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Since enactment of the law, fifteen professors have been fired and at least forty-six have been suspended or otherwise sanctioned at the University of Belgrade. In addition, faculty members interviewed by Human Rights Watch estimate that at least eighteen professors at the university quit in protest or retired prematurely. Many other professors resigned as heads of departments and committee chairs. On November 27, the rector announced that he had received a letter from the minister of education, dated November 24, ordering him to inform all faculty members who had failed to sign the new contracts that they had fifteen days to sign new contracts. The letter further indicated that the positions of all non-signatories who failed to use this “final opportunity” would be advertised as vacancies. As this report was prepared, this order had not yet been implemented and the status of all who had not signed remained in doubt. A list of professors fired, suspended, or who quit in protest is set forth in Appendix A.

The precise implications of the new contract requirement have never been clear. The contract requirement is contrary to the express dictates of Serbian labor relations law. According to a law enacted in 1995, “Employees who have begun employment up to the day of entry into force of [this law] are not obliged to conclude labor contracts. Employees who up to this day have concluded a labor contract are not obliged to conclude a new labor contract.”14 The new requirment clearly violated the latter provision. As indicated above, moreover, the provision of the law on universities setting forth the new contract requirement, Article 165, provides little guidance. The provision simply states: “Employees of the University who have begun employment up to the date of entry into force of this law are obliged to conclude a labor contract within 60 days of the entry into force of this Law.” The law does not expressly declare existing contracts null and void, provide for penalties for those who refuse to sign new contracts, or state what terms are to be included in the new contracts.

The first weeks after the university law passed were accordingly somewhat chaotic, with different deans imposing different requirements on staff. Eventually, however, a standard “contract” was developed which professors at nearly all faculties were asked to sign. Notably, the new contracts do not alter salary, duration of employment, orother key provisions of existing contracts. The contracts are largely devoid of substantive provisions, consisting principally of a statement that the professor agrees to abide by the terms of the new law. The contracts do, however, include provisions that professors agree to be transferred should the dean determine that transfer is appropriate and that either side may cancel the contract at will. Many of the professors who ultimately agreed to sign the contracts as well as those who refused to do so agreed that the contract requirement was essentially a loyalty oath. As one professor put it: “The reason for the contract is simple. [The government wants] to know: are you with us or against us?”15

Dismissals and suspensions under the new law have been concentrated in three of the faculties in which protest activity in 1996-97 had been particularly strong: philology, electrical engineering, and law. The impact of the law in those three faculties is described in detail in separate sections below. In the Faculty of Philosophy, which had been the center of protests (and in which several major social science departments, as well as history and philosophy are located), however, there have not yet been any firings or suspensions. Faculty members speculate that this is so because over seventy professors, nearly one-third the staff, refused to sign contracts and the government fears that if they were all fired or suspended, the entire teaching schedule would be thrown into chaos and the students could grow restless. Government officials, however, have stated that they intend to disband the faculty and move its component departments to other faculties. Depending on how the government perceives its strength, the philosophy faculty could be the government’s next target.

14 Quoted in Vesna Rakic-Vodinelic, “Legal Consequences of the Application of the Law on Universities on its Legal Position and that of its Teachers and Associates,” June 1998 (copy on file at Human Rights Watch).

15 Human Rights Watch interview with Dragoljub Popovic, Belgrade, November 9, 1998.

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