March 2014 Issue • Volume 42 • Issue 3

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Maureen Hallinan

Maureen T. Hallinan: A Mentor in the Sociology of Education

Mark Berends, University of Notre Dame

Maureen Hallinan, the William P. and Hazel B. White Professor of Sociology Emeritus at the University of Notre Dame, died on Monday, January 28, 2014, after a prolonged illness. Before her death we were able to celebrate her retirement in 2012, acknowledging her significant contributions to sociology, the sociology of education, several important programs at Notre Dame, her family, and the numerous friendships and mentoring relationships she nurtured over the years.

After receiving her bachelors from Marymount College and a master’s degree in mathematics from the University of Notre Dame, Maureen went on to earn a joint doctorate in sociology and education at the University of Chicago. Teresa Sullivan—Maureen’s close friend and president of the University of Virginia—recalled that even as a graduate student at Chicago, Maureen was considered exemplary by faculty and students alike, setting the standard for others.

Maureen served on the faculties of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Stanford University, and the University of Notre Dame. She was the second woman at Notre Dame appointed to an endowed chair and the founding director of the Institute for Educational Initiatives and the Center for Research on Educational Opportunity (CREO)

Contributions to Sociology and Education

Few can rival the depth and breadth of Maureen’s contributions to the sociology of education. She was a prolific scholar as indicated by her authoring or editing nine books and more than 120 peer-reviewed articles in scholarly journals. Her research explored a variety of topics, including the effects of school characteristics on student achievement and social development, ability grouping and tracking, the formation of interracial friendships in middle and secondary schools, and groundbreaking work on racial-ethnic achievement gaps. Maureen received many honors and accolades over the years: she was a fellow of the National Academy of Education, a fellow of the American Educational Research Association, and past President of the American Sociological Association and the Sociological Research Association. Maureen is a former editor of Sociology of Education, and she received the Section on Sociology of Education ASA Willard Waller Award for Lifetime Achievement honoring her career contributions.

After the 1960s Coleman report, many sociologists of education turned their attention to research addressing school effects or how schools arerelated to student learning. Rather than focusing on global school characteristics, Maureen’s research focused on the internal organization of schools and its relationship with students’ experiences and learning. This theme can be seen throughout Maureen’s research in multiple areas within the sociology of education.

Maureen emphasized the need for, and use of, theory not only in her own research, but also in that of others. She challenged researchers to use theories to identify possible mechanisms explaining inequalities in education, to clearly define the relevant concepts both conceptually and empirically, and to test those theories through rigorous empirical research. She believed that when solid theory informs research, the result is scholarship that provides educational decision makers with critical information.

To empirically test theories, Maureen used a variety of data sources, including data from the U.S. Department of Education and large-scale data that she received substantial grants to collect. Whatever data source she examined, Maureen employed sophisticated statistical methods to empirically test the mechanisms theoretically at work.

In addition to her own scholarship, Maureen brought scholars together to publish their work in volumes, such as The Handbook of the Sociology of Education (Kluwer Academic/ Plenum 2000) and, most recently, Frontiers in Sociology of Education (Springer 2011). Such books have advanced not only academic relationships but the field of sociology, laying out what is known and what needs to be known from a sociological perspective. Underscoring her hopes for that, she wrote in The American Sociologist (1997: 13):

Sociology is a powerful discipline whose time has come. The characteristics of contemporary society, the newly acquired maturity and sophistication of the sociological perspective and the increasing body of theoretical and empirical scholarship available in sociology have created the context in which sociology can be the crown jewel of the social sciences. If we take advantage of this opportunity, we can make a significant contribution to contemporary society through our discipline.

Her body of work has inspired many others toward these same aspirations, which are not only academic but practical as they encourage the students who need it most: those who lack the opportunities to pursue their potential.

In addition to her impressive scholarship, Maureen’s legacy will be as a pioneer for women in academia. Maureen faced many challenges in her life, some of which she included in a memoir (in press) written in the months before her death. Professionally, she was at the forefront of women scholars who fought for a legitimate place in the academy, overcoming explicit and implicit sexual discrimination. Because of these experiences, Maureen was able to meaningfully mentor many female graduate students and professors in the field—helping them navigate the pathways toward research, teaching, publication, tenure, and leadership positions.

Colleague and Friend

In addition to Maureen’s intellectual prowess and productivity, she was a dedicated teacher, mentor, and friend. Her steely blue eyes were truly “the windows to her soul.” Two of her famous looks were my favorites: the intimidating “stare” and the “bright-eyed” look of laughter and love of life.

Maureen’s stare was downright scary. As a new PhD presenting at the ASA Annual Meeting, I had what I thought was a pretty fine paper to share. Maureen was the discussant. With one of her stares, a pregnant pause, and a couple of questions, she turned that once-thought exemplary piece of work into rubbish that I was certain no one should ever read.

She knew the effect she could have on people, and it worked well in many ways. Above all, it kept us—colleagues and students alike—on our toes, motivating us to carefully reflect on our work in pursuit of high-quality research.

In the past few years, I had lunch with Maureen every couple of weeks. In her sickness, and mine at the time, we had many conversations about death, hope, family, illness, and our academic lives. During those talks, I got to see another look of Maureen—the bright-eyed look of a woman who loved life and the faith she never lost despite so many extremely difficult times in her life.

Maureen was always up for a good joke. We laughed a lot during those conversations. One of the tragic aspects of her illness was that she was aware of what was happening to her until the very end. Despite this awareness, she always managed a smile and offered some witty comment when visitors walked through the door.

Maureen Hallinan kept people grounded and grateful. Her piercing stare and bright eyes, her uncompromising intellect and good humor, enriched the lives of so many.  She is gone, but she will never be forgotten.

If you would like to make a memorial donation, Maureen requested that contributions be made to the University’s Alliance for Catholic Education (, 107 Carole Sandner Hall, Notre Dame, IN 46556.

Click here to for a Tribute by Maureen's Friends and Colleagues

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