Academic dean visits Iran

Sally Weaver SommerDuring Oct. 4-10, 2008, Dr. Sally Weaver Sommer '74, vice president and dean of academic affairs, traveled with five leaders of other Mennonite institutions to Iran to explore opportunities or collaboration with Iranian universities. Upon her return, she was often asked "Were you scared?" Her answer every time? A resounding "No!"

"How could I be scared when I was hosted with a smile and expressions of good will?" asks Sommer. "There were no tensions or repression. But, that's not to say Iranians live without tensions or fear."

Sponsored by Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), the delegation visited with administrators, faculty and students at 12 universities and research centers in Tehran and Qom and explored possibilities for professor and student exchanges, video-conferencing to connect students in Iran with Canadian and U.S. students, and joint research projects and academic conferences.

The trip grew out of MCC's nearly 20 years of work in Iran and a desire to increase the level of people-to-people contact between East and West. "MCC seeks to promote understanding and friendship between the United States, Canada and Iran," says Sommer. "Higher education is one way to interact and create relationships. There's a real sense that scholars can make connections that politicians aren't able to make."

The Mennonite and Muslim academics identified topics of mutual interest that could form the basis of future collaboration, Iranincluding peace and justice studies, comparative studies of the Abrahamic traditions and the study of English and Farsi languages.

Sommer was joined on the trip by Loren Swartzendruber, president of Eastern Mennonite University; Jim Pankratz, academic dean at Conrad Grebel University College; Anita K. Stalter, vice president and dean for academic affairs at Goshen College; Ted Koontz, professor of ethics and peace studies at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary; and Harry Huebner, professor of philosophy and theology at Canadian Mennonite University. Daryl and Cindy (Lehman '72) Byler, MCC reps for Iran, accompanied the delegation.