Sara Goldrick-Rab resigned Friday as founding president of the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice at Temple University, and from her professorship at Temple, following an investigation into her leadership of the center.
Temple put Goldrick-Rab on paid administrative leave earlier this year after it hired an outside investigator to look into employee complaints about the center. By that time, more than a dozen current and past Hope Center employees—all of whom wished to remain anonymous, citing fears of retaliation—had described to Inside Higher Ed a toxic climate of overwork under Goldrick-Rab. This included an overpromising of deliverables to funders based on staff capacity, unusually high employee turnover that was delaying progress on grants and possible commingling of funds and labor between the Hope Center and a separate nonprofit called Believe in Students, sources said. The Hope Center previously ran a workplace culture study via the consultancy Just Strategies, but that effort resulted in no real changes, multiple employees said.
Stephen Orbanek, Temple spokesperson, said over the weekend that Goldrick-Rab had “chosen to resign” and that the university “continues to fully support the work of the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice and its mission as an action research center committed to making college more accessible and equitable for all.” Regarding the investigation, Orbanek declined to share any findings, but said “no disciplinary action was initiated or taken against Goldrick-Rab as a result."
On Saturday, Goldrick-Rab posted a statement on Medium, saying, “This wasn’t an easy decision. I’ve earned tenure multiple times and walking away from a tenured faculty role and the leadership of a center I founded isn’t something I’m taking lightly.” She referred to her time with Temple students, in particular, as “life changing. My undergraduate and graduate students were extraordinary, insightful, and inspiring. I enjoyed every second I spent learning alongside them.”
“However,” she continued, “other experiences during the last six years—and 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.”
Goldrick-Rab said in April that she supported Temple’s outside inquiry in the interest of the Hope Center’s future and her own growth as a leader. She denied any financial mismanagement, saying there existed a cost-sharing agreement between the Hope Center and Believe in Students, but she did not share the agreement when asked, referring questions about it to a former employee who did not respond to a request for comment. Temple attorney Cameron Etezady rejected Inside Higher Ed’s requests for financial and other documents related to the center, saying via email that Temple isn’t subject to Pennsylvania’s Right to Know Law: “‘State-related institutions,’ of which Temple University is one, are subject to certain reporting requirements and disclosures, but is not an ‘agency’ for the purposes of Right to Know Requests for specific documents.” Temple also rejected a records request based on federal open records law.
Goldrick-Rab moved to Temple from the University of Wisconsin at Madison in 2016, after criticizing changes to Wisconsin’s tenure law and additional controversy surrounding her Twitter activity.
Her Medium statement says she will remain involved with the #RealCollege movement to support students’ basic needs security, “and where the movement needs to go next. My kids are now teenagers and for the first time in my career I plan to devote significant time in my weekdays, nights, and weekends for them. I’m also excited about several new partnerships that will broaden and deepen the movement—and I’m open to additional ones.”
The Hope Center laid off eight employees in June, after Goldrick-Rab was already on leave. Several employees, including one of those affected, said they’d been told that the layoffs were a result of Temple’s ongoing audit of the center, which had revealed a funding deficit incurred under Goldrick-Rab. Goldrick-Rab said at the time that the affected employees had been hired under the financial leadership of someone else at the center, who had since left, while Goldrick-Rab was the active center president.
Anne Lundquist will continue as interim director, according to Temple.