The rector of Cyprus University, Nicolas Papamichael, has quit in protest against a parliamentary decision to award student bodies 33 per cent representation on departmental councils.
At a heads of departments meeting to discuss the legislation, academics said the law had plunged the university into crisis. The law gives students a potentially decisive vote on all council actions, including course content and staff recruitment.
In his letter of resignation, Professor Papamichael said his move reflected the sentiments of his staff, who feared that university autonomy had been jeopardised by parliament's decision.
He said he felt it was his duty to take responsibility for university leaders' failure to convince law-makers that students should have more limited voting rights.
"We consider the participation of students in university bodies necessary and constructive, provided it is maintained at internationally acceptable levels," he said. The 33 per cent representation "is far from these levels".
In a statement, the university council called Professor Papamichael's move "a rare act of high morality and responsibility". It said it feared that the government's decision set a dangerous precedent for future intervention in university affairs.
Students welcomed the legislation, saying the rector's resignation had been unnecessary.
Professor Papamichael was vice-rector when Cyprus University was set up in 1992. He took over as rector in January 1999. He is credited with overseeing the building of a new campus and establishing internal promotion procedures. "He did more than anyone for this university," said Elpida Keravnou, dean of the School of Pure and Applied Sciences. "His departure is a big blow."
He was right to quit, said Maria Hadjipavlou, lecturer in social and political science. "It was important to send a message that academics be consulted before such a law is passed."