Sara Goldrick-Rab, one of Temple University’s most high-profile and outspoken professors, has been placed on paid administrative leave while the university investigates concerns raised about her leadership.
The fate of the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice, which Goldrick-Rab brought to Temple and has attracted millions in grants, hangs in the balance. For years, Goldrick-Rab’s center has been a national voice on student hunger, homelessness, and financial need and she has repeatedly spoken out in blunt terms about what is required. She is ranked 25th among Education Week’s 200 most influential scholars.
“Hope is Sara,” said Jennie Shanker, grievance chair for the Temple Association of University Professionals, the faculty union. “You can’t have Hope if you don’t have Sara.”
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The union is preparing to file a grievance on Goldrick-Rab’s behalf, asserting that the paid leave constitutes discipline that was implemented without following the proper process, Shanker said.
The university’s action came after a report in Inside Higher Ed, a website that cited more than 12 current and former Hope employees who said Goldrick-Rab bad-mouthed them to future employers, set unreasonable work demands that caused them to work too many hours, and “commingled” funds from the center she runs at Temple with another nonprofit she founded. The report, which said the university review was being conducted by an outside law firm, did not name any of the employees. The unrest has led to high turnover in Hope’s approximate 50-member staff, including one estimate that 17 had left in a year, according to Inside Higher Ed.
Temple acknowledged in a statement that it had initiated a “review” and that Anne Lundquist, managing director of learning and innovation at Hope, will act as interim director during that process.
“Temple takes seriously its responsibility to ensure a supportive workplace climate and professional environment,” the school said in a statement.
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Goldrick-Rab declined an interview but told Inside Higher Ed that she had asked for the investigation and has faced retaliation for speaking out about Temple education dean Gregory M. Anderson. Earlier this year, Anderson announced he would step down in May.
A source close to the university, while acknowledging Goldrick-Rab is a fierce advocate for students, called her “very aggressive” and said she fails to follow university rules, accuses people of wrongdoing and attacks them. The best case would be for Goldrick-Rab to take her center and leave Temple, the source said.
But one former Hope employee, who had a letter published on Inside Higher Ed’s website in support of Goldrick-Rab, said the complaints were one-sided, unfair, and not really newsworthy.
“Sara is one of those leaders who responds to the needs of her employees while making sure the mission of the center is carried through,” said Andy Howe, who worked at the center for less than a year and said he left in December for personal reasons not connected to the center. “Sometimes people think that Sara is more concerned about the mission of the organization.”
But she’s actually, at a minimum, equally concerned, he said.
Richard Binswanger, a Philadelphia social entrepreneur and member of the Hope advisory board, said he couldn’t speak to most of the allegations but objected to a concern raised about commingling of funds between Hope and Believe in Students, a nonprofit that Goldrick-Rab founded and where Binswanger chairs the board.
“There is documentation we put together to show that relationship,” he said. “We’ve been audited. I feel very comfortable that that particular allegation is going to lead to nowhere.”
He also said he always found Goldrick-Rab to “care deeply about the people she works with.”
Born in Fairfax, Va., Goldrick-Rab, 45, a professor of sociology and medicine, got her bachelor’s degree in sociology from George Washington University and her master’s and doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania.
She came to Temple in 2016 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she had gained a national reputation as a social media firebrand. She had called Wisconsin’s then-Gov. Scott Walker a “fascist” on Twitter for wanting to weaken tenure protections. She was also an outspoken proponent of making college more affordable and wouldn’t hesitate to call out her own institution if she thought it had misstepped.
“Ms. Goldrick-Rab has made a career of courting controversy by speaking bluntly about her pet issues,” said a Chronicle of Higher Education profile of her in 2016 before she came to Temple. “Ms. Goldrick-Rab is as well known for her online outbursts as for her research, and her brash style often overshadows her substance.”
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Her Twitter profile, which has more than 49,000 followers, includes a quote from scholar Angela Davis: “I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change; I am changing the things I cannot accept.”
When she was hired by Temple, she said she was glad to come to a university that had a union.
“To be able to be free to be critical of higher education while working in higher education, it requires protection,” she said at the time.
She had started the Hope center in Wisconsin and brought it to Temple, where she joined the education school. Anderson, the dean, said in 2016 he wasn’t worried about her reputation.
“Looking objectively at her record,” he said at that time, “it’s really a no-brainer for any serious college or university to want to have faculty like her, based on her funding productivity, her scholarly and research activity, and her impact on public policy and the postsecondary arena.”
She brought in more than $6 million in grants within her first year, lifting her into a funding category that few Temple professors had reached.
But she also found herself among those in conflict with Anderson. She complained about Anderson’s “hostile behavior” and successfully requested a transfer out of the education college to the school of medicine. In 2020, roughly half of the 70 full-time faculty in the college signed a letter raising issues about Anderson’s leadership. They said faculty were “deeply concerned about faculty members’ loss of voice in our own college, and about a growing climate of fear, mistrust, and intimidation.”
An outside investigation into the complaints commissioned by Temple found no violation of law or policy by the dean or anyone else, but the university cited a need to improve the culture and environment within the college.