s social terror of the powerful against one, bullying. The author of this letter is right, this leadership style is still the norm in some countries, while we claim to do better.

    • @ ‘PrimusIntraPares’, what you are saying is not okay. It is harmful towards people whose experiences and struggles are real. It is never ever okay to spread aggression like this. I am sorry that you might be hurting yourself to be in the position now to do this. I wish you healing and I hope you can focus on what’s good in the world. This op-ed raises an important (and brave!) point of view, which I personally want to hear and by which I am inspired.

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