A stalemate over plans to introduce performance-related pay at Coventry University has prompted managers to end discussions with the lecturers' trade union and offer a choice to individual academics.
The University and College Union has been in talks with management over proposed changes to the pay structure for lecturers - which have already been accepted by non-academic staff - since 2006.
Madeleine Atkins, Coventry's vice-chancellor, has said the plans are based on the national framework agreement on pay and career structures, and offer modernisation that will benefit many academics.
However the UCU, which is opposed to performance-related pay nationally, has accused university management of trying to "hoodwink" lecturers into taking pay cuts.
The university has now withdrawn from talks with the UCU and asked the 600 or so academics involved to choose whether they want to move to the new pay structure or to stay on their existing contracts.
It said the proposals provide automatic annual pay increases for all staff at the lower end of each grade, with career progression linked to the contribution made to the "success of the university".
"The UCU continues to reject this level of performance-related reward and wants all staff to be treated the same regardless of their contribution," it said.
Professor Atkins said: "We have made five separate proposals over the last two years of negotiations, but the UCU has not been prepared to honour the national agreement, which allows for local variations.
"We are offering lecturers the freedom to choose the new proposals or to stay on their existing contract. No member of staff will be worse off and nothing is being imposed."
The UCU accused the university of trying to impose its will after withdrawing from negotiations.
A union spokesman said: "Automatic salary levels at the tops of grades will be significantly lowered and replaced with a complex and bureaucratic performance-related pay system, which staff have no guarantee of progressing through.
"Given the long-term decline in members' pay in the sector and the present economic environment, this is shameful behaviour."
The UCU also accused Coventry of being disingenuous in its claims to have put forward five separate proposals, arguing that managers had "put forward proposals that they know are unacceptable".
The union spokesman said: "Managers claim to be offering their staff a choice, but in fact the so-called choice is fake: it's like choosing between a poisoned cake or no cake at all."
The UCU national office has declared an official dispute with Coventry, with a branch meeting to be held on 8 July.