Students are demanding NAU President Rita Cheng resign following recent controversies.
Cheng took on the position of NAU president in 2014. Prior, she served as chancellor of Southern Illinois University (SIU), and worked in teaching and administrating throughout her career. Cheng was not new to controversy when she joined NAU.
According to The Southern Illinoisan, SIU experienced an enrollment decline of over 2,000 students during Cheng’s four-year term at the university. SIU’s enrollment had only decreased by about 653 students prior to Cheng's term. SIU tuition also went up during Cheng’s term.
At NAU, talk of resignation resurfaced after it was revealed that over $40,000 of university funds were used to cover Cheng’s travel expenses. A state audit showed that the funds were not properly documented. The trip to Russia included meetings with officials on NAU’s behalf.
Following the travel controversy, the NAU Young Democrats club wrote a letter, which the NAU College Republican club and Congressional candidate Eva Putzova signed, to push for the president’s resignation from the university. The NAU Young Democrats club formed the hashtag #RitaResign Coalition and posted the letter to social media addressing Dean of Students Andrew Dies about their movement. In a second letter, the clubs responded to an invitation to what they assumed was a "closed-door" meeting with Cheng, ASNAU representatives and Greek life leadership. This second letter explained that open dialogue in a public area will best address their concerns. They also reiterated that their desired outcome is Cheng’s resignation.
I side with many concerned students and believe that Cheng should resign following the spring 2020 semester. The problem is Cheng’s repeated controversies and poor communication with students, staff and faculty. Our university's president seemingly makes no effort to actually address our concerns. NAU recently received a low score on communication between administration and the university in an accreditation report from the Higher Learning Commission, a nonprofit organization. This confirms that student grievances regarding open communication are valid. Students and higher-ups are able to identify that NAU lacks open communication, so why can’t Cheng.
I believe Cheng puts her public image first and NAU’s problems second. Although, I’m not sure how effective she is at public relations, seeing as though she’s almost always involved in controversy.
Some argue that the president’s actions do not directly impact students, but I have seen enough program cuts in my three years at NAU to argue otherwise. Just recently, student-run media like NAZ Today reduced production correlated to a decrease in funds from a dip in enrollment in September 2019.
I think one of the larger issues is that Cheng makes little effort to repair her reputation and improve relationships with students and faculty. An example that immediately comes to mind is Cheng’s 2017 campus forum about providing safe spaces at universities, which ended in a protest from students that resulted in Cheng leaving the forum.
The demands of NAU groups like the hashtag #RitaResign Coalition are the first steps in having student voices heard. Many students hope that Cheng will not be given the opportunity to move forward with another term in 2022. Along with them, I believe Cheng should resign following the spring 2020 semester.