More than 100 senior academics at the University of the West of England have been asked to apply for a new set of posts as part of a streamlining of the institution's structure.
A "majority" of professorial, research and academic leadership and management roles "will cease in their current form" after July 2011 and staff will be matched to a smaller pool of jobs to help UWE achieve an overall cut of 50 posts.
Academics, who learned of the move in a letter from Steve West, the vice-chancellor, have also been told that the selection process will be linked to an October review of research in preparation for the research excellence framework.
The letter says that unsuccessful applicants will be considered for jobs at other grades with pay protected "for a period", although voluntary redundancy is also mentioned.
A union official said that the development, especially the link to the research review, was more "murky" and "threatening" than expected under the university's restructuring proposals, which have seen five faculties replaced with four.
Mal Hughes, the negotiating secretary for the local branch of the University and College Union, said it was thought originally that only a few scholars would be affected.
"The change was feeling very manageable and we were content that things were going at a sensible rate and speed," he said.
"We knew there was going to be pressure on university finances, but to bring all these processes together - the restructuring and the research review - we thought was threatening and very unnecessary."
He said there were fears that the restructuring would start a process of staff being "bumped" into lower grades.
A spokesman for the university said it was "not expecting" any compulsory redundancies and that it was likely to achieve the changes through staff turnover, redeployment and voluntary severance.
He added that the restructuring - part of a strategic plan up to 2012 - and the research review were being linked to "offer opportunity and choice" for staff at a time of uncertainty.