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NAU President Cheng

NAU President Rita Cheng

Taylor Mahoney/Arizona Daily Sun

Northern Arizona University officials and NAU’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors are declining to comment after the AAUP filed a grievance letter that states that faculty were not included in several changes and decisions made by President Rita Cheng over the past several years.

Those changes include allowing students to enroll for multiple semesters of classes at one time, the new centralized classroom schedule system, the cancellation of some classes, cuts to the E-Learning budget and the in-house hiring of a new provost and the search for a new person to fill the Frances B. McAllister chair.

The complaints represent one of the first formal faculty challenges to Cheng's leadership since her arrival on the Mountain Campus in the summer of 2014.  Students last year staged a sit-in at the administration building and presented Cheng with list of grievances dealing with diversity, portfolio divestment and safe campus spaces.  

The Arizona Daily Sun received a copy of the faculty letter via email. The letter is dated Jan. 16 and addressed to the NAU Faculty Grievance Committee. It is signed by the co-chairs of AAUP-NAU, Robert Schehr, a professor in the department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, and Heather Martel, an associate professor of History.

“NAU does not comment on a pending grievance,” NAU spokesperson Kim Ott stated in an email.

“It is the position of the AAUP-NAU that since the Faculty Grievance Committee’s deliberations are ongoing and confidential, we have no comment at this time,” Schehr stated in an email.

The letter contends that according to the university’s Conditions of Faculty Service and its constitution, the administration is supposed to bring any policy changes, such as the multi-semester and classroom scheduling programs and the cancellation of classes that might affect the curriculum to the Faculty Senate for deliberation. The administration is also supposed to include the Faculty Senate in the decision process of hiring a new provost or department chair.

The letter lists the courses that were canceled without faculty input as Animal Rights, Holistic Justice, Queer Justice and Resiliency and the First Year Seminar Action Learning Team Program. According to the letter, the Action Learning Team Program was allegedly cut “after being criticized for being ‘too political.’”

The letter claims that there was “little substantive faculty involvement in” the details of rolling out the multi-term enrollment program for students and the centralized classroom scheduling program.

According to NAU’s website, multi-year enrollment will allow students in the spring of 2018 to register for classes in the summer 2018, fall 2018, winter 2018 and spring 2019 semesters. This allows students to enroll for all of their classes for the entire academic year at one time.

According to NAU’s website, the centralized classroom scheduling program is supposed to assign rooms to classes more efficiently. For example, smaller sized classes in smaller rooms instead of a large lecture hall or classes that need special equipment to labs or rooms that have that option.

“While consultations with representative bodies of faculty and chairs did occur, under very limited time constraints, and individual or small numbers of faculty participated in various working groups, this hardly qualifies as including the faculty deeply ‘in all major decisions affecting the welfare of the university, individual colleges, schools and other academic units,’” the letter states, quoting the NAU constitution.

The letter states the benefits and drawbacks of the new scheduling systems were not discussed “substantively” with faculty and the new systems were rushed into place over the summer of 2017, when most faculty were not on campus.

The letter also raises concerns about how Provost Daniel Kain was hired. Kain assumed the role of interim provost after James Coleman stepped down after a little more than a year since his hiring. About a month later, Kain was appointed provost of NAU by the Arizona Board of Regents at the request of Cheng, according to the AAUP-NAU letter.

The AAUP-NAU claims that a national search should have been completed to find a replacement before appointing Kain. It also states that Cheng did not consult the entire Senate Faculty about the decision but only the Faculty Senate president and the president of the Academics Chairs Council.

AAUP-NAU also raised concerns about faculty not being included in the second search to fill the Frances B. McAllister Endowed Chair in Community, Culture and Environment. According to the job description posted on NAU’s website, the McAllister chair is supposed to “engage the university and community in dialogue about the past, present and future of the (Colorado) Plateau.” The chair has been empty for at least two years, since the last chair, Rom Coles, vacated the position in 2015.

 Cheng sent out a campus email in late December announcing that the position had been filled by Bruce Hungate, a professor in NAU’s College of Engineering, Forestry and Natural Sciences. His biography on the college's website includes the new title.

According to AAUP-NAU’s letter, Cheng allegedly “usurped” the hiring process for the chair by not including faculty in the recruitment, screening, interviewing and selection process. The original search to fill the position was abruptly closed just as candidates were supposed to be interviewed and a new advertisement for the position was advertised before a new search committee could be created. According to the AAUP-NAU letter, “no invitation for faculty feedback or campus (forums) were forthcoming, despite many assurances to the contrary.”

In their letter, the AAUP-NAU requests the NAU administration to immediately halt the use of the multi-semester enrollment and classroom scheduling programs and revert to the old systems. It also asks the administration to address the problems behind the appointment of Kain and Hungate and the violation of the Conditions of Faculty Service that were made when each were appointed.

“Unilateral decision-making by the NAU administration undermines the foundational principals of higher education, suppresses democratic processes essential to peaceful campus communities and generates inefficiencies that threaten NAU’s mission,” the letter states.

The reporter can be reached at or (928)556-2253.


Education/Business Reporter

Suzanne writes about education and business. She covers the local school district, charter schools and Northern Arizona University. She also writes the Sunday business features.

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