The race to be elected general secretary of the 120,000-strong University and College Union kicked off in earnest this week with a strong challenge to joint general secretary and current favourite Sally Hunt from her arch rival Roger Kline, writes Phil Baty.
As nominations for the election formally opened, Mr Kline, head of equality and employment at the UCU, released a letter from 40 key backers.
His supporters span higher, further and adult education, old and new universities and several political factions.
The list confounded speculation that the election race could become a simple "tribal" battle between Mr Kline's old union Natfhe and the Association of University Teachers formerly led by Ms Hunt.
Among Mr Kline's key backers are Gargi Bhattacharya of Birmingham University, who had been elected president of the AUT just before it merged with Natfhe, and former AUT member Adel Nasser, the president of Manchester University's branch of the UCU.
Mr Kline is also backed by former Natfhe general secretary Paul Mackney, who is now joint head of the UCU but is not standing for leadership due to ill health.
Mr Kline seems to have largely neutered the threat from the only other declared candidate - further education lecturer Peter Jones, who is standing as the "rank-and-file" left-wing candidate - by securing backing from key personnel in the UCU Left group and the Socialist Workers' Party.
Ms Hunt's camp said that Mr Kline's support from the far-left could set the tone for the election - allowing Ms Hunt to pitch herself as a "mainstream"
candidate, above divisive issues such as the academic boycott of Israel.
In a statement, Ms Hunt says: "Pay, pensions, academic freedom and professional status are what matter.
"The union needs to unite around these mainstream issues rather than focusing on policies that divide our profession. "
Mr Kline said that challenges over "fees, funding, workload, equality and management culture" were his priorities.
The nominations for candidates close on December 1 and the election result will be declared by March 2007.