THE RECTOR of Belgrade University resigned last week over the passage through the Serbian parliament of a law that academics and students claim will destroy university autonomy.
The resignation came after a week of bloody confrontation between police and protesting students and sympathisers.
The disputed law gives government the right to appoint university rectors and deans, hitherto elected by universities. Deans will have the final say over the appointment of professors.
Ironically the law gives students greater say with three representatives on the universities' management boards. Universities will retain control of their finances, curriculum and research.
Rector Dagran Kuburovic tendered his resignation charging the authorities with "breaking arms and shedding blood" in pushing the bill through.
Education minister Jovo Todorovic has said the new law will bring Serbian higher education regulations in line with those of "developed" countries. He said that large universities had proved "inert" and opposed to change.
But students and academics have campaigned to overturn the bill. They presented a 35,000-signature petition to parliament on the eve of its final reading, calling for it to be dropped and replaced with a bill drafted by a university's committee defending democracy.
But on the day of the final reading when some 1,000 students and sympathisers sat down outside parliament in a Gandhi-type protest large numbers of baton-wielding police arrived and forced the demonstrators aside.
There were several arrests and a number were injured, including one professor, Srdjan Mitic, and a 12-year-old girl. The students immediately went on strike and several staff have joined them.
But deputy premier Tomislav Nikolic threatened student strikers with fail marks in their sessional exams and warned staff that they would lose their jobs if they struck. The demonstrations were illegal, he said, because all rallies have to be announced in advance.