Notes from the President: Feb. 9, 2024

Dear Lumberjacks,

Today’s notes come during what feels like the first week of true winter in the high country. I hope all of you are staying safe in the snow and enjoying the opportunities for fun this magical season can bring. I have to begin today’s message with a note of sincere appreciation to our essential employees throughout the university who keep our streets and sidewalks open and provide essential services to our students even in the most challenging conditions. Thank you!

Over the past two weeks, I’ve started to settle into the unique schedule of this semester where travel, meetings, events, and other work is balanced with class preparation, lectures, and office hours for my course. Below are some highlights:

  • After meeting with the Board of Regents on Thursday, I returned to Flagstaff in the afternoon. Friday was blocked off for writing, filming some public messages, and a review session with my students. Monday was similarly a more open schedule as I finalized preparations for a multi-day trip to Phoenix for the middle of the week, held class—we are now in a position to design our first digital systems!—and discussed ways to enhance the student learning environment through AI and course shell design.
  • On Tuesday, I made my way back to the Valley to join colleagues from NAU and our community college partners at the Arizona Attainment Alliance (A++) spring retreat. After just over a year of partnership, this statewide network is accomplishing much to harness our collective potential to better meet the needs of students throughout the state. During the retreat, I joined presidents of our partner colleges for a panel discussion on the future directions of the work, which include forging more seamless, student-focused academic pathways; leveraging data to inform academic and career advising; continuing to scale and enhance our universal admissions program; and working to deploy milestone credentials that recognize students’ progress and add value to their postsecondary journeys. I look forward to the next phase of A++ work and am thankful for the spirit of collaboration from across our group of partners and the sincere commitment of all present to driving access and attainment.
  • Wednesday was spent visiting legislators, Governor Hobbs, and then sharing NAU’s fiscal year 2025 budget proposal with the House Appropriations Committee. NAU’s mission and value to the people of Arizona come through our efforts to foster economic mobility and social impact. This mission is reflected in our budget priorities for FY25, which focus on affordability for students and families, K-12 teacher preparation, our NAU Health initiatives, and support for foundational infrastructure necessary to fulfill our mission. I look forward to continuing conversations throughout the spring with our state representatives to demonstrate the key role NAU plays in supporting people and communities throughout the state to reach their full potential.
  • After returning to Flagstaff late in the day Wednesday, I spent the remainder of the week with a more internal focus, touching base with members of my team and strategizing on key work ahead.
  • This week began with a Board meeting, teaching, and collaboration with our instructional design team to help further enhance the accessibility and depth of my course’s online materials. I then had meetings with Flagstaff Mayor Becky Daggett to discuss our partnership and priorities, and then meetings about athletics, university investment strategies, and more.
  • During Wednesday’s snow day, I came to the office for several timely engagements with Cabinet members. The biggest adventure was getting out of my neighborhood, but once on campus I was impressed with conditions and happy to see many students out and about using the snow day to get creative with snow sculptures, sledding hills, and more.
  • Yesterday was spent in a virtual meeting with our partners at Arizona Western College in Yuma and other colleagues from across the country in the unique Aspen-AASCU Transfer Intensive community of practice. I look forward to highlighting our work and learning from peer clusters of institutions on how to elevate and optimize transfer architecture to best serve the needs of our students.
  • Today begins with a delayed start to allow everyone to take some time to move snow at home and on campus. I, like you, look forward to some sunny days and a weekend of fun of playing in the snow.

I would like to acknowledge that we misjudged the situation yesterday. I extend my sincerest apologies to all our dedicated students, faculty, and staff who arrived on campus at 8:00 a.m., only to find out 90 minutes later that we would be closing for the day. In retrospect, I wish we had opted for a snow day, as we have responsibly chosen to do previously. The question arises: why did this not happen?

The answer, I believe, lies in the timing of our decision and our delayed response in reassessing the dynamic situation.  When adverse weather looms, we assemble a cross-divisional team, usually in the early hours of the morning, to assess any potential impact on operations. This team makes an initial decision to either keep the campus open, delay opening, or close, subject to further updates. We aim to inform the community by 6:00 a.m. of this decision to provide ample time to adjust personal schedules accordingly.

This protocol was employed throughout last year’s record snow season and in the recent campus closure on Wednesday. Our initial review yesterday morning suggested that the campus and surrounding areas were manageable for a normal opening, a view also adopted by our partners in the City of Flagstaff. Nonetheless, the storm’s progression necessitated a reevaluation. The team reconvened at 9:00 a.m. and consequently adjusted our operational plan to close early at 10:00 a.m.

For today’s planning, the consensus last night was for a 10:00 a.m. delayed start. To enhance our decision-making, rather than re-assessing at 5:30 a.m. as usual, the team reconvened at 7:30 a.m. this morning to get an accurate projection of how well campus had been cleared before making the decision to stay with a 10:00 a.m. opening. This adjustment meant that if further delaying our start time—or closing campus entirely—was necessary we could notify our community with two hours still to plan.

Considering these events, I must commend our snow decision-making team and the remarkable efforts of our facilities, custodial, police, housing, and other essential staff who have been working around the clock, even when we are closed. Their unwavering dedication to safety and operational continuity deserves immense praise. My deepest gratitude goes out to each team member for their role in positioning NAU to successfully carry out its mission.

Finally, I want to recognize the individual circumstances that our non-residential students and faculty and staff who live in the community may experience during these storms. Regardless of the conditions on campus, if there are concerns about safety, I encourage all to communicate openly and quickly with supervisors or instructors as the case may be. We have flexible, hybrid-first work policies for most employees, and the capacity to help students to learn and progress without being punitive for conditions outside of their control. Let’s stay safe together and embody the Lumberjack culture of care at all times as we pursue our studies, teaching, scholarship, and work at this great university.

Wishing everyone a safe and joyful weekend.


José Luis Cruz Rivera

NAU Communications