The aim of the seminar is to expand our understanding of the institutions in which we work and in which most of the intellectual labor of the world is conducted or supported. This seminar will host talks and events that present research and foster discussion about universities and other institutions of higher education. Our scope is large, encompassing explorations of the past, examinations of current issues, and informed speculation about the future. Visit our seminar's website to learn more.

Upcoming Events

Jennifer Morton, City University of New York
The Ethical Costs of Upward Mobility
Thursday, October 17, 2019 - 5:00pm
Room 133, Barker Center
Christina Ciocca Eller, Harvard University
Superficially Coupled Systems: The Organizational Production of Inequality in Higher Education
Thursday, November 21, 2019 - 4:30pm
Location TBA


The rise of accountability standards has pressed higher education organizations to produce and publish data on student outcomes at higher rates than ever before. However, it remains unclear whether the existing accountability standards governing American higher education are aligned with the goal of assessing organizational impacts on student performance. Extending scholarship in the new institutionalist tradition, I hypothesize that higher education organizations today exist as, “superficially coupled systems,” where colleges closely oversee their "technical outputs" in the form of data production and reporting, but where these technical outputs in fact provide limited insight into the direct role of colleges and universities in producing them. I first test the validity of existing data reporting standards in the United States as a tool for assessing organizational performance using administrative data from a large, urban, public university system in the United States, together with fixed effects regression and entropy balancing techniques. I then investigate heterogeneity of effects by student race and family income and conclude by detailing the theoretical basis for superficially coupled systems. My results provide evidence for the disjuncture between standard accountability metrics and the assessment of organizational performance, suggesting that inequality in college effectiveness exists both between colleges and within colleges. The results additionally indicate that institutionalized norms surrounding accountability have backfired, enabling higher education organizations, and other bureaucratic organizations like them, to maintain legitimacy without identifying and addressing inequality.

About the Speaker:

Christina Ciocca Eller is Assistant Professor of Sociology and Social Studies at Harvard University. Her research draws on quantitative and qualitative methods to analyze the role of organizations in shaping the opportunities and outcomes available to individuals. Her primary case, reflected in her dissertation research, is the U.S. higher education sector. This dissertation work, “Organization Effects on Bachelor’s Degree Completion for the New Majority,” brought together key ideas from the stratification and organizations literatures to study the interactions between students and colleges. Specifically, Ciocca Eller uses longitudinal data from both administrative records and a yearlong interview study of students attending a large, urban, public university system in the U.S. to quantify "college effects," or the independent impact of colleges on student outcomes, as well as the individual and organizational forces that explain those effects. She also has analyzed the black/white gap in BA completion and the relationship between course-taking and labor market outcomes, and has studied school-to-work transitions in comparative international contexts. Her work is published in the American Journal of Sociology and the American Sociological Review and has been supported by the Spencer Foundation, the National Academy of Education Sciences, and the National Science Foundation.

Past Events 2018 - 19

John Carey, Dartmouth College
Katherine P. Clayton, Dartmouth College
Yusaku Horiuchi, Dartmouth College
The Hidden Consensus on Campus Diversity
Christopher Avery, Harvard Kennedy School
Philip Lee, University of the District of Columbia
Mitchell Stevens, Stanford Graduate School of Education
Natasha Warikoo, Harvard Graduate School of Education
Perspectives on Selective Admissions
Margaret Morganroth Gullette, Brandeis University
The Monument and the Wrecking Crew: Ageism in the Academy
Stefan Beljean, Harvard University
Laura Nelson, Harvard University
Graduate Student Talks
Howard Gardner, Harvard Graduate School of Education
A National Study of Higher Education: Challenges and Rays of Hope
Menglin (Maria) Guo, NYU-Shanghai, Harvard University
The College to Work Transition for Liberal Arts Students
Meng-Hsuan Chou, NTU Singapore, Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies
Pauline Ravinet, Université de Lille
What Does Comparative Regionalism Offer to Higher Education Research?
Tobias Schulze-Cleven, Visiting Scholar 2011-2012
Higher Education Disrupted: Trajectories of Regulatory Transformation in Europe and the US
Steven Brint, University of California, Riverside
CANCELLED Two Cheers for Higher Education: Why American Universities Are Stronger Than Ever—and How to Meet the Challenges They Face
Ulrike Felt, University of Vienna, Austria
Re-timing Contemporary Universities: Governance, Power, and Identity
Betty Leask, Boston College
Hans de Wit, Boston College
Internationalization in Higher Education, Pushing the Boundaries!
The Divestment Debate – A Panel Discussion
Anja-Silvia Goeing, Harvard University
The Funding of Higher Education: Different Objectives in Switzerland, the UK, and the USA

Past Events 2017 - 18

Panel on "Universities’ Responsibility to Truth"
Doctoral Research on Political Participation, Elite Status, and Race and Merit
Mario Small, Harvard University
On Power and Ambiguity in the Student-Adviser Relation
Anthony Jack, Harvard Graduate School of Education, Harvard Society of Fellows
(No) Harm in Asking
Scott Gelber, Wheaton College
Erin Driver-Linn, Harvard University
Grading the College: A History of Evaluating American Higher Education
Janine de Novais, Harvard Graduate School of Education
"These Classes Equip Me": The Development of Complex Understandings of Race in College Classrooms
William Kirby, Harvard University
From Berlin to Berkeley to Beijing: The World of Universities in the 21st Century
Nicholas Boucher, Harvard Undergraduate Council
Fernando Miguel Galan Palomares, European Association of Institutions in Higher Education
Caroline Sundberg, European Students' Union
Catherine Zhang, Harvard Undergraduate Council
Students as Partners: Opportunities and Challenges of Student Representation in Higher Education Governance
Gaële Goastellec, University of Lausanne, University of Toronto
Access to Higher Education and Degrees in Europe, From Tool of the Government to Inequality Regimes
Eddie R. Cole, College of William and Mary
College Presidents and Racial Unrest: A Civil Rights History