Northern Arizona University President Rita Cheng announced Tuesday she will not seek an extension of her contract that expires in 2022.
Cheng touted growth in research funding, enrollment, and student retention and diversity since she began overseeing the university in 2014. She said she has confidence in the school’s leadership team, faculty and staff to continue the work amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“While there is still a long road ahead, our planning and response to the pandemic — keeping our eyes totally focused on our academic mission and strategic priorities while engaging in the hard work necessary to keep us on a firm, sustainable financial footing — fills me with pride,” Cheng said in a statement.
The university recently reopened for in-person classes, against the wishes of a union that represents faculty, staff and graduate student employees.
Before the pandemic, a state audit found that the university did not comply with policies in paying more than $40,000 in travel expenses for Cheng and her husband, putting public money at risk. University officials said they believed they were following policy and were unaware the expenses weren’t properly documented.
The Arizona Board of Regents said it will start a nationwide search this fall to replace Cheng, who will serve until a successor is named. During her tenure, the university also expanded housing for honors students, increased health programs and added a 250-seat music recital hall.
Cheng’s contract expires June 30, 2022. She earns an annual base salary of more than $490,000.
Cheng, who was the first in her family to attend college, came to Flagstaff from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale where she served as chancellor. At the time, Northern Arizona had an operating budget of $460 million with about 26,000 students at campuses statewide and online.
The school’s fiscal year 2020 operating budget was $630 million, and the school now serves nearly 30,000 students.