A ‘banner’ year with successes and challenges ahead

NAU President John Haeger addressed a crowd of about 150 in Ashurst Auditorium as part of Celebrate NAU Day on Wednesday. Photo by Jason Bullard
NAU President John Haeger addressed a crowd of about 150 in Ashurst Auditorium as part of Celebrate NAU Day on Wednesday. Photo by Jason Bullard

Celebrate NAU Day culminated Wednesday afternoon with a President’s Forum where¬†John Haeger¬†delighted in a “banner year” and promised more successes to come.

At the same time the NAU president spelled out several challenges facing Northern Arizona University specifically and higher education in general as Arizona’s growth continues and the needs of the nation change.

“With record enrollment and our retention rates increasing significantly, we’re making good on what we’ve told the state is our mission,” Haeger told about 150 people at Ashurst Auditorium. “We are committed to graduating our students.”

As NAU grows, so does the need to invest in more faculty, advisers and staff to continue the university’s mission, Haeger said. He also restated his commitment to faculty and staff salary increases.

As part of the university’s goal of affordability and accessibility to students, the president advocated for stronger “baccalaureate education centers” in different areas of the state, including in Yuma and Prescott where NAU already has a presence.

“The state basically has three universities in only three population centers in the state, and we cannot meet the needs of the state,” he said. “We need better centers and more facilities.”

The idea of baccalaureate education centers ties in with Haeger’s support of having Arizona high school graduation requirements blend seamlessly with Arizona university entrance requirements.

“We have to make sure students are prepared to get a baccalaureate degree,” he said.

Increased emphasis on distance learning locations also would allow students to earn bachelor’s degrees without the added expense of moving to a traditional campus.

Haeger listed a string of recent successes the university has enjoyed, including record enrollment, new state-of-the-art buildings, academic and institutional accolades, a record budget increase and a $25 million donation from William A. Franke.

He credits many of these accomplishments on university partnerships.

The institution will remain successful as long as it continues to develop partnerships beyond NAU borders, he said. Haeger listed the High Country Conference Center partnership with the city of Flagstaff, Sodexho and Drury Hotels as one example of what he called NAU’s “stewardship of place.”

Other partnerships include Follett and the NAU Bookstore, Sodexho and the NAU dining expansion, and NAU’s health professions partnership with the newly opened medical complex in downtown Phoenix.

“Alone we couldn’t have done these things,” he said.

“NAU is the steward of place in Yuma, in Flagstaff and in areas throughout the state,” Haeger said. “We are the dominant economic engine in those areas and we can make things happen that would not ordinarily happen.”

The president also restated the need for the university to be attuned to global initiatives. “Northern Arizona University’s Strategic Plan talks much more about global engagement,” Haeger said. “Our students must live and work in a global environment, and unless we make a campus that does the same, we are not fulfilling our mission.”

Two additional goals for the university remain the expansion of health professions programs, including a new building for the College of Health and Human Services, and the continued support of campus sustainability.

“Northern Arizona University has found a core niche for new and expanded health professions programs in Flagstaff, Phoenix and Tucson,” Haeger said. “With the FY09 preliminary budget we gave to the Arizona Board of Regents last week, the health professions facility will be one of the largest on campus.”

And while the university is growing in size, it is also making concerted efforts to shrink its carbon footprint.

About 1,500 people turned out for the Campus Picnic on Wednesday near the University Union as part of Celebrate NAU Day. Photo by Jason Bullard

Three of the buildings on campus are on track to receive ratings from the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system. The president is one of the charter signatories of the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment, created as an avenue for university leaders to define and address the challenges of climate change.

“We have a responsibility to create a campus and a curriculum that meets the sustainability needs of the state,” he said.

The president’s forum was part of Celebrate NAU Day festivities, marking NAU’s mission and achievements. The celebration also noted the university’s upcoming October visit by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association for NAU’s 10-year reaccreditation.

The day began with a community breakfast in the Applied Research and Development building and continued with tours of ARD, the conference center, the Engineering building and the facility that houses The W.A. Franke College of Business.

A free lunch-time picnic, complete with DJ and prizes, saw about 1,500 students and staff.