Italy's parliament is discussing a new law to "promote" all university researchers to professorships.
If the legislation goes through, the role of researcher will disappear, to be absorbed into a three-level system of job definitions: professor; associate professor; and research professor.
But the proposed law has already come under attack. Sabino Cassese, professor of law at Rome's La Sapienza University and one of Italy's most eminent academics, said that it will clash with a law that has just been passed by parliament instructing universities to promote all technicians with degrees to researchers within five years.
"The combination of these two new laws would mean that technicians would be bumped up to researcher and then automatically to professor-researcher," Professor Cassese said.
"This is a mass promotion without any distinction of individual merit of about 20,000 people, more than a third of the university system's teaching and research personnel. It would be part of an Italian habit, which we have seen in the past in a number of across-the-board promotions in various sectors of the state bureaucracy, of creating armies made up only of generals."
It is also not clear who would do the work now done by technicians and researchers. University minister Ortensio Zecchino has expressed "strong doubts" as to the value of the legislation, which originated in the senate rather than in his own ministry.