A university in the eastern Chinese province of Shandong has fired a lecturer and human rights lawyer after he "repeatedly published inappropriate comments" in the media, RFA has learned.
Rights lawyer Liu Shuqing, who also works at a public interest law firm, was told to stop teaching classes at the Shandong Qilu University of Technology last year.
The university issued a statement accusing Liu of "violating teaching standards of practice" and being a "bad influence."
Liu, who was hired to teach by the college's school of chemical engineering, said he had also been rated "unqualified" in a recent staff assessment, although he was the only one in his faculty to fail his assessment.
The school will now go through a disciplinary process based on two posts he made on the internet, about a government grading system for lawyers and the abuse of official power.
But he said he had never discussed his opinions while teaching, and that there was nothing illegal in either post.
"I told them that teaching is only one of my professions, but that my identity is as a citizen, and that citizens have the right to freedom of speech," Liu told RFA.
"Both of these posts are still on WeChat, and haven't been blocked or deleted," he said. "I am very disappointed that the school has punished me anyway."
Not yet fired
Liu has already been ordered to stop teaching, but hasn't been formally fired. Instead, he has been demoted to the status of teaching assistant.
His contract states that the university can fire him if he fails two consecutive annual assessments, however.
"I have been teaching for more than 10 years," Liu told RFA. "I think I am a very competent teacher. I am qualified ... It is very unfair."
He said he would see whether or not the school would accept an offer of arbitration, as hinted at in their letter informing him of the decision.
An employee who answered the phone at the university's personnel department declined to comment.
"I don't know this teacher, and I'm not familiar with the case," the employee said. "You should call the propaganda department."
Academics say the ruling Chinese Communist Party is stepping up its censorship of academics in an unconstitutional bid to silence even the mildest criticism.
Former Guizhou University professor Yang Shaozheng, who was fired outright after he made comments critical of the Communist Party in an online article, said self-censorship in colleges and universities is a growing problem on Chinese campuses.
"What it means is that no one in this society is willing to insist on justice and the rule of law," Yang said. "They are forcing teachers and other members of society to stay silent about whatever they think is problematic."
"If you go on like this for a long time, this country will lose its sense of right and wrong."
Liu has previously represented Beijing rights lawyer Wang Yu, who was the first of hundreds to be detained and sanctioned in a nationwide crackdown launched in July 2015.
He has also counted New Citizens' Movement found Xu Zhiyong, Harbin petitioner Xu Chunhe, and many other rights activists among his clients.
Earlier this week, China's education ministry launched a new wave of political training for colleges and universities that aims to instill the ideology of President Xi Jinping and late supreme leader Mao Zedong in staff and students alike.
The Ministry of Education released on Monday a five-year training plan for teachers via a series of "political theory" courses in colleges and universities.
According to the ministry, "it is necessary to train dozens of ideological and political scholars with extensive influence ... as well as hundreds of leaders in ideological and political education."
Under the plan, thousands of teachers and professors will study the classics of Marxism alongside the Thought of Xi Jinping, Mao Zedong, and late supreme leader Deng Xiaoping.
The results of their theoretical research should then be integrated into their teaching materials, the ministry said.
All colleges and universities will be required to send at least two qualified teachers to participate in the program, achieving full coverage of all Chinese tertiary institutions within five years, it said.
Reported by Gao Feng for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.