The National Tertiary Education Union has taken "unprecedented" legal action against the University of Wollongong and Vice-Chancellor Paul Wellings over their fast-track approval of a Ramsay Centre-funded degree.
The hearing is set for April 23 after the NTEU lodged a claim in the Supreme Court of NSW seeking to have Professor Wellings' decision to approve the Bachelor of Arts - Western Civilisation degree declared invalid, and to stop UOW from taking any further steps to implement the decision.
"Our concerns are about procedural fairness and a lack of integrity in the decision-making process," said Dr Alison Barnes, NTEU national president.
Last December staff at the university felt blindsided when Professor Wellings bypassed the university's academic senate, which ordinarily approves new degrees, to fast-track approval of the Ramsay deal.
On Friday the University Council, UOW's highest governing body, will discuss the fast-track approval of the controversial degree.
Associate Professor Georgine Clarsen, the NTEU branch president at UOW, said the legal challenge was based solely on the university's failure to follow its own procedures.
Prof Clarsen wrote to all Councillors informing them about the court action and requesting them to do their own due diligence on the matter.
"This is unprecedented action for the NTEU. We do so out of concern at the erosion of academic processes and collegial decision-making at our university," she wrote.
"Given the importance of the decision, the university's use of the fast-track approval process for the Ramsay-funded degree departed from the usual involvement of academic staff at all levels, and ultimately the Academic Senate."
This view was shared by Dr Barnes who said it was time to 'draw a line in the sand'.
"The University's subsequent dismissal of the Academic Senate's objection indicates its disregard for its own academic community," Dr Barnes said.
"Best practice academic governance requires universities to take into account and reflect the views of their staff, students and communities. This has clearly not happened in this case."
Prof Clarsen told the Mercury that unlike the Vice-Chancellor, the union felt the issue was "probably the largest governance issue in a long time" and the University Council needed to act on it.
"I believe that it is their responsibility to seek legal advice and to very carefully look at the decision," she said. "I believe it is in their powers and in fact their duty to properly discuss it and make a decision on it.
"My belief is it is not the Vice- Chancellor who is the highest authority at the university but it is the University Council.
"The risks to our university's good name are already apparent and we appeal our Council to apply due diligence in discussing this important matter."
She hoped the powers that be will allow Council's deliberations to be made publicly available.
A spokesman said UOW would not comment on pending legal proceedings at this time.
But the spokesman added University Council agenda items could be designated confidential for various reasons.
"The University has held a number of fora for staff to discuss the Bachelor of Arts in Western Civilisation." he said.