Derby University management and lecturers' union leaders were on a collision course this week as vice-chancellor Roger Waterhouse launched an attack on officials threatening industrial action.
In an email to all staff, he accused lecturers' union Natfhe of deciding to "press the button marked 'nuclear' before even finding out what the university has to say" over pay.
The memo came as Natfhe's Derby branch members prepared for their annual meeting this week to consider a ballot for industrial action and a vote of no confidence in Professor Waterhouse and the university's management.
Union officials have been frustrated by the repeated postponement of meetings to discuss demands for a backdated 0.6 per cent pay increase to bring Derby lecturers up to nationally agreed rates. A meeting scheduled for this week has been put back to May 19.
They say Professor Waterhouse has no intention of honouring an 1997 agreement to return to national pay scales.
But in his memo Professor Waterhouse claims the agreement was only "to give due regard to national recommendations" and that the university had retained the right "to take a view on pay within the constraints of our financial position".
He says the union's decision to ballot for industrial action "is taken against the background of the university management being about to come forward with a pay deal for 2000-01 that will close the 0.6 per cent gap" leaving staff better off than under the pay scales.
Natfhe regional official Chris May said the union rejected this carrot and wanted an agreement that staff would be paid at national levels. "Lecturers do not want more than the national contract... If there is extra money, it should go into better resources for students."