Kudos to the Sun for their recent coverage of NAU’s $11 million budget crisis ("Lofty projections cause $11 million shortfall"), but noticeably absent is any explanation of the original source for these lofty projections of 800 full-time students who did not materialize.
Might it have been wishful thinking by a university president who depends on growing enrollment for her annual performance bonuses? The same president who already makes $475,000 per year, plus a $50,000 housing stipend, and has increased her own office’s budget by many millions of dollars, but somehow expects NAU’s already cash-strapped departments to pick up the bill for this snafu?
Those of us who actually talk to students know why enrollment is down: the word is out that NAU is unaffordable for most full-time students, due to the high costs of tuition and rent, without incurring a lifetime of debt. Students (and the rest of us) suffer a cost of living that has skyrocketed due to Rita Cheng’s drive to inflate enrollment numbers -- so this supposed "crisis" is a long-term result of her consistent prioritization of personal gain over the larger NAU and Flagstaff communities.
But she will try to pass the buck to ABOR for this $11 million misuse of taxpayer money instead of being held to account for her shortsightedness. Here’s the catch: ABOR’s recommendations for projected enrollment growth are just that — recommendations that Cheng need not follow if they would be detrimental to NAU's student body or Flagstaff. Meanwhile, the university is spending over $10 million for the Huron Consulting firm to conduct a large-scale survey of staff efficiency (read: coming layoffs) during the same academic year as an $11 million shortfall that certainly isn’t coming out of the Office of the President’s budget!
Whether gross incompetence or outright malfeasance (will this “crisis” just happen again next year?), the former accountant at NAU’s helm needs an external audit of her own. If your own accountant screwed up to the tune of $11 million and asked you to eat the costs, you'd probably fire them. Don't Arizona's taxpayers deserve as much?