Temple University professor Sara Goldrick-Rab whose work focused on college affordability resigns after investigation concludes

Sara Goldrick-Rab, one of Temple’s most high-profile and outspoken professors, has resigned following the completion of a university-commissioned investigation into concerns raised about her leadership of a center she founded focused on college affordability.

Goldrick-Rab, 45, a professor of sociology and medicine who has been on paid administrative leave since April, posted the news of her resignation on social media Saturday.

She wrote that some experiences over the last six years, particularly the last four months “caused me to realize that Temple is not the right home for me and my work advancing affordability and basic needs security for college students.”

The university confirmed her resignation as both the leader of the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice and as a tenured professor. It declined to disclose the investigative report or its findings, citing personnel issues.

The university, however, said “no disciplinary action was initiated or taken against Dr. Goldrick-Rab as a result of the investigation.”

» READ MORE: High-profile Temple professor is placed on paid administrative leave while university conducts review

The university’s review 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 approximately 50-member staff, including one estimate that 17 had left in a year, according to Inside Higher Ed.

But one former Hope employee, who had a letter published on Inside Higher Ed’s website in support of Goldrick-Rab, said in April that 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.”

Reached Sunday, Goldrick-Rab also declined to discuss the investigation or its findings and would not comment on whether there was any monetary settlement. She said the decision to leave was “100%” hers.

She said she plans to focus on writing a book that she started several years ago and spending more time with her two children, 12 and 15, and that her next career step “likely” would be outside academia.

“I wanted to make change for students, and that requires a lot,” she said. “It requires strength. It requires assertiveness. It requires persistence. It requires a lot of willpower, and I think that universities really struggle with that, especially when the professor is a woman. … And their resistance actually impedes the work that I do.”

The university said that it would continue to “fully support” the Hope Center and its work on college accessibility and equity and that Anne Lundquist would continue to serve as interim director.

But some have questioned how the center could continue to operate without Goldrick-Rab.

“Hope is Sara,” Jennie Shanker, grievance chair for the Temple Association of University Professionals, the faculty union, said in April. “You can’t have Hope if you don’t have Sara.”

Goldrick-Rab said she has no idea what will ultimately happen with the Hope Center, which she initially started at her previous job at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and brought to Temple.

“That’s the ‘heart in my throat’ part,” she said.

Goldrick-Rab said she has brought about $20 million in grants to Temple since she arrived in 2016, including $4 million in the first quarter of this year, and would not be taking any of that with her.

It’s unclear what will happen with the grievance that the union had filed on behalf of Goldrick-Rab. Neither TAUP president Jeffrey Doshna nor Shanker could be reached Sunday.

Goldrick-Rab said she could not comment but underlined the support she received from the union, reflecting on how Temple’s having a union was one of the reasons she wanted to work there.

“They were just as valuable and just as important and just as amazing as I expected they would be,” she said.

» READ MORE: Temple gets outspoken education professor with national profile

Before coming to Temple, Goldrick-Rab, who has more than 49,000 Twitter followers, had spent almost 12 years at 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.”

She started in Temple’s education school, but found herself among a group of faculty in conflict with the dean, who has since stepped down. Since then, she has been a part of Temple’s medical school.

» READ MORE: Temple University’s education dean, subject of faculty complaints, will step down in May

In the interview, she noted her positive interactions with former Temple president Neil Theobald, who was in charge when Temple hired her and resigned under pressure in 2016; and Richard Englert, who nominated her for a Carnegie Fellowship and retired last year. She also posted on social media a letter she received from current president Jason Wingard while she was on paid administrative leave.

Wingard wrote that he asked for deans to recommend the most important work written by their faculty in the last five years, and that her dean recommended her book, Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream. The book, he wrote, will be displayed in his office.

“We are grateful for your talent and celebrate your commitment to our global learning community,” Wingard wrote in the June 20 letter.

Goldrick-Rab is ranked 25th among Education Week’s 200 most influential scholars.

She said one thing she would have done differently is insist on training on how to lead a multimillion-dollar organization with a diverse team. She received some high-quality coaching starting last year that she sought on her own, and that turned out to be a “game changer,” she said.

“I wish I had gotten it sooner,” Goldrick-Rab said.

She said she’s proud of what the center was able to accomplish. Temple now has a food pantry for students in need, and emergency aid has become more prominent, she said.

“I went big, and I won big. and I lost some things too,” she said. “I would rather have made this impact for students than not.”

What she’ll miss most, she said, are the students at Temple. She said she is planning to stay in Philadelphia, which she loves, and when ready would explore other career options.

One college she said she would love to teach at is Community College of Philadelphia.

“I love those students,” she said. “I’d do anything for those students.”

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