Reforms and changing ideas about what higher education institutions are and should be have put pressure on academic identity. The present paper explores the way academics in Danish universities make sense of their changing circumstances, and how this affects their perceptions of their organization, their leaders and of themselves. The study highlights how the formal organizations’ translations of external impulses and ideas constitute a more severe threat on the perceived identity of the academic staff than the impulses and ideas themselves. The findings indicate that with the tighter couplings of top-level management and the political system, the coupling and identification between academic staff and the formal organization may become weaker. Also, the behavioural responses perceived threats are studied, by examining the ‘us’/‘them’ categorizations of the academics, providing a burgeoning conceptual framework for further studies into how academics change their actions as a result of reforms or organizational change.