Temple gets outspoken education prof with national profile

Posted: March 11, 2016

When Temple University said it wanted to hire her, Sara Goldrick-Rab asked: "Are you sure you know who I am? Use Google. Read Twitter. Come back and talk to me."

Temple officials had already done that. They knew that the 39-year-old educational policy studies and sociology professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison had gained a national reputation as a social media firebrand. She had called Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker a "fascist" on Twitter for wanting to weaken tenure protections.

They also knew she was an outspoken supporter of making college more affordable, and that she wouldn't hesitate to call out her own institution if she thought it misstepped. In January, she was ranked the 13th most influential scholar in the nation by Education Week in terms of her effect on educational policy and practice.

"I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change; I am changing the things I cannot accept," says her sassy Twitter profile. She has 12,600 followers.

With Temple president Neil Theobald's blessing, Goldrick-Rab will join the university's College of Education in July. She already has plans to start a college affordability center at Temple in 2018, once the center she started in Wisconsin winds down. And, she said, the center could even take on larger issues of homelessness and hunger.

Goldrick-Rab, who spent five years in Philadelphia when she attended the University of Pennsylvania, said she welcomes the chance to return to an urban setting, where she will be "closer to the students whose lives I study."

"I fell in love with that city when I was a grad student," she said, "and I've been trying to get back ever since."

She plans to spend time in neighborhoods, visit the Housing Authority, and hang out at Community College of Philadelphia, where she previously served as an evaluator of a program that provides legal, counseling, and other services for students in one place.

"They have the population that I've been working on and studying for a long time," she said.

Born in Fairfax, Va., she got her bachelor's degree in sociology from George Washington University, where her mother taught, and her master's and doctorate from Penn.

She lived at 43rd and Spruce Streets for five years, worked at a local pub - "I was the quizzo girl" - and volunteered at a needle exchange in Northern Liberties on Saturdays.

She and her husband, an education policy analyst, are looking for a house in Philadelphia and plan to send their children, 6 and 9, to Meredith, a public school.

Goldrick-Rab likes that Temple no longer requires standardized test scores for admission - long considered a barrier for low-income students - and that Theobald created the "Fly in Four" program to help students finish on time.

She also welcomes tenure at Temple and membership in a faculty union.

"To be able to be free to be critical of higher education while working in higher education, it requires protection," she said.

Sometimes, her Wisconsin bosses, she said, were displeased - not with her teaching or research, but with "the implications of my work and my willingness to talk about them." She spoke to the New York Times editorial board about tenure. She tweeted messages about tenure that went to two teenagers who were thinking of enrolling.

"They [her bosses] thought I was trying to prevent these kids from coming," she said.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison issued a statement Wednesday, thanking Goldrick-Rab for her 10-plus years of service and "range of contributions" to the university.

Art Hochner, president of Temple's faculty union, said he expects her "to stir up some controversies"- and welcomes her.

Greg Anderson, Temple's education dean, isn't worried.

"Looking objectively at her record," he said, "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 attracted more than $10 million in private and government research funding to Wisconsin. She hopes to announce a new federal grant for Temple before she arrives.

"Fund-raising is something I enjoy doing," she said. "I like the pitch."

She also started a GoFundMe campaign to send the siblings of Michael Brown, the unarmed black teenager who was killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., to college.

"I saw a mom who had done all this work to get her kid through high school and into college," she said. "She didn't have that chance to see her kid go and I wanted her to have the chance to see the other kids go."

The fund exceeded $20,000 in a week, she said.

ssnyder@phillynews.com

215-854-4693@ssnyderinq

www.inquirer.com/campusinq

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