Academics at Newcastle University fear controversial teaching-only contracts could slip in through the back door as a new human resources strategy comes into force.
An institutional plan includes ways of ensuring academics of the highest calibre are recruited and retained. The senate has been told that a key plank of the strategy is to develop new contracts "to match specific areas of work, eg teaching or research only".
Nick Coleman, an electrical and electronic engineering lecturer and a member of senate, said: "This is extremely worrying and we will fight it with every means we can. It was wrong that the idea should have even been proposed. It has raised a great deal of concern."
He said it would be "anathema" to separate teaching and research at a university like Newcastle. "All our mainstream staff carry out teaching and research, that's what sets the calibre of academic life here. Without that, the best brains will simply leave."
Dr Coleman warned that by having researchers with no obligation to teach, students would be denied access to the best minds and be offered instead people who the university regarded as failed researchers. Teaching-only staff would also inevitably feel resentful.
Madeleine Atkins, pro vice-chancellor, said the proposal was a way of ensuring a balance between research, teaching and administrative duties, which were becoming increasingly blurred. "The vast majority of academics will continue to do research and teaching," she said. "But from time to time it may be agreed that some individuals can shift to, say, a teaching and administrative contract - with their consent. We must be aware that some academics wish to pursue a greater role in teaching and we don't want to deny them that. This is part of a necessary evolution towards more flexibility."
Paul Cottrell, assistant general secretary of the Association of University Teachers, said he was not aware of any other university going down the teaching-only route. "The worry is that once you get off the research ladder, it is impossible to get back on," he said.
Newcastle's senate will meet next week to reconsider the issue.