A University of Otago humanities staff member, who did not want to be named, said they feared the best staff in the division would lose their jobs.
"Once voluntary redundancies have been called for, the intention is to evaluate staff-student ratios in humanities departments to determine where cuts could be made ...
"It is just so stressful. Morale is really low.''
At present, 450 academic staff are employed in the division.
This year enrolments in the division of humanities fell by 4.6% (237 equivalent full-time students) on the 4944 Efts who were enrolled in the division last year.
The division has experienced falling rolls since 2011.
Humanities staff were told of the review, which focuses on academic staffing across all humanities departments, by humanities pro-vice chancellor Prof Tony Ballantyne at a meeting earlier this month.
Prof Ballantyne said he could not say what departments in the division were at risk.
"Loss of jobs is a possible outcome of these processes, but until the processes are complete we are not in a position to comment.
"We need to consult with staff, work through our processes and then we would prefer to discuss possible job losses, if they are necessary, with staff and their representatives in the first instance.''
He confirmed the review process had begun and would end early next month.
Universities around the world were facing similar challenges for humanities subjects, he said.
"There are some areas in humanities where we need to reassess how they are configured and resourced in light of shifting patterns of student interest and the constraints on our funding.''
While there would be "limited change'' in most programmes, the review could impact on low-enrolment courses, he said.
The review was additional to one of University of Otago support service staff which began last year.
A spokeswoman for the university declined to provide a breakdown of enrolments in the humanities division, saying the figures were "sensitive'' in relation to the current review.
Changes to courses offered by the division would be phased in over the coming years, Prof Ballantyne said.‘‘I appreciate that these changes will be unsettling.
"We will ensure that information is available to those staff affected as soon as is practically possible, and we will strive to be fair and consultative with staff.''
He encouraged students to raise any concerns with the relevant heads of departments.