Serbian academics have until today to sign contracts of employment under the new restrictive Universities' Act, which is effectively a declaration of loyalty to the Yugoslav government of Slobodan Milosevic.
About 180 academics at Belgrade and Nish universities have refused to sign such contracts, which recognise the government as "owner" of the universities, so destroying a 160-year long tradition of university autonomy.
The deadline was set two weeks ago by Jovo Todorovic, the Serbian minister of education, in an order to the rectors of the two universities to dismiss all professors and lecturers who failed to sign the new contracts.
At Belgrade University's faculty of philosophy, where almost half of the "dissident" academics are employed, dean Mihajlo Vojvodic, has so far refused to impose the minister's order. He said that since almost one-third of his entire staff have refused to sign, dismissing them would make the normal running of the department impossible.
Most university administrators have been more compliant. "Those who do not sign the new contracts do not recognise the country in which they live," said Radmilo Marojevic, dean of Belgrade University's faculty of philology.
Following protests by students and academics, a number of students were suspended or jailed on charges of civil resistance.
A Coordinating Committee for the Defence of Universities in Serbia has been established, with a website at http://ups. opennet.org. Outside the country, an Academic Freedom in Serbia Working Group has been established, news of which has been a significant boost to dissidents' morale.