The vice chancellor of Nottingham Trent University has received a solicitor's letter warning him that today's planned conferment of an honorary doctorate on Kenneth Clarke, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, will be "void and of no effect".
Michael Scott, acting for lecturers' union Natfhe, said that in his opinion the board of governors had no power to take the decision to award the honorary doctorate to Mr Clarke. The move contravened the articles of government of the university and was therefore void. His view was backed by counsel.
If the ceremony goes ahead, Mr Scott said, judicial review proceedings could not be ruled out "although our client hopes that the board of governors will act properly and defer any purported conferment until all procedures have been fully and properly complied with".
The honorary degree has already caused heated debate following the chancellor's savage cuts to university funding in the last Budget.
Mr Scott said approval of nominations for honorary academic titles was reserved for the academic board under the university's articles of government. The academic board had referred the decision to an awards and titles committee but it did not have the power to do so.
A university spokesperson said: "It is our belief that the letter was not written in full view of all the facts."