The organisation representing German university professors has advised young academics to boycott professorial appointments in the southwestern state of Baden-Wurttemberg.
It follows the state education ministry's decision to offer only temporary appointments to first-time professors. They will receive tenure only after a probation period of three to five years.
"We can only warn our members against letting themselves in for temporary contracts," said Hartmut Schiedermair, president of the German Association of University Professors.
"Temporary contracts for first-time professorial appointments not only show a deep-seated mistrust of the academic profession, they are also unfounded and anti-social given the long time it takes to qualify as a university professor, which already involves a number of temporary contracts," Professor Schiedermair said.
The move is likely to be only the opening shot in a larger dispute brewing over plans for a nationwide reform of university lecturers' terms of service.
An expert commission reviewing professorial pay and conditions is due to report its findings to education minister Edelgard Bulmahn (Social Democrat) at the end of April. But some of its proposals have already leaked out.
The commission, made up mainly of university rectors and heads of research institutes, favours a system of performance pay to replace tenured salaries that rise steadily according to age.
It says professors should receive only between 70 and 80 per cent of their pay in future as a fixed basic salary. The rest should be shared out flexibly by universities to reward those who do the best work.
Under the proposals, university professors would receive a minimum salary of E4,243 (Pounds 2,760) a month, and fachhochschule professors E3,579. But additionally they would be paid an average of between E1,8 and E1,789 a month, dependent on the university to which they are attached, their achievement and their functions.
The regulations would apply only to new contracts. Existing professors would be given the choice between accepting the new contract or keeping their old one.
The expert commission also wants to create junior professorships similar to the system already running in Baden-Wurttemberg. Directly after receiving their PhDs, new academics would be able to take up a university appointment limited to six years. Those who prove themselves in this time could then be promoted to a full professorship.
The commission believes this would speed young academics' entry to the system. Academics currently spend an average of seven years obtaining a PhD, then six more gaining their habilitation, the postdoctoral thesis required for qualifying as a professor. Academics are usually more than 40 years old when appointed to their first professorship.
Ms Bulmahn wants the new contracts to be introduced before the next general election in 2002. Professor Schiedermair said: "This is really all about cutting pay and making it palatable to the public and the profession as the fair result of achievement."