Notes from the President: Dec. 7, 2023

Dear Lumberjacks,

It’s been a few weeks since I last wrote, and we are poised to finish Fall 2023 in style. In just eight days, proud Lumberjacks will graduate at the Skydome in front of friends, family, and faculty and staff mentors; our continuing students will have finished exams and be enjoying a well-deserved few weeks of winter break; and our faculty and staff will be getting ready to wrap up work for the year and looking ahead to our university closure over the holiday break.

We have much to celebrate for the year as a whole and this semester specifically. Below are my notes from just before Thanksgiving until today:

  • The main event on my calendar during the week before Thanksgiving was a visit to Tucson and the University of Arizona for the full board meeting of the Arizona Board of Regents (ABOR). It was a most productive visit, and I had many fruitful conversations with the Regents around our strategic priorities and am thankful for their support and partnership in helping propel NAU’s mission forward. Among the actions taken by the Board was the official approval of NAU’s Master Plan, a $1.5M Regents’ Grant to enhance our statewide presence and changing the School of Nursing to the College of Nursing.
  • Before leaving Tucson, I had an opportunity to meet with the superintendent of Tucson Unified School District, Dr. Gabe Trujillo, to discuss opportunities for collaboration that will enhance the college-going culture in southern Arizona. I look forward to continued engagement with K-12 leaders who are essential partners in strengthening our state’s broader attainment-focused ecosystem.
  • After arriving back in Flagstaff, I tuned in Saturday morning for the NCAA Division I cross country national championship meet. Unfortunately, our men’s team came up just short of yet another title, but they earned a proud second place, along with the women’s cross-country team who is demonstrating that they are clearly a force to be reckoned with as number two in the nation as well.
  • Thanksgiving week was a bit lighter on my calendar, with a day dedicated to Big Sky Conference Presidents’ Council meetings and then just a few internal meetings with team members about key university initiatives.
  • Leading up to Thanksgiving Day, Rima and I were busy preparing for the arrival of three of our four adult children and two teenage grandchildren. They came from Puerto Rico, Washington, DC, and Oakland, CA with their significant others. In addition to the traditional festivities, our time together included catching up with each other (lots of new adventures), grilling in subfreezing temperature, watching TV movies, and overly competitive Karaoke, dance-offs, and sharing of favorite memes (I guess you had to be there.)
  • After the holiday break, I had conversations with talented NAU students who are looking to serve our state as a student Regent for ABOR. I was pleased to interview several exceptional candidates who will be advancing through the next stage of the student regent process and who will be excellent ambassadors for NAU and higher education broadly throughout the state.
  • The balance of the week was spent in other meetings that included Regents, state healthcare leaders interested in partnering with our NAU Health work, and final review and preparation for our compensation adjustment plan that was unveiled on Tuesday.
  • On Friday, I took a long weekend with Rima to celebrate her 53rd birthday and the 19th anniversary of our engagement with a visit to Las Vegas, retracing some of our steps from our first visit to the Southwest many years ago. In a year filled with many days of music (according to Spotify!), the most memorable musical experience was a great performance by U2 in the incredible news Sphere to cap off the trip.
  • This week began with discussions about early childhood initiatives that NAU can propel for the benefit of people not only at NAU—where our Early Learning and Development Center is just the first step we hope to take in this arena—but throughout the state. Then, we hosted members of the Helios Education Foundation’s leadership team for a collaborative discussion around how our organizations can work together, partner, and benefit more students in Arizona.
  • I wrapped up the day with hundreds of friends, partners, and lifelong supporters of NAU at a beautiful holiday reception. I was humbled by the show of support for our university and the boundless enthusiasm of so many to help build a brighter future for NAU, our students, our region, and our state. It was truly a celebration of what we have accomplished together—and I couldn’t let the opportunity slip for another happy birthday song and slice of cake for Rima to celebrate this occasion.
  • I’ve also been working closely with our EVP and University Provost search committee chairs and consultants in the last few weeks. Stay tuned for an announcement soon about our plans for bringing finalists to campus for a robust set of interviews and public engagements as we reach the final stage of this important process.
  • Tuesday brought the final convening of the President’s Cabinet for 2023 and with it a robust discussion around our financial health, investment strategies, and how we can sustainably advance our strategic priorities—a conversation that was reflected in many ways in my message to the university community around compensation increases for 2024. I’m thankful to have a tremendous team of mission-driven leaders and that they, in turn, have such talented individuals in their areas contributing to our university’s endeavors on so many fronts.
  • After a few Zoom meetings to touch-base with colleagues, I was off to HCCC for the annual NAU Holiday Reception, where I got to see so many of our dedicated faculty and staff who make this university great.
  • Yesterday, I started the day visiting with our First Year Seminar teaching team to get ready for my own teaching in the spring. Sure, I’m a bit nervous, but revisiting and re-sharpening the craft of teaching is energizing and critical work. I walked away armed with new tools and ideas to better engage my future students, the confidence that the work of “meeting students where they are” and supporting them as they seek to meet their full-potential against the backdrop of an increasingly complex world is in fact doable, and the pride of knowing I am among so many great teachers who understand the impact of their work in positioning our students well for careers of consequence and lives of purpose.
  • Later, I filmed a few videos for upcoming events and engagements and held meetings linked to our NAU Health work that will be ramping up in the New Year.
  • The day closed with the thought-provoking President’s Distinguished Speaker Series lecture by Dr. Victoria Sanford, a world-renowned public scholar, with an extensive record of impactful action in advancing human rights, holding regimes who engage in gender violence and migration atrocities, and weaponize state power against the most vulnerable among us. Her talk seemed even more timely today given the global backdrop then when she was first invited many months ago. And I’m thankful for Dr. Sanford’s generosity in spending significant time throughout her visit with students and faculty in smaller settings to share her knowledge and engage in rich dialogue with colleagues.
  • Today, I’ll be joining our NAU Athletics team in welcoming new head football coach Brian Wright and his family to NAU and Flagstaff. I’m excited for the future ahead where academic and athletic excellence will continue to be elevated by Coach Wright, who brings a record of building winning cultures to the Lumberjack community. My warmest welcome to Coach Wright and his family.

Next week will bring the final series of events and then our fall Commencement ceremonies. In closing, I want to thank our faculty and staff for their exceptional work. I hope you enjoy a well-deserved rest over the upcoming holidays. To our students, congratulations on all your hard work and best wishes on your final exams. You’ve got this, Jacks!

Take care and I look forward to sharing my next set of notes in the New Year!

José Luis Cruz Rivera




NAU Communications