HONG KONG -- A politically outspoken Chinese economist, Xia Yeliang, will lose his professorship at Peking University, one of China's most prestigious and internationally prominent schools, after a committee voted to dismiss him, Professor Xia said on Saturday. The decision came after months of contention over his future, which his supporters have said reflects the Communist Party's efforts to deter liberal political views on campuses.
Professor Xia said the School of Economics at the university notified him on Friday that an evaluation committee had voted last week against renewing his contract, which runs out in late January. The Associated Press previously reported the decision.
"To me, the decision is deeply unreasonable, but there's little I can do," Professor Xia said in a telephone interview. On Friday, he said, "a head of the school told me that if I keep saying to the international media that this is a political case, not an academic one, then my situation will become even worse." He declined to name the faculty leader.
Professor Xia, 53, must now find new work, with virtually no prospect that another Chinese university will dare to employ him.
The decision may complicate Peking University's extensive ties with universities and academics in the United States and elsewhere. Repeated calls to the university's School of Economics and Office of International Relations were not answered on Saturday, which was not a working day in China.
China has plenty of academic economists who, like Professor Xia, favor unfettered free markets and see them as allied to liberal democracy. But more than others, Professor Xia has spoken out in support of democratization and against the Communist Party's restrictions. He believes that is why the university decided against him, although, he said, university leaders had not spelled that out in discussions over his impending dismissal.
Last year, Professor Xia issued a call on the Internet for Chinese intellectuals to gather in public spaces to discuss and promote political reform. Before that, he mocked a propaganda minister for having a degree from a technical school.
In 2008, he put his name to a petition demanding sweeping political changes that would amount to an end to one-party rule. Liu Xiaobo, one of the main organizers of that petition, Charter 08, was arrested soon after it appeared and is serving an 11-year sentence on subversion charges. Mr. Liu won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010.
Peking University, in the northwest corner of Beijing, has traditionally been among China's more liberal campuses, but like all universities in the country it comes under party control. Senior appointments are made by the party's organization department, and a network of party committees operates throughout the campus.
Peking University also has an abundance of international partners. American schools with ties to it include Stanford University, which opened a research center on the Peking University campus last year, as well as Cornell and Yale.
The threat to Professor Xia's job had already aroused opposition abroad. Last month, more than 130 faculty members at Wellesley College signed a petition urging their school to reconsider its partnership with Peking University if he was dismissed. Professor Xia said universities would have to decide for themselves what to do.
"My personal view is that I wouldn't like to see this incident lead to American universities stopping exchanges or cooperation with Chinese universities," he said. "That wouldn't help Chinese students and academics."
Professor Xia said he would finish teaching two courses before his contract expired and was not sure what work he could find after that.
"In China, life can be a very big headache without a work unit," he said. "I told my wife not to fret. Something will come up."
This article originally appeared in The New York Times. First Published October 20, 2013 2:01 PM