Linguists under pressure to accept early retirement from the School of Slavonic and East European Studies are considering legal action to protect their jobs.
Seven academics at the school have been told their posts can "no longer be sustained" in the face of a Pounds 250,000 budget shortfall, following the institution's disappointing performance in the 1996 research assessment exercise.
The school intends to reorganise language teaching through the creation of a dedicated language centre, after all it received an RAE rating of 4, rather than 5 or 5-star as expected.
The reorganisation will take place in the light of recommendations in an external consultants' report by Ulrich Kratz of the School of Slavonic and Oriental Studies.
Peter Duncan, acting president of the SSEES branch of the Association of University Teachers, said this week: "It is up to individuals to make up their mind how they pursue this, but we will be asking the AUT if they will back legal actions. Our advice from the union's legal office is that they have a case, particularly if their contracts date back before 1987."
He has already written to members of the school council appealing for support.
Sally Hunt, assistant general secretary of the AUT, will be meeting the seven staff involved and branch representatives today to advise on their next step.
The union will also be meeting the University of London personnel office.
The group of seven - five from the East European languages department and one each from social sciences and Russian -have been asked to take early retirement.
Dr Duncan said that their departures constituted "the loss of 10 per cent of SSEES posts, including a number of posts unique in the UK and held by scholars of international repute".
The director of the school, Michael Branch, declined to comment at this stage.