A plan to introduce discretionary pay awards to help recruit international research stars at Cambridge University has been branded a "bullies and creeps charter" by opponents.
Critics of the proposals have collected 75 academic staff signatures - 50 more than the 25 needed - to force a ballot of the university's 3,000 academics.
Cambridge introduced its pay plans in a report in May and has promised to hold a full staff vote on them later this year.
But critics want greater transparency and more safeguards against abuse of what they believe is a secretive discretionary system. They intend to propose a series of amendments that will go to a vote next term.
Opponents are demanding that any pay awards higher than 10 per cent of standard salaries should be published to ensure transparency.
Gill Evans, a professor of history who is one of the 75 signatories forcing the ballot, said that the plans could amount to a "bullies and creeps charter" with rewards for the favoured and the "clearing out" of academics studying "unfashionable" subjects such as Sanskrit.
Andy Cliff, pro vice-chancellor, told Cambridge's Regent House that the reforms would provide the university with a highly flexible pay model, allowing it to offer competitive salaries in an international employment market.
In a statement, Cambridge says that all universities are revising pay and grading arrangements in line with the national framework agreement.
It says: "The university's constitutional arrangements provide for full discussion of these proposals, and this consultation is in progress. The university will be balloted on the proposals in the Michaelmas Term 2005. Amendments have been suggested and these will be considered by the council at its next meeting."