It was the first day of class. Dr. Reza Vaghefi asked his students from outside of Jacksonville where they were from. "St. Augustine," said one. "Orange Park," said another. "The north," said a third. Vaghefi was interested, thinking the student meant Michigan or Minnesota. "Where in the north?" he asked. "Fernandina Beach," answered the student with complete sincerity.
Vaghefi tells this story from UNF's early years to illustrate what for him is a central tenet: that exposing students to diversity, new thoughts and unfamiliar cultures is vital to a college's mission. This belief drove him to develop one of UNF's most recent and impressive academic programs, international business, within the College of Business Administration.
A native of Iran, Vaghefi was himself seeking a broadening of thought when he chose to pursue his doctorate at Michigan State, winning a fellowship to Stanford University in 1965. He and his wife, Dr. Simin Vaghefi, a professor in UNF's College of Health, returned home in 1969 when he accepted a post as assistant governor of a central bank. Later, while attending a conference in the United States, he heard about a new university opening in the fall of 1972.
Like many other founding members of UNF, Vaghefi didn't plan then to stay for 25 years. But unlike many others, he did leave, accepting a vice chancellorship at a new university in Iran in 1975.
"It was an ambitious program. We were set to exchange faculty with Harvard," Vaghefi recalled. "Then the Iranian revolution happened. The whole thing collapsed. I realized I could not possibly work with the new regime, so I sought to rejoin this university."
When asked of what accomplishments he is proud during the years at UNF, Vaghefi doesn't hesitate. "I have an accomplished family," he answers. "That's the most important thing." Seven textbooks, including a strategic management text to be published in 1998, articles in domestic and foreign business journals, and numerous awards for teaching and scholarship are also to his credit.
Vaghefi's spacious new office in the College of Business Administration, where pictures of his grandchildren are displayed as prominently as one depicting himself and dignitaries including the Queen of Iran, is a far cry from the first office he occupied. "It was next to the ladies room in Building One," he laughed. "This is a tremendous improvement."
Vaghefi continues to advocate a varied student body, and notes students from Poland, India, Mexico, Columbia and many states are enrolled in his courses. He believes the benefits of diversity to UNF are tangible. "It raises the standards. There is more curiosity and the students ask very intelligent questions," Vaghefi said. "The larger number of international students is just one more sign UNF is maturing."
Vaghefi believes UNF is on target. "We can produce what the president wants. We can offer the best undergraduate program in the state," he declared. "It is achievable."