Sara Goldrick-Rab is on leave from Temple U Hope Center

Sara Goldrick-Rab is on leave from the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice at Temple University, which she’s led since 2018. This follows earlier news that Temple hired an outside investigator to look into various issues at the center, including what more than a dozen current and former Hope center employees have described as workplace climate problems and high employee turnover.

Goldrick-Rab acknowledged the leave. That she’s on one pokes holes in her explanation to Inside Higher Ed last week that Temple launched the inquiry in response to her demands for more support leading the center and her concerns about ongoing retaliation for speaking out against a former dean of education at Temple.

Sources at the university with knowledge of the Hope Center situation said Monday that Goldrick-Rab had been cut off from the Hope Center Slack account during her leave and that Hope Center employees were not obligated to interact with her at this time.

An email auto-response from Goldrick-Rab’s Temple account now includes a message from Goldrick-Rab saying that she’s on leave and directs Hope correspondence to Anne Lundquist, who has been named the research and advocacy center’s interim director.

Lundquist, the center’s managing director for learning and innovation, did not respond to a request for comment about the near-term future of operations at the center, which attracted approximately $6 million in funding last year and has about 50 employees.

In a brief exchange of direct messages on Twitter Monday, Goldrick-Rab said that she hadn’t been suspended or cut off from her Temple email. She did not say whether the leave was voluntary when asked by Inside Higher Ed and directed further questions to Lundquist.

Temple in a statement late Monday said it “takes seriously its responsibility to ensure a supportive workplace climate and professional environment. We are aware of the complaints related to the Hope Center and have initiated a review in accordance with university policy.” The university statement also said that Lundquist had been appointed interim director during the review “to ensure operations continue smoothly.”

Temple did not provide additional information when asked—namely whether Goldrick-Rab’s leave is paid (Goldrick-Rab previously told Inside Higher Ed that the center is entirely self-funded and it pays most of her salary). The university did say that Goldrick-Rab “continues to be a valued university employee with all associated rights and privileges.”

Employee Concerns

In a series of interviews spanning the last few months, numerous employees of the Hope Center, past and present, said they had resigned or were planning to leave the center due to management issues under Goldrick-Rab, despite a deep belief in the center’s mission: promoting college students’ basic needs security (think food, housing, transportation, technology and health care). They described a culture of overwork, such as regularly being required to work from 8 a.m. to midnight across various work chat channels; overpromising deliverables to funders; suppression of criticism of the Hope Center culture and Goldrick-Rab; and a minimization of their needs as human beings, even as they worked to support the Hope Center’s mantra that students are human first.

These sources, who generally wanted to remain anonymous or speak only on background, for fear of professional or personal consequences, worked in all areas of the center’s operations, from communications to research to finance.

Some sources also expressed concerns about commingling of funds and work between the Hope Center and a 501(c)(3) Goldrick-Rab founded in 2016 called Believe in Students. Goldrick-Rab said last week that the two entities were linked by a cost-sharing agreement that had been approved by Temple. Inside Higher Ed has asked for that agreement but has not received it.

Some who quit the center accused Goldrick-Rab of retaliating against them for leaving. One source said he’d been alerted by a colleague in his field that Goldrick-Rab had insinuated he’d been involved in a Me Too–type scandal at Temple. He filed an ethics complaint with the university to report his former boss and to secure documentation to disprove this rumor. Temple assured him he hadn’t been investigated, ultimately informing him, “We have reviewed and investigated your concerns regarding Dr. Goldrick-Rab’s conduct toward you and have taken appropriate steps to protect against untrue statements by Dr. Goldrick-Rab in social media or elsewhere.” Another former employee of the center said that Goldrick-Rab contacted her boss at her new job to express concerns about her mental health.

Goldrick-Rab last week denied that she’d engaged in retaliation against former employees, saying, “I categorically deny that. I don’t know what kind of time people think I have. Yeah, but I don’t have time for that.”

Even though the Hope Center “culture” was studied by the firm Just Strategies starting in late 2020, Goldrick-Rab said that many of the concerns that employees shared with Inside Higher Ed were news to her. She attributed the Hope Center’s issues in large part to growth, and the challenges of having a largely remote staff in different time zones (most everyone interviewed by Inside Higher Ed was operating from the East Coast).

“If you look at nonprofit turnover rates, we’re actually very, very on par with that,” she said. “I’ve monitored them to the extent that I can, but I want to be clear that Temple [human resources] possesses data that I don’t possess. It’s a very strange thing, right? The only other thing is that we grew very, very rapidly due to the changing needs for our work. Whenever an organization scales from 12 to 50 in two and a half to three years, there’s almost always healthy and expected turnover. And it is—almost always is painful for people, always.”

Sources from the Hope Center disagreed that growth was the issue, however, saying that Goldrick-Rab—while a brilliant fundraiser and scholar—was inhibiting the center’s sustainable expansion by dismissing climate issues and practicing severe micromanagement. One estimated that 17 full-time staff members had left in a year, stalling projects.

An employee of a nonprofit that the Hope Center engaged in 2018 to do research via a six-figure grant said Monday that the project changed untold times, and that their organization has only recouped $7,500 from the Hope Center of a promised $15,000 payment (which Hope negotiated down from an original quote of $50,000). 

“I sent multiple invoices. It was shocking how hard it was to get money from them [Hope], and we’re a tiny nonprofit compared to them,” said the third-party source, who did not want to be named to avoid negative consequences for their organization. 

Last week, someone at Hope emailed the organization to say they were taking over the project. According to that email, Hope was seeking basic information about the years-old study, including an overview, expectations and timeline. The source recalled: “I kindly went back to her and said, ‘Your team last updated me about positive conversations you’ve had with our campus contacts. Are you not able to access any of those notes or contacts?.’ And she’s like, ‘Oh let me go look in our [customer relationship management system] and see what I find.'” 

Some at Hope have expressed fear that Goldrick-Rab will leave Temple and take the Hope Center and its funders with her, avoiding accountability and leaving center employees without jobs.

One employee who recently left said Monday, “I would urge funders to get a sense of what the culture is like in the center, or any center. See what the staff are saying. Because if the staff are not necessarily supported, not necessarily happy, then those benchmarks or those milestones that the funder has set out will not be accomplished in a way that is equitable, in a way that is beneficial for everyone.”