The newly appointed vice-chancellor at a South Island university, who went undercover, says he wanted to find out more about the tertiary institution before he took on the job.

Around 20 staff at Canterbury's Lincoln University were interviewed by a "visiting academic" preparing a report for the university's council about concerns at the campus.

Tertiary Education Union local organiser Cindy Doull said it wasn't until the end of the interview horrified staff were told the academic's true identity, Professor Robin Pollard, their future boss.

A statement from Lincoln University released to the Herald stated Mr Pollard was visiting New Zealand on holiday in early January and he "wished to undertake due diligence while here to assist with his assessment of the university and the role".

Professor Robin Pollard posed as a report writer while interviewing staff at Lincoln University.
Professor Robin Pollard posed as a report writer while interviewing staff at Lincoln University.

"Since no offer had been made, or accepted, at the time of the visit it was important to respect the need for confidentiality at that time."

It continued by saying once he had been offered and accepted the role of Vice-Chancellor he communicated personally with all staff and students he met.

The university still had "full confidence" in the appointment of their new boss.

"Robin has extensive experience both in the academic/research world and also as an implementer of new ways of working - such as online learning - that are crucial for a modern, internationally ranked institution," the statement read.

However, many of the academic staff were distressed, Ms Doull told the Herald earlier.

"A number of staff are very distressed that they were deliberately misled as to the real purpose of the meetings," she said.

"Some of our members are even jokingly calling him the mystery shopper."

If they were aware of the man's true identity they would still have made the same remarks but phrased them differently, said Ms Doull.

The union was now considering legal action, including making a complaint to the Employment Relations Authority.

She said the method used was appalling and considered the undercover meetings with staff a breach of good faith.