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Prompted by complaints, Temple taps law firm to probe education college leadership

The probe was initiated in part by a letter signed by 31 of 70 full-time faculty in July that raised issues about the dean and his leadership.

Gregory M. Anderson, dean of Temple University's College of Education and Human Development
Gregory M. Anderson, dean of Temple University's College of Education and Human DevelopmentRead moreMICHAEL BRYANT/Staff Photographer

The memo was from Sara Goldrick-Rab, a high-profile education-policy professor at Temple University.

Conditions had reached a breaking point with Gregory M. Anderson, dean of Temple’s college of education and human development, she wrote to the university’s provost in August 2019. In a six-page memo, Goldrick-Rab complained about “hostile behavior” by Anderson and asked that she and the center she runs be transferred to another college within the university.

Anderson once stood over her and yelled for 14 minutes, she wrote, despite her repeatedly asking him to stop. When she told him she wanted a transfer, he allegedly responded: “You’re not going anywhere. You can’t — I own you.”

Goldrick-Rab’s request for a transfer was ultimately granted.

Asked this month about the memo, obtained by The Inquirer, she declined to comment. But her complaints weren’t unique. About half of the 70 full-time faculty in July signed a letter in which they raised issues about the dean’s leadership, saying faculty were “deeply concerned about faculty members’ loss of voice in our own college, and about a growing climate of fear, mistrust, and intimidation.”

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Temple has since hired the Stradley Ronon law firm to probe the complaints, The Inquirer has learned.

In a statement, Temple acknowledged the review and said such a step is typical when complaints or inquiries are received. “We take all concerns seriously,” said spokesperson Ray Betzner.

Three years ago, the university employed the Jones Day law firm to probe the business school after false data were submitted to U.S. News & World Report, which ranks schools. The investigation led to the 2018 ouster of dean Moshe Porat. (He is now suing the university, claiming it unfairly blamed him.)

Temple would not describe the scope of the education college review. A faculty member interviewed by the lawyers said they indicated they were looking at the culture and climate of the college, the decisions around program changes, and whether there were questionable ethical decisions.

In a statement, Anderson said he is cooperating with the review.

“As a Black academic whose research focuses on access and equity, I am particularly committed to accountability,” he said. “University deans must make difficult, and sometimes unpopular, decisions each day. I believe once the process has concluded, the facts will show that all my decisions adhere to university policies and contractual obligations.”

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Anderson, who has spoken of his parents leaving South Africa because of apartheid, earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Toronto in 1989 and a doctorate in sociology from the City University of New York. He has taught at Columbia University and worked as a program officer at the Ford Foundation. At the University of Denver, he led the education college for about four years until leaving in 2013 for Temple.

In interviews with The Inquirer, 10 current or former Temple faculty members say that, since arriving, Anderson has transferred faculty to departments in which they didn’t have expertise and targeted those who were critical of his leadership and tried to force them out. Anderson lost his temper and verbally berated employees at meetings, they said, and created a hostile work environment where employees, especially junior faculty, were fearful to speak their minds.

“I found working with him early on was untenable,” said Will J. Jordan, an associate professor of urban education and a 16-year employee at Temple who said he has not spoken in person to Anderson in two years. “I stepped off any committee that put me in contact with him.”

Aneta Pavlenko, a tenured professor of applied linguistics, resigned in December 2016 after she said the dean unfairly attempted to increase her course load and assign her to classes she wasn’t qualified to teach. The move, she contended, was part of retaliation after she shared an email with graduate students in 2014 about a plan to discontinue all graduate assistantships for doctoral students. She said a program coordinator position and other responsibilities also were taken from her.

“I became a target of … increasingly hostile treatment by the college administration,” she wrote in a complaint to Temple’s human resources unit.

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The university rejected her complaint as being “without merit,” according to a copy of the response, and said the dean had the right to set faculty workload requirements.

“I lost everything when I made the decision to leave,” said Pavlenko, now a research professor for the University of Oslo in Norway. “I lost tenure. I’ve lost health care. The only thing I gained was my freedom.”

And it was worth it, she said.

Other longtime female faculty members also have exited the education college, including Tricia S. Jones, former president of Temple’s faculty senate, who went to Temple’s College of Media and Communication in 2015. Jones, as well as Goldrick-Rab, signed the July 9 letter from faculty. Jones declined comment.

Peshe Kuriloff, a professor of practice, left the university in 2019 after 14 years. Several colleagues said she was forced out. Kuriloff said a dispute she had with the college was resolved and she signed a confidentiality agreement that precluded her from discussing details. “I was sad to leave and wished that things could have gone differently,” she said.

Another senior faculty member said “hazing, bullying and intimidation of junior, non-tenure and women faculty are regretfully commonplace” in the college under Anderson. That person, like most who spoke with The Inquirer, said they had shared the concerns with Stradley Ronon lawyers, but requested that their names not be published because they feared retribution on campus. The faculty member also worried that some of the dean’s decisions have put the college at risk of being unable to deliver courses that students need to complete their degrees on time.

The college last year eliminated its master’s in urban education, which led to an outcry from some faculty who said the move resulted in less emphasis on the topic. The loss of the master’s, part of a larger reorganization that involved about two dozen changes in the college, was cited in the faculty letter.

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The university argued that the restructuring infused urban education offerings across departments and programs, broadening access to those perspectives.

Faculty said they repeatedly took complaints to senior university leadership, including when Anderson got his five-year review, and were ignored.

Goldrick-Rab, a national voice on hunger, homelessness, and financial barriers to college that students face, came to Temple in 2016 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She was recruited by Anderson, but the relationship soured. The dean, she said in her memo, failed to provide promised space, funding, and staffing for her Hope Center for College, Community and Justice, and in some cases “sabotaged” the center’s quest to get funding and other support.

“Our efforts to work with [the education college] for the last three years have left me and my team demoralized and exhausted,” she wrote.

Last summer, she and her center were moved to the School of Medicine.