The Serbian education ministry has replaced the rector of Kosovo-Mitrovica University in a move that has angered Kosovan Albanians and sent shivers through the European academic establishment.
The European University Association last week expressed "grave concern" at the dismissal, stating that the intervention was "clearly against the spirit of the Bologna process", harmful to higher education in Serbia and an infringement of university autonomy.
Radivoje Papovic, the new rector, was a "Milosevicist", said Michael Daxner, the former United Nations-appointed international administrator of Pristina University who helped rebuild Kosovan higher education. The university was set up under his supervision in 2001-02 when it became clear that ethnic tensions would make it impossible for Serbs and Albanians to co-exist at Pristina University.
Kosovo-Mitrovica was founded as a Kosovan institution through a law promulgated by the UN Secretary-General's special representative, and the government in Belgrade acknowledged its status. But Ljiljana Colic, the Serbian Education Minister, deems the university, its staff and 7,000 students to be part of the Serbian university system. She replaced the rector, Gojko Savic, with her own appointee, Dr Papovic.
Serbs and Kosovan Albanians alike oppose the move. The Serbian Association of Universities decried the violation of academic autonomy and called for the appointment to be annulled. Dr Savic said that he had been ousted illegally and noted that Dr Papovic had been closely associated with Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbian nationalist former leader of Yugoslavia.
The Kosovo government declared the appointment an "intrusion". Dr Daxner told The Times Higher that Dr Savic had helped establish good relations between his institution and Pristina University.
Kosovan Albanians disliked Dr Papovic, a former dean of Pristina, for closing "the doors on Albanian students" in the early 1990s", said Xhavit Rexhaj, a Kosovo education ministry official.