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Draw Me a University: Organizational Design Processes in University Mergers

The University Under Pressure

ISBN: 978-1-78560-831-5, eISBN: 978-1-78560-830-8

Publication date: 5 February 2016


Facing intense global competition and pressure from public authorities, several universities in Europe have engaged in merger and concentration processes. Drawing on two in-depth case studies, this paper considers university mergers as an opportunity to explore the processes involved in the creation of a new organizational structure. In line with recent scholarly calls to revisit the notion of organizational design, we combine insights from three different research streams to address the functional, political, and institutional dynamics that shaped the organizational architecture of the merged universities. Two main results are presented and discussed. First, although these mergers were initiated largely in response to the diffusion of new global institutional scripts, these scripts had little influence on organizational design: deeply institutionalized local scripts prevailed over global mimetic pressures. Second, while these institutional scripts provided many of the basic building blocks of the new universities, in both cases their design was also heavily shaped by time pressures and power games. While a few powerful actors used the merger as an opportunity to promote their own reform agenda, some of the key features of the two merged universities stemmed from choices by exclusion, whose primary aim was the avoidance of conflicts.




This paper draws on MUTORG-ADMI, a research project funded by the Agence Nationale de la Recherche and coordinated by Philippe Bezes and Patrick Le Lidec. We are greatly indebted to them for having suggested the very idea of a research on mergers in the public sector. We also thank the editors of this volume, Elizabeth Popp Berman and Catherine Paradeise, and an anonymous reviewer for their valuable comments and suggestions. We would also like to thank the participants to seminars held at the Centre de Sociologie des Organisations, Sciences Po, and the University of Bordeaux, as well as the participants to a conference organized at Boston College “The Phenomenology of Organizations: A SCANCOR Celebration of the Work of John Meyer,” whose questions and remarks were helpful in the development of this paper. The usual caveat apply.


Barrier, J. and Musselin, C. (2016), "Draw Me a University: Organizational Design Processes in University Mergers", The University Under Pressure (Research in the Sociology of Organizations, Vol. 46), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 361-394.



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