President charts a course amid significant budget cuts

Cheng hosts the forum and responds to questions

Northern Arizona University President Rita Cheng called for a strategic, campus-wide change in operations to address state funding cuts while maintaining the university’s mission in the long term.

NAU will remain focused on academic excellence while using a list of budget principles in planning. Emphasis will be placed on enrollment growth and retention along with increasing revenues and making strategic investments that support educational quality.

“Our financial model is going to look different as we move forward. The familiar way we have paid for our university to function will not remain intact,” Cheng said. “In response, practices you are familiar with are likely to undergo fundamental changes as well,” said Cheng during Thursday’s campus forum.

Speaking to about 200 people in Prochnow auditorium and an online audience of more than 500, Cheng asked each staff and faculty member to transform ways of operating.

For the 2016 fiscal year budget, Arizona legislators reduced funding to higher education by nearly $100 million. NAU’s portion of the cuts is $17.3 million representing a 20 percent reduction in state funding. Anticipated future budget shortfalls could mean additional cuts next year.

Academic divisions are cutting budgets by 4.5 percent and other departments will reduce budgets from 8.5 to 10 percent. When positions are vacated, the president wants the university community to consider if there are other ways to do the job and share the position’s responsibilities.

“We are working diligently to minimize the number of reductions-in-force. Yet we have identified permanent reductions that will amount to about 60 positions, 50 of which are currently vacant,” said Cheng, who announced that the Idea Lab and the Health Policy Institute are being closed.

Reduction measures announced 

  • Workforce reduction of 60 positions
  • Closing some Extended Campuses sites
  • Postponed building engineering lab
  • Working with all departments to reduce expenditures
  • Closing the Idea Lab
  • Closing the Health Policy Institute
  • Modified cell phone reimbursement policy
  • Limited hiring
  • Cut travel budgets
  • Renegotiating contracts with campus service partners
  • Renegotiating computer purchases

Construction of an engineering lab to accommodate NAU’s rapid growth of engineering students has been postponed. Some of NAU’s Extended Campuses sites will be closed. Campus cell phone reimbursements have been modified, debt has been refinanced and restructured and campus contracts with vendors are being renegotiated.

Gov. Doug Ducey has asked Arizona’s three university presidents to submit business plans to the Arizona Board of Regents and he has not committed to reinstating funds.

“Don’t expect the cuts to be temporary,” said Cheng, referring to the nationwide trend of cuts to higher education. “Strategies to respond to the situation will continually be assessed in order to sustain the university’s progress toward achieving our strategic plan goals and priorities.”

While the president recognized the pain of reductions and operational changes, she said NAU is continuing its conversation with state policymakers, reminding them of the value of the university’s contributions to Arizona.

“We are going to continue to see this university advance,” Cheng said. “Students will continue to come, and I ask you to remember this: Our students have put a great deal of faith and financial investment in their decision to come to NAU.” She made assurances that the university will deliver its unique and quality experience.

Cheng invited the campus community to continue offering suggestions on additional budget efficiencies and said she plans to hold a state of the university forum each fall.