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Ben Shanahan, Arizona Daily Sun 

Coconino Panthers starting pitcher Jake Plecas (23) throws Friday afternoon during a game against Estrella Foothills at Coconino High.

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Cheng nixes enrollment cap, more campus housing

Capping enrollment at Northern Arizona University is not a possibility even if it might improve relations between the university and residents of Flagstaff, NAU officials said at a forum to discuss the impact of campus growth.

“We are working hard to stay even in our enrollment,” NAU President Rita Cheng told a group of attendees at the Museum of Northern Arizona after she was asked about capping enrollment at the university. “You’re asking me not to be a good steward of the university and possibly put the university at risk.”

Cheng said NAU is different than Harvard and other universities that are more selective in enrollment, and NAU needs a good mix of in-state, out-of-state and international students to keep the university operating on its budget.

“NAU is not growing out of control,” Cheng told the group.

However, Cheng said it would be risky for the university to build more on-campus housing.

“It would be high risk for us to go beyond the housing we’ve already built on campus,” she said. “No one wants a university with an empty residence hall.”

There was a period of a few years when no new buildings were built, Cheng said, so both the university and the city have had to catch up with growth.

The university’s enrollment goal for 2025 is 36,000 total students, about two-thirds of whom are expected to attend classes on the Flagstaff campus. Enrollment on the Mountain Campus today is about 23,000, with beds for about 10,000.

Some community members suggested to Cheng that the university could have a course for freshman about being good neighbors when they move off campus, and teach about the different neighborhoods and areas of Flagstaff. The course could also have a community service requirement.

When presenting to all the attendees of the event, Cheng said the university has kept up with the demand for on-campus housing, and said many students do not want to live on campus when they are upperclassmen.

“I would be cautious of all of us pointing just to the university for growth, but we recognize we are a magnet,” she said.

Cheng said NAU is not the only reason people are attracted to Flagstaff, but said it is the main reason.

“We are the main reason people want to move to Flagstaff to live and work,” Cheng told the audience.

Eileen Klein, the president of the Arizona Board of Regents, the governing body of NAU, Arizona State University and the University of Arizona, said Arizona is in need of more people with postsecondary education.

Governor Doug Ducey has told the board that the state will be one of many funding sources for universities, instead of being the main source of funding several years ago.

After the public had a chance to talk to each presenter, Klein said her table brought up the fact that Flagstaff cannot be treated the same way Tempe and Tucson are treated, and the impact of the university’s growth needs to be recognized.

Klein said the public told her the board should consider not incentivizing things that give the community the wrong impression, and not incentivizing “growth for growth’s sake.”

Each university president has a series of goals to meet that come with monetary bonuses. These goals include increasing student enrollment.

Klein said her table also suggested the university share in cost for projects that will affect the university, such as the Rio de Flag flood control project.

Flagstaff Mayor Coral Evans, another panelist at the forum, said suggestions from her group included possibly creating a second NAU campus on the other side of Flagstaff to have infill in underutilized parts of the city and alleviate some of the congestion in Southside and Downtown, and to put more teeth in the city’s code for party violations.

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US Forest Service interim chief confronts misconduct scandal

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — After a career spent battling wildland fires across the West, U.S. Forest Service interim Chief Vicki Christiansen must now confront another sort of crisis: the harassment and bullying of women that's persisted in the agency's male-dominated culture despite numerous efforts at reform.

Christiansen's ascension to the top of the 35,000-employee agency follows the ignominious downfall this week of its former chief, Tony Tooke, amid allegations of relationships with subordinates.

Such misconduct appears to run deep in the agency's ranks, according to employee accounts, media reports and testimony during past congressional hearings. That's a reality Christiansen appeared to acknowledge when she told employees in a Friday email that they've had to face "some hard truths" about alleged harassment and retaliation.

With her decades working in fire suppression, a traditionally masculine arena, Christiansen knows firsthand about the barriers women face in the Forest Service, said Oklahoma state forester George Geissler, who met with Christiansen in Washington, D.C., just days before her appointment.

During that meeting, Christiansen openly discussed the challenges women face in the agency and made clear that harassment was not to be tolerated, Geissler said.

"She's willing to confront it and determined to confront it," he said. "She understands it's not just a Forest Service issue but an overarching issue that we as wildland firefighters, we as professionals in forestry, need to recognize."

The institutional problem the Forest Service faces is far from unique among government agencies. Sexual misconduct has long been a problem in the U.S. military and over the past several years emerged as a major issue at the Interior Department.

The Forest Service is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The agency's struggles date to at least the 1970s, when a class action lawsuit was filed alleging discrimination against women in hiring and promotions. The matter has gained renewed attention as female Forest Service employees recently stepped forward with tales of discrimination, harassment, retaliation and rape.

Lawmakers in Congress responded this week with calls for greater scrutiny of the agency.

Just over a third of the Forest Service's permanent employees are women, a figure that drops during the summer with additional seasonal hires, agency employment data shows. The balance is even more skewed among firefighters: Last summer, just 13 percent of the agency's 19,500 firefighters were women, according to the data.

Gail Kimbell, the first woman to be chief of the Forest Service, from 2007 to 2009, told The Associated Press she'd was heartbroken by accounts from female Forest Service firefighters who appeared on "PBS NewsHour" saying they were raped and groped by co-workers or supervisors and suffered retaliation if they reported it.

Kimbell said she experienced discrimination but wasn't assaulted during her 32-year career as a full-time Forest Service employee. In 1970s, women were a novelty in the workforce, especially in field work, she said. Unlike Christiansen, she did not work as a firefighter.

She said the Forest Service has spent decades trying to improve the workplace for women. By the time Kimbell became chief, training and other programs were well established, she said, and she supported them.

"The Forest Service continues to put effort into it. It's not perfect but it's a lot better than it was in the 1970s," she said.

In announcing Christiansen's appointment, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue tasked her with two goals: improving the agency's response to sexual misconduct while effectively managing more than 300,000 square miles (777,000 square kilometers) of forests and grasslands in 43 states and Puerto Rico.

Tooke's case and other reports of harassment have underscored that there's more work to do. During a 2016 congressional hearing, agency officials said 67 employees had been cited for sexual misconduct over the prior three years, including 21 who were fired and 28 who were suspended. The agency did not respond to requests for more recent figures.

In November, the Forest Service opened a "Harassment Reporting Center" with a toll-free number to make it easier for victims to report mistreatment. And on March 1, it started a one-year trial program in which only outside investigators will be used to look into sexual harassment and misconduct complaints originating in its Pacific Southwest region.

The move came in response to an audit from the inspector general at the Department of Agriculture that said almost half of service employees interviewed in the region had expressed distrust in complaint reporting progress.

The Forest Service and Agriculture Department have refused to say if an investigation into Tooke's actions was being handled by an outside entity or if it would continue upon his retirement.

In her Friday email to Forest Service employees, Christiansen pledged to stick by workers who "stand up for their colleagues and themselves."

"We've had to face some hard truths about allegations of harassment and retaliation in our agency, even as we stare down some of the biggest land-management challenges in our nation's history," she wrote. "I know we are up to the task.


Elliott reported from Denver.


Follow Matthew Brown on Twitter at and Dan Elliott at

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NRA gave $7.3 million to hundreds of schools -- including $12,000 to FUSD

The National Rifle Association has given more than $7 million in grants to hundreds of U.S. schools in recent years, according to an Associated Press analysis, but few have shown any indication that they'll follow the lead of businesses that are cutting ties with the group following last month's massacre at a Florida high school.

Florida's Broward County school district is believed to be the first to stop accepting NRA money after a gunman killed 17 people at one of its schools Feb. 14. The teen charged in the shooting had been on a school rifle team that received NRA funding. But in some other districts, officials say they have no plans to back away.

The AP analysis of the NRA Foundation's public tax records finds that about 500 schools received more than $7.3 million from 2010 through 2016, mostly through competitive grants meant to promote shooting sports. The grants have gone to a wide array of school programs, including the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps, rifle teams, hunting safety courses and agriculture clubs.

Arizona schools received $202,000 during the time period reviewed, including $12,000 that an FUSD spokeswoman said was received in 2012 for JROTC gun safety training.

"Whatever I think of the NRA, they're providing legitimate educational services," said Billy Townsend, a school board member in Florida's Polk County district, whose JROTC programs received $33,000, primarily to buy air rifles. "If the NRA wanted to provide air rifles for our ROTC folks in the future, I wouldn't have a problem with that."

The grants awarded to schools are just a small share of the $61 million the NRA Foundation has given to a variety of local groups since 2010. But it has grown rapidly, increasing nearly fourfold from 2010 to 2014 in what some opponents say is a thinly veiled attempt to recruit the next generation of NRA members.

The NRA Foundation did not return calls seeking comment.

Broward announced recently that it would no longer accept NRA grants, following more than a dozen major businesses that have split with the group in recent weeks. Companies including Delta Air Lines, MetLife insurance and the Hertz car agency have said they will no longer offer discounts to NRA members.

Annual reports from the pro-gun group say its grant program was started in 1992 and raises money through local Friends of NRA chapters. It says half the proceeds from local fundraisers go to local grants and half goes to the national organization. Tax records show roughly $19 million in grants going to the group's Virginia headquarters in 2015 and in 2016.

Besides schools, other typical recipients include 4-H groups, which have received $12.2 million since 2010, Boy Scout troops and councils, which received $4 million, and private gun clubs. Overall, about half the grants go to programs directed at youths.

Nearly half of the 773 grants awarded to schools have gone to JROTC programs, which put students through a basic military curriculum and offer an array of small competitive clubs, like the rifle team at Broward's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. But JROTC leaders say few students ultimately enlist in the military, and the primary goal is to teach students skills like discipline and leadership.

"The safety that we're teaching, the good citizenship that we're teaching here, those are the things you don't hear about," said Gunnery Sgt. Jim Flores, a JROTC instructor at Cibola High School in Albuquerque, New Mexico. "The majority of people walk out of here awesome young men and women, respectful of authority, things of that nature. Not so much little tin soldiers."

In some parts of the country, shooting clubs draw the same sort of following as any school sport. Bill Nolte, superintendent of the Haywood County district in North Carolina, says he still shows up at school sportsman's club tourneys even though his son graduated. Starting in sixth grade, students can join the clubs to compete in shooting events, archery and orienteering. For many families, Nolte said, it's just like any other weekend sports event.

"You take your lawn chair and your coffee in a thermos, and do much like you would do if you were going to a youth soccer or travel basketball or baseball event," Nolte said, adding that NRA grants have helped buy firearms and ammunition and cover other costs that otherwise would fall to the parents. "We are constantly seeking revenue for sportsman's club just like we do for cheerleading and track."

Districts that tallied the largest sums of NRA money typically used it for JROTC programs, including $126,000 given to Albuquerque schools, $126,000 to Broward County and $125,000 to Anchorage, Alaska. The most awarded to a single district was $291,000, given to Roseville schools near Sacramento, California, which say much of the funding went toward ammunition and gear for trap-shooting teams.

Grants are often provided as equipment rather than cash, with schools given rifles, ammunition, safety gear and updates to shooting ranges. Nationally, about $1.3 million was provided as cash, while $6 million was provided through equipment, training and other costs.

Ron Severson, superintendent of the Roseville Joint Union High School District, says no parents have raised concerns over the funding, but administrators may reconsider it in the wake of the Florida shooting.

"After we get through this spring, we will probably take some time to assess how to move forward," he said.

School board members in some districts said they didn't know about the grants. Donna Corbett, a Democrat on the school board in southern Indiana's New Albany-Floyd County School Corporation, said she never heard about $65,000 that went to a JROTC program at one of the high schools. Corbett said she plans to raise the issue with her board but feels conflicted about it.

"I am not a big NRA fan, but I also realize that ROTC is a good program," she said. "I'm not sure I would be willing to pull it to the detriment of the kids and their programs."

In some ways, the issue reflects the nation's deep political divide over guns. Nearly three-quarters of the schools that received grants are in counties that voted for President Donald Trump in the 2016 election, while a quarter are in counties that voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton, according to the AP analysis. Most are in medium-sized counties or rural areas, with few near major cities.

In Massachusetts, for example, known for its strict gun laws, no schools have received NRA grants since 2010, tax records show. Terry Ryan, a school board member in the Westford district northwest of Boston, says a local teacher considered applying for a grant in 2014, but the district ultimately didn't pursue it.

"We were not interested in any way, shape or form endorsing the NRA or its philosophy," Ryan said in an interview.

By contrast, parent Jana Cox in Louisiana's Caddo Parish says few in the area would have a problem with the $24,000 in NRA grants that have gone to school JROTC programs.

"Everybody here has guns," Cox said. "This is north Louisiana. You've got a lot of hunters and you've got a lot of guns."

Without NRA grants, some programs would struggle to stay afloat, officials say. For JROTC groups, which receive most of their money from their respective military branches, the grants have become more important as federal budgets have been cut. Programs at some high schools in Virginia, Missouri and other states have folded in recent years amid the pinch.

Lt. Colonel Ralph Ingles, head of the JROTC program at Albuquerque schools, says the Florida shooting has sparked a conversation about NRA grants, but he doesn't anticipate cutting ties anytime soon.

"I don't see anybody really backing down," he said. "I think it's just ingrained that we're going to continue to move forward in a positive direction."