In a sharply worded critique of UW-Madison leadership, professor Sara Goldrick-Rab announced Monday that she is leaving the school for a job at Temple University.
“McCarthyism is alive and well – especially here in Wisconsin,” Goldrick-Rab wrote in a post on the Medium blog platform that attracted a lot of supportive chatter on Twitter, where she is very active.
The founding director of the Wisconsin HOPE Lab, Goldrick-Rab has been on the cutting edge of research on college affordability and the treatment of low-income students in the higher education system. Her work has gained national attention and at times has become politicized.
Goldrick-Rab, a professor in the School of Education, said that the tenure she worked so hard to achieve is on the brink of being vanquished throughout the University of Wisconsin System.
On Thursday, the UW System Board of Regents will adopt a new tenure policy that allows for layoff of faculty due to program changes, she wrote.
“In its place is a savvy new #FakeTenure that fools even the most intelligent people into believing it is real. Except it is not.”
As the only professor studying higher education policy, she could be easily dismissed under the new tenure policy, Goldrick-Rab wrote. “All the Boss would have to do is decide that the Department of Educational Policy Studies no longer needs a scholar of higher education policy,” she wrote. “That’s ‘program modification,’ plain and simple.”
Goldrick-Rab challenged UW-Madison’s commitment to its public mission under current leadership at the “very top echelons.” Nods at affordability are “mere PR stunts,” she said. And outspoken faculty are “chastised, castigated, and shunned.”
“Terrified sheep make lousy teachers, lousy scholars, and lousy colleagues. And today at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, thanks to #FakeTenure, I’m surrounded by terrified sheep,” Goldrick-Rab wrote.
Goldrick-Rab referred to UW-Madison leadership’s failure to protect her last summer when she said she was threatened by “conservative watchdog groups” after her tweets about Gov. Scott Walker’s gutting the value of a public education gained national attention.
At Temple, a state-related university in Philadelphia with an enrollment of more than 28,000 — 35 percent low-income — Goldrick-Rab can be closer to the students she studies, she said. The school also is unionized and offers tenure.
She quoted this year’s Big Read author Bryan Stevenson on how the insight gained in being near the people one seeks to serve can make the difference “between acting justly and injustly.”
“It can be hard to act justly while on the payroll of a public flagship that places a higher priority on prestige (e.g. meaning non-residents and high test scores) and Big 10 football than on access and affordability,” Goldrick-Rab said.
Goldrick-Rab has brought more than $10 million in federal research funding to UW-Madison, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
The HOPE Lab she founded will close in 2018, when a five-year $2.5 million grant from the Great Lakes Higher Education Guaranty Corporation expires.
School of Education dean Diana Hess issued a statement Tuesday on Goldrick-Rab's departure. "We are very appreciative of Sara’s range of contributions to the School of Education and beyond during her decade-plus as a faculty member on the UW-Madison campus," Hess said. She praised the HOPE Lab for producing "high impact work that has contributed significantly to debates about how to ensure access and equitable outcomes in post-secondary education."
Hess said that after the HOPE Lab's closing, the School of Education "fully intends to continue translational research aimed at improving equitable outcomes in postsecondary education and will be exploring options for the ways to support that research."