Goldsmiths College's governing body is reviewing the appointment of its warden, Ben Pimlott, as the Association of University Teachers increases pressure on the high-profile royal biographer to stand down.
In a move timed to coincide with routine discussions over the renewal of Professor Pimlott's five-year term of office as head of the London University college, the AUT has passed a no-confidence vote in him. The union said he had "failed to provide the leadership that Goldsmiths needs".
The AUT motion, passed last week after a postal ballot by 82 votes to 73, said Professor Pimlott had "failed to engage in meaningful consultation, has ignored staff concerns, and has managed autocratically".
The union, which represents almost 300 of Goldsmiths' 500 full-time academic staff, is angry at Professor Pimlott's plans to centralise administration, which it claims will concentrate management power "in the hands of the warden and two senior officers", and remove the tradition of democracy and creativity. The AUT was due to meet this week to discuss "where we go from here".
The union says that a document outlining fundamental administrative reforms was not put to the warden's advisory group, where heads of department are represented. The union also claims that concerns about the document expressed by the academic board were removed from the official record before going to the college's council for approval.
In a rebuttal of the AUT's claims, Professor Pimlott conceded that "of course, mistakes and misjudgements have occurred in the effort to modernise and advance the college", but he insisted that the AUT's attacks "put the worst possible interpretation on events".
He denied that he had failed to consult over reforms and said there was no evidence that equal opportunities procedures had been ignored.
"Goldsmiths is doing well at the moment," he said. "We scored handsomely in the RAE, have for the moment achieved a long-sought financial stability, (and) have adopted a challenging strategic plan with an exciting project to develop the college as the UK's leading university of creativity and innovation. We are on the edge of a breakthrough. To stand still upsets few people - that is the easy approach."
Professor Pimlott's call to "avoid a damaging confrontation" was backed by an email lobbying campaign from his supporters among senior staff, but failed.
A spokeswoman for Goldsmiths said the review of Professor Pimlott's position was planned by council four years ago when he was appointed. His first term of office ends in September 2003, and an appointment committee set up before the no-confidence vote will report back to council on July 2.
She said the warden had the full support of the management team and the chair of the governing council, Sir William Utting.