President Rita Cheng has faced harsh criticism since January. An audit revealed that approximately $40,000 was undocumented by Cheng. NAU reimbursed Cheng for over $30,000 in airline tickets to Russia for both her and her husband. The tickets were for business and first-class with two additional business-class tickets purchased as replacements. The remaining $10,000 of funds went toward a nearly $6,000 roundtrip business-class ticket to Israel for Cheng’s husband, $1,700 in additional fees for 13 hotel visits and $2,000 for purchases not allowed by university policies: visas, flight check-in fees, valet parking and room service.
The frustration about Cheng's faults are understandable. However, the punitive measure worth advocating for is not resignation.
The reimbursements were not properly documented
by university staff. According to the audit report conducted by the Arizona Office of the Auditor General, “The University did not follow its travel policies or applicable ABOR [Arizona Board of Regents] policies to ensure and document that the president’s and her spouse’s
travel expenses it paid met them."
The university made a mistake. As the audit states, this $40,000 mistake was born of disorganization, incompetent procedures and policy of involved faculty — including Cheng.
Cheng's trip to Russia has been the topic most in the spotlight. NAU reimbursed Cheng $30,641 for this trip. Cheng then donated an undisclosed amount to a specific budget line called the President’s Fund for Excellence. The fund is an unrestricted source of money used for expenses incurred by the president deemed not appropriate for state funding.
The president should face punitive repercussions for her role in this confusing public relations nightmare, however, resignation should not be that punishment.
Cheng's actions are not the only part of this scandal. The mistakes were executed by employees of the university. Punitive measures should be extended to each member of the NAU faculty involved. Gross negligence and a failure to follow policy by the university led to this error.
However, as a fair solution, Cheng should be denied pay raises and bonuses until the end of the spring semester, or possibly the start of fall 2021 for her hand in this catastrophe. Cheng should also face a brief suspension and be placed on some form of probation. Advocating for resignation is impractical when more succinct and achievable punishments are well within reach.
To extend our advocacy to the extreme is to brand ourselves as illogical and emotional, rather than concise and practical.
In defense of Cheng, NAU is a fully-functioning university. I have not been here long, but I have seldom desired for more than what I have within the university. The president and a team of administrators make this happen.
We may disagree with her and desire to see her removed, but this fault should not be her downfall. Resignation would be a mistake.