Student enrollment, university finances and personnel wages were among the various topics covered at the Arizona Board of Regents (ABOR) meeting Friday. It took place at the NAU International Pavilion and was briefly interrupted by a protest for the global climate strike.
The meeting opened with a statement from NAU President Rita Cheng. Her speech focused on NAU’s vision for the future and achieving success while overcoming challenges to the university.
“We’re pleased to use our time with you today to share our vision for NAU’s strong future and distinctiveness that ensures our students have success and the importance of NAU to our state and to the students we serve can be demonstrated,” Cheng said in her statement to the regents.
Only a few minutes into Cheng's speech, students gathered outside the International Pavilion and began to protest with chants and signs.
Cheng initially spoke over the protesters, but eventually paused and gave ABOR Chairman Larry Penley a moment to discuss the protest with the audience.
“For those of you who may not know, today is a global strike day for climate change," Penley said to the audience. "It's a particularly important issue for the Gen Z students who are now our juniors and sophomores at our universities.”
The protest outside the International Pavilion lasted about 10 minutes before students left the area.
Following Cheng’s speech, NAU staff and officials were given time to address ABOR about issues pertaining to the university.
NAU Chief Marketing Officer Harlan Teller described the NAU marketing team's strategy to increase enrollment, following a slight decline between the 2017-18 and 2018-19 school years.
Teller explained to the regents that the marketing team has created a multi-year research based strategy centered around differentiating NAU from other higher education institutions.
"The tagline is 'bring your aspirations.'" Teller said to the regents. “Three fundamental themes under the brand umbrella – discoveries happen here… tailored to the individual… and finally the environment for learning.”
Bjorn Flugstad, vice president for finance, institutional planning and analysis, gave a breakdown of the university’s finances. He said NAU has received the same high bond rating as previous years, in addition to a net increase in revenue since 2008, despite a decline in funds received from the state.
NAU is seeking to regain funds in upcoming budget requests, and Cheng expressed optimism about seeing the funds return to NAU over the next several years.
“In the budget proposal, we have great hope that [the funds] will be restored,” Cheng said.
Toward the end of the meeting, NAU Chief Human Resource Officer Josh Mackey discussed the issue of staff salaries.
In most positions, the salaries of NAU employees are below the market median, with faculty receiving 14.1% less and service personal receiving 17% less than their industry counterparts. This year, the university increased faculty and staff salaries by 3%, but Mackey stressed to the board the significance of the salary deficit.
“Even with those efforts we still have a significant gap between our salary rates and the market median for positions across the university,” Mackey said to the audience.
The public ABOR meeting concluded with Penley summarizing the contents of the meeting and thanking the speakers for their time.
"I think there are many, many things that are going well, and I think you've been very open about what the challenges are," Penley said. "President Cheng, we very much appreciate this time, it gives us an opportunity to dig more deeply into the issues of Northern Arizona University."
NAU has a unique set of challenges heading into the next decade, but faculty and administrators sought to prove to ABOR that they have concrete plans to address the most pressing issues and lead the university into continued growth and success.