Black academics are so disillusioned with the Association of University Teachers that they plan to set up a network to put pressure on employers and unions to take race equality more seriously.
An AUT vice-president described the move as a "damning indictment" of the union. The plan comes amid growing unease among ethnic minority lecturers that they are not served by the union as well as white colleagues.
A meeting of black and ethnic minority trade unionists at Manchester University earlier this month voted to establish the network. The plans will be finalised at a meeting next month.
One of those present, Bill Gulam, senior lecturer at Salford University and a member of the AUT's national executive committee and chair of its equalities committee, said: "Most unions do not pay enough attention to the issue of race, and employers are seeking to depoliticise it."
He said black and ethnic minority members felt isolated and that their legal representation was poor. "The network will act as a critical friend to the AUT," he added.
Gargi Bhattacharyya, AUT vice-president, said: "If in 2005 ethnic minorities feel so little confidence in their unions that they need to meet alone - then it is a damning indictment."
Paul Cottrell, AUT assistant general secretary, said: "We are aware of the deep concerns of black members about their representation and welcome input from the new network."
He added: "The question of equality has been prominent in discussions for a new merged union."
The AUT is in talks to merge with lecturers' union Natfhe.