This paper is aimed to disclose cultural or ‘human’ of mergers in higher education by applying the notion of ‘liminality’ into organizational analysis. Previous studies have shown the crucial role of cultural factors for various merger outcomes. At the same time their vision of culture expressed more ‘functional’ or ‘managerial’ approach. This vision is ‘too structured’ to recognize how culture is ‘grounded’ in such “personalized organizations” as universities, especially at the period of radical change. This study is based on a cultural approach to mergers and reflects on mediating the distance between ‘structural’ and ‘personal’ sides at the transitional period of organizational change. Using anthropological theory we introduce the ‘liminal phase’ of a merger process to show that at the period of uncertainty actors use meaningful strategies to deal with ambiguity. We present three empirical findings based on the study of one university merger that took place at the Far Eastern region of Russia. The study is based mainly on the analysis of 22 in-depth interviews with top-level administrators and academic employees. The first finding concerns the actors’ distinction between “we” and the “others”, that becomes crucial for social bonding beyond their structural involvement. The second, shows that under uncertainty actors use gossips and rumors as “meaningful interpretations” of information. The third, deals with the actors’ awareness of organizational decline that questions the merger process as rite of the passage or rite of degradation.
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