A Lincoln University senior lecturer is preparing to fight proposed job cuts he believes are a "blatant attack" on staff rights.
Following a revamp of its qualification portfolio last year, staff were last week issued eight proposals that could result in more than 50, or one in 10, jobs being disestablished.
The Tertiary Education Union (TEU) said it was "early in the game", but vice-chancellor Andrew West said some staff had already initiated discussions about voluntary retirement.
Senior law lecturer Lawrence Hill said the proposal was "outside legal employment law" and he had "lawyered up" to fight for his job.
The proposal to replace fulltime staff with contractors, and the fact staff were pitted against each other for remaining roles, was "abhorrent" and "unconscionable".
Hill, who is also a member of the university's council, said job cuts being presented to staff were "well in excess" of what the council anticipated. "It seems to me that they're abolishing some positions that we just simply must have."
His lawyer, Paul Brown, said the whole proposal was "flawed" and some individual cases could breach law. "It's a fundamental lack of good faith in what's being proposed. I say this is a blatant attack on workers' rights."
West said he was not aware of any legal challenges. The consultation process was "formal and sincere" and he would not "have a debate with lawyers through the media".
"If someone believes that, then I guess they need to make a legal challenge. We believe we are acting in good faith.
"I have to stress, we're losing money and have been losing money for some years. We can't keep running an institution that keeps losing money."
The proposals state the university has a target to break even by the beginning of 2015.
About $2 million of a $4m reduction needed in staff costs had already been saved, West said.
TEU Lincoln president Stuart Larsen said it was a stressful and anxious time for staff and the union would act on behalf of members if it saw fit.
The union sympathised with tertiary institutions dealing with crunching funding, and communication had been "pretty constructive" with Lincoln's management.
He was surprised by an email sent to two departments about staff not speaking to media about the proposal. It appeared to breach their "civil and academic rights".
Academics were "critics and conscience of society" who were free to express their views, as long as they made it clear they were not representing the university, he said.
West said the information was sent in response to staff contacting them for advice. "There is no chance of muzzling staff in the university and we wouldn't want to anyway."
- The Press