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Ahmed Ispahani reflects on 40 years

Ahmed Ispahani, professor of business administration and economics, was recognized for 40 years as a faculty member at the University of La Verne. Ispahani, who earned his undergraduate degree in economics at the University of Karachi, and both his master’s and doctorate from USC, joined the faculty in 1964. Ispahani took a leave of absence in 1968 to serve as economic adviser for the Iranian government. He returned to La Verne in 1976./photo by Nicholas Mitzenmacher

Ahmed Ispahani, professor of business administration and economics, was recognized for 40 years as a faculty member at the University of La Verne. Ispahani, who earned his undergraduate degree in economics at the University of Karachi, and both his master’s and doctorate from USC, joined the faculty in 1964. Ispahani took a leave of absence in 1968 to serve as economic adviser for the Iranian government. He returned to La Verne in 1976./photo by Nicholas Mitzenmacher

Carly Hill
News Editor

Ahmed Ispahani, professor of business administration and economics, recently celebrated 40 years at the University of La Verne. He sat down to discuss terrorism, economics, and who he admires most.

In lieu of the terrorist attacks that are claimed by Pakistan, what is your opinion of Al-Qaeda?

Bad, bad, bad. Terrible things are being done by fanatic people. And to that extent, Islam does not say to kill anyone. These are their own interpretations of Islam.

Why do you think terrorism happens?

These people have unfulfilled needs. Their government, for whatever country they are from, or the dictator in that particular country, these people are unhappy with the government they have. Especially when they see the West supporting their dictatorship. So it’s their rebellion against that. Because they can’t get someone in their own country, they get someone in the West, unfortunately.

How do you think terrorism can be stopped?

That’s a good, good, good question. And so many people have been asking me about it. I think basically that terrorism can be stopped by listening to these people and what they want, what they are doing. Because right now, we are not solving the problem. We need to see what the problem is. Why are they acting the way they are acting? And then we can give them what they want, what they are asking. Probably these people in these countries are governed by people that are not elected, such as dictators. So, they are unhappy.

We need to do two things, I think. We need to create democracy in these countries. My cousin, Benazir Bhutto, gave her life to this, her father did the same thing. Her two brothers were assassinated. Four in the same family. They are called the Kennedys of Pakistan. They gave their lives for democracy. And my cousin Benazir, who was the Prime Minister of Pakistan, said “Democracy is the best revenge against dictatorship.”

I think the second thing that is important to stop terrorism is education. These people are not educated. A lot of other people, let’s take for example the incident in New York. He was a highly educated guy. People like this are being brainwashed by clergies, illiterate clergies, and it’s too late to educate these people now. We have to catch them when they are in elementary school. Right now, a lot of these schools all over in these countries, such as on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan, children go to these schools where they are taught to memorize the holy book of the Muslims, the Koran. They don’t understand a word of it, because it is in Arabic. In Afghanistan, the language is Pashtu, in Pakistan it’s Urdu. They have no idea, and are just memorizing verses from the Koran. Then the teacher gives them his own interpretation of these verses. A lot of people are brought up this way. The Koran does not encourage suicide bombers or terrorism, it is just the interpretation. I think they need education, and the education must come from when they are little kids, and in school they should be taught language, they should be taught sciences, they should be taught mathematics. They should be given a liberal arts education. And the Koran should be taught by people who know how to do interpretation. All of these people who teach should be licensed. Like in America, if you want to teach you need credentials. And these people should have credentials, and they do not. Anyone can become a teacher. We need to help develop teachers in these schools in these areas. I’m not saying the West should develop it, but their own government should. They need a democratic government that is not corrupt. They need to use their money to build the school systems, bring clean water, bring clinics to these places. And they need to treat equally the girls and the boys. Right now, the girls are treated like second-class citizens, and it’s just not right. If there are four kids in a family, and one of them is a boy, and three of them are girls, and they don’t have enough money to send all of them to school, only the boy goes. Even if the boy is the youngest. These are some of the things that need to be changed. Education, democracy, the building of an infrastructure, healthcare, clean water, and giving them the basic necessities for life. A lot of these terrorists are trying to bring change. Because they can’t attack their own people, because a lot of these countries are police states, so they go to the West, to bring attention to the situation.

What do you see in the future of Pakistan?

It’s in a turmoil right now. Pakistan is in turmoil right now because in its history of 60 or 70 years, 1947, Pakistan was set up in 1947. That whole period has been violence between military and civilian governments. It has been an era of corruption. India and Pakistan were formed at the same time. India one day later than Pakistan. But there has not been a single military takeover in India.

Why do you think that is?

I think they have a better education system, they have democracy in the country. They have had assassinations, but they have democracy. In Pakistan there is no democracy. That’s what my cousin was fighting for. Bring in democracy, bring in education, get rid of corruption. And it’s always very easy for the military, when they want to take over, the charges they bring against the civilian government is that they are corrupt. So they have a coup de etat, and bring in all the armed forces that are more corrupt. And once they come to the city, they don’t want to go back to the barracks. This all cannot be solved overnight. It will take many, many years, but you have to start from when they are little kids. That is what my hope is. Because when they are grown-ups, you can’t do anything. So we must start with the younger generation. Give them clean water, give them education.

How do you feel about what Obama is doing economically?

Obama is spending too much money to stimulate the economy under the theory that it should cause economic expansion. He is following the economic theory of British economist John Keynes. (Keynes) came to the United States and advised Roosevelt to put money into the system, building roads and bridges, which would create jobs, and once people have jobs, they will spend money, and the economy would pick up. This is the theory that Obama has been following. The problem is that the situation is different now.

At that time we were a major producer of goods and services. We were the biggest producer of steel, and other products. Today, Obama has adopted the same policy of stimulating the economy, but a lot of the steel is coming from China, it’s coming from Taiwan, it’s coming from Japan. So all of that material is coming from foreign companies. So it’s not stimulating the economy as it did in the 1930s. We are outsourcing all of the materials needed to build these things. The jobs are created over there. Some are created here too, but a very small amount. It will take a little longer to get into effect, because right now the effects are felt elsewhere because we are getting the raw materials and other things from them.

How do you think that we can combat outsourcing?

Well, we all want lower prices for products, and we all want to raise our standard of living. Companies look for a way they can get their products for the cheapest, and so they outsource. They are not eager to outsource to India or China, but they want cheap products. And so they look for places where they can get their products for the cheapest. Some people say they will buy American, but then they look at their pocketbook. If there are two items, one made in the U.S.A, and one is made in China, and they are equally good, one costs $20 and one costs $10, which one would you buy? That’s just the nature. So countries have no choice but to do that kind of thing. It’s a global economy, and we buy so much from other countries, and other countries don’t buy that much from us. What we should do is form an agreement. We should say, “OK, we’ll outsource to you, but you must also buy something from us.” It should be a level playing field. I’ll buy $10 billion worth of goodies from you, and you have to buy a certain number of things from us.

How do you think we are going to get out of it?

Right now we are very fortunate, because China is loaning us the money. But we are giving them dollars, and when we give them that, they are not turning around and buying products from us. The money they give the U.S., they buy bonds, and are not putting that money back into the U.S.

Why do you think that China has become such a major competitor in the world economy?

They are a huge country. They have a 1.3 billion people. We have a little over 300 million people. And they have a planned economy, a socialist economy. But now they are moving more and more towards a market economy because they see that if they give more freedom and ownership to people, more people will buy their product. I was in China some 20 years ago, and everything was government owned, even the barber shop. Now if you go to China, it is mostly private sector. The big industries are still owned by the government, but there’s a large private sector. These shops are open until midnight, because they own it, and their whole family works in the business, and they get to keep the profit. But before, nobody cared because they were all bureaucracy and they were employees of the government. And another thing that is causing a great deficit with China is that China has intentionally undervalued its currency in relation to the dollar. It is currently 6.8 yuan equals one U.S. dollar. It’s very expensive for the Chinese to buy American products. But for us, if $1 gets us 6.8 yuans, it’s very inexpensive. So we buy, buy, buy, but the Chinese find American products too expensive. So the trade deficit with China increases. To change the deficit, I think that China should lower its currency to at least 5 yuan to a dollar. Then the Chinese will find our prices very attractive, and they will buy American products, and that will stimulate the American economy. But it’s the market that should be doing the reform, not the government, and it appears as though the government is heading the market reform. And we are getting more and more towards a national economy as other countries are getting away from it.

What advice do you think is important to give a graduating business student?

Things will pick up. America is a great country. America is a country that bounces back, and bounces back, and bounces back. America is a resilient nation. We have lots of entrepreneurs, and that sort of thing. America will never stay bad. I mean, these are short-term problems and short-term problems do create unemployment. But it is a short-term issue. We will continue to face a high rate of unemployment, and figures just came out, unemployment went up 9.7 percent to 9.9 percent, but there are more jobs created at the same time, because more people are entering the job market. We need to give incentive to the entrepreneurs to create, hire, expand and grow.

Who do you admire in life?

I definitely admire Bill Gates. Not because of his wealth, I do not admire him because of his wealth. I admire him because he lives a very simple life. A very clean life. And he contributes to a lot to charities and lots of organizations. He’s done a wonderful job. There’s no reason he should do it, but he does it. And I really admire him a lot. He and his wife are not selfish people. They could buy whatever they want in life. But they are not doing that, they are giving it to universities, the UN, and Africa. Africa is another concern I have. It is an almost forgotten continent, and we need people to help.

Are you reading anything interesting right now?

I just finished reading my cousin’s niece’s book. I am on the last couple chapters. It’s written by Fatima Bhutto, the niece of Benazir. It is out in India, Pakistan, and other countries over there. It is called “Songs of Blood and Sword.” It’s not yet in the United States. It’s about her life, and what is going on. Very interesting book.

Who is the most interesting person that you have ever met in your life?

For me, personally, the Shah of Iran was the most exciting person for me. The king of Iran. I don’t know why but since I was a child I have always admired the king, and then I worked for him, and so that was a dream come true. He is another very admired person.

What are you most proud of?

Many of my students have done exceptionally well. I am so proud of them. One of my students is Steve Morgan. And there are lots of other people who have done extraordinarily well. All of these people have done so well in life, and I consider it a privilege to have taught 40 years at La Verne.

What does the excellence in teaching award mean to you?

A lot. Can’t put a price on it. It means I didn’t do all of this work just for a salary. It means dedication, it means a passion for teaching, all of these kinds of things.

What do you think is the most important thing you’ve learned from your students?

Listening to them, I have learned to look at different points-of-view. Everybody has their own point-of-view, depending on where they were raised, what kind of family background they come from, what country or region they grew up in, all those things create that person. All of those things influence that person. I appreciate every student. You never tell a student he or she is wrong. What if they are not wrong? It’s how you look at it. Is the glass half full or half empty? Amazing kids we have.

Congratulations on 40 years at ULV.

Thank you, it’s gone by so fast. I didn’t even realize this was already my fortieth year here until Diana called me from the president’s office to make sure I was going to be at the awards ceremony. I didn’t know because it didn’t seem like it. That came as a real surprise for me.

What’s next?

It’s difficult to say. What I’m doing is cutting back some of my teaching, no extra classes, no overload. I am not going to be teaching in January. So that will allow me to continuously enjoy my teaching and my students. I will still be teaching full time, but no extra. That will give me time to enjoy my students, enjoy my reading, travel a lot. Sometimes I am gone for three months, learning, studying what is going on in other economies, learning about other countries.

Any plans to retire?

Well, I don’t want to say anything and commit to it, but as long as I’m healthy, as long as I’m enjoying it, as long as it’s not a burden, I love to teach. People retire to do what? They do the things they enjoy. My passion is teaching my students. I love what I am doing. And I get paid for it. That’s a nice bonus. Do you want me to retire? Just kidding. Teaching and being with the young people, I love that.

Carly Hill can be reached at carly.hill@laverne.edu.

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