The reasons for which Xia Yeliang, an outspoken government critic, was dismissed in October from his job teaching economics at China's most prestigious seat of learning, Peking University, are disputed. (See accompanying article.)
He says he was sacked on political grounds, that he is being punished for his public criticism of senior figures in the ruling Communist Party.
The university insists his contract is not being renewed "for no other reasons than academic ones," saying he is a poor teacher with a thin publications record.
Professor Xia is a well-known liberal economist who has been in trouble with the authorities before – especially since he put his signature to Charter 08, a public call for democracy, whose main author, Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, is serving an 11-year jail sentence for his pains.
Xia has also used "weibo," a social media platform, to post barbed attacks on the government.
Faculty at Peking University's School of Economics voted 30 to 3 not to renew his contract at the end of this year at a meeting Oct. 11. When the decision drew international criticism, the university spokesman told the state-run news agency Xinhua that students had rated Xia the worst professor in the department three times, and near the bottom three other semesters.
Xia disputes this, saying he had been shown only one set of student evaluations (which he acknowledges did rank him at the bottom) and that he does not believe the university's account, though he thinks it's possible that very poor marks from Communist Party loyalists in his classes might have pulled his averages down.
He also says that if this were the real reason for his sacking, he would be the first Peking University professor to have been dismissed on the basis of student evaluations.
Xia also challenges the university's claim that he had published only one paper in a qualified peer-reviewed academic publication in the past five years, saying that he had published five or six such articles.
Xia says he has received no offers for a teaching post elsewhere.
"Not a single university will dare offer me a job," he says. "If this were an academic matter, maybe I am not qualified to teach at Peking University, the best in the country, but am I not qualified to teach at any of the 2,000 universities in China?"
Wellesley College in Wellesley, Mass., where more than 130 faculty members protested on Xia's behalf to Peking University before the Oct. 11 vote, may come to his rescue. Wellesley President Kim Bottomly has approved a proposal that Xia come to the college on a two-year fellowship as a "scholar at risk" under the college's "Freedom Project."