The Supreme Leader appeared to step up the domestic pressure on Hassan Rouhani on Monday, effectively slapping down the President over recent remarks about freedom at Iran’s universities.

Addressing academic officials in Tehran, Ayatollah Khamenei called for a careful watch on those who might hold deviant opinions, “Individuals who moved with sharp revolutionary motivation have now changed their views by 180 degrees, and the meaning of the Revolution is incomprehensible to them and we must be vigilant so these characteristics do not penetrate the University Jihad complex.”

Although the Supreme Leader did not specifically refer to his President, the speech sounded like a riposte to Rouhani’s statements to university professors and students about academic freedom. Last month, the President called for an easing of regime pressure on scholars and teachers over their views — an extension of his remarks last autumn:

University officials should respect freedom of expression, and we should not be involved in the bad and inappropriate tendency of sending teachers into early retirement. I call on the security services to pave the way to that diplomacy and to trust professors and students.

The Supreme Leader’s response follows last week’s Tehran Friday Prayer, which was even sharper in its criticism of the Government’s approach:

Officials must be careful for the penetration of seditionists; I particularly warn the science, education and teaching ministries in this regard. This has caused the dissatisfaction of some MPs.

See Iran Daily, June 7: Tehran Friday Prayer Issues “Sedition” Warning to Rouhani

Thousands of Iranian students have been expelled or “starred”, blocking them from academic achievement and career development, in recent years. The pressure increased after the disputed 2009 Presidential election, with many professors and university officials dismissed or forcibly retired from their positions. The Ahmadinejad Government and MPs also spoke of the necessity for “Islamicization” of universities, as “Western” humanities and social sciences were removed from curricula.

Ayatollah Khamenei also used Monday’s speech for his conception of a “middle way” in Iranian politics and culture, amid the escalating battle between hardliners and Rouhani over cultural issues: “The revolutionary path of University Jihad must be preserved. It must not be allowed for this important scientific center to be influenced by the political maze of leftists and ‘right-wingers.”

(h/t to Iran Tracker for translation)