Several Oxford departments have been using a template for a letter to staff who they consider to be underperforming.
The letter begins: "During our discussion I explained that I was concerned that your research performance was not meeting the standard which could reasonably be expected of you as a university lecturer/reader."
It concludes: "In the event that your performance does not reach a satisfactory standard, there may be no option but for the situation to be considered under the university's formal disciplinary procedures for academic staff which might lead to termination of your employment."
A reader in physiology at Oxford, who wished to remain anonymous, said he was subject to intimidation after taking a stand against "inequitable" criteria used to judge performance. He was "unnerved" by managers basing their assessment on how many of his articles were cited in certain journals.
"There is a body of knowledge on how these statistics work showing it is not equitable to judge every discipline by the same yardstick.
"These letters, amount to old-fashioned bullying. A number of people have noted that this kind of sabre-rattling does not square with the university's formal procedures," he said.