Azerbaijani universities are using their new autonomous status to carry out a political purge of lecturers, according to the Yeni Musavat Azeri newspaper, regarded as the organ of the opposition Musavat party.
The change in status means that contracts with university staff have to be negotiated. The paper claims that the administrations of Baku State University and the Pedagogic University are using this as a pretext to force lecturers to resign their membership of opposition parties. In some cases, lecturers have been ordered to join the ruling New Azerbaijan Party and to write articles praising Heydar Aliyev, president of Azerbaijan.
The rationale was that the lecturers - mainly from the history, literature and journalism faculties - were "carrying out a policy that runs counter to Azerbaijani statehood and the policy course of Heydar Aliyev's government". These negotiations were timed to coincide with the mid-sessional examinations - presumably in the hope that lecturers would be too busy to take concerted action.
Having issued their ultimatum, resign membership or leave, the rectors then proved elusive. Eventually, the BSU lecturers concerned did manage to have a face-to-face meeting with the rector, Abel Maharramov. They were reluctant, however, to tell the media what was said. Zeynal Mammadli, a lecturer in the faculty of journalism, did reveal that he had told the rector that he was "struggling not against statehood, but against the government. These are different things".
Dr Maharramov said he was not implementing the reforms of his own free will; the order, he said, came from the top. Nevertheless, he is a member of the NAP and serves on its political council.
The newspaper drew a comparison with the Soviet era, when Communist Party membership was a prerequisite of holding any senior or influential post. However, it noted, even the Soviets did not require party membership at the level of junior lecturers.
Committees to protect lecturers' rights are being set up. The lecturers affected are, where possible, employing delaying tactics. Nevertheless, at the Pedagogic University, a number of those holding junior posts have been obliged to submit their application for membership to the NAP.