Administration assess Cheng’s leadership

By Tyler Dixon

Chancellor Rita Cheng has been in her current role for four years and the campus along with the administration has gone through many changes.

Cheng was named chancellor in 2009, but took the position June 1, 2010. She took over for Sam Goldman who was chancellor for two years.

Provost John Nicklow, who has been at SIU since 1998, said Cheng brought stability and leadership to SIU.

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“ At least in my time here, I haven’t seen that type of focus applied to this institution,” Nicklow said.

Cheng said she’s used different strategies to grow enrollment, but the overall enrollment has dropped the past several years.

“I have achieved success in growing our freshmen class and I expect the fall class this year will be large as well,” Cheng said.

In Cheng’s first fall semester as chancellor in 2010, the total enrollment was 20,037. This past fall the total enrollment was 17,964. The undergraduate enrollment has dropped by almost 2,000 students during her time as chancellor.

Nicklow said the enrollment issue couldn’t be solved overnight or in one to two years.

“Our reputation is significantly better today than it was a few years ago,” Nicklow said. “I think our enrollment, although the overall number has not grown, I think we’re on the cusp of that.”

Nicklow said a lot has changed in the time before Cheng was chancellor, and SIU is still growing.

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“This feels and looks like a thriving university campus and it did not four or five years ago,” Nicklow said.

For some, Cheng is the face of the university, but Nicklow said the university isn’t about one individual but a group that’s working to make the university thrive.

With Cheng likely being voted at the next Northern Arizona University president next week, Nicklow said with a change in leadership, there is always the possibility of the university going in another direction.

“We’ve built initiatives and have incredible momentum,” Nicklow said. “It is vital that that momentum continue so that we have clear and strong outcomes.”

Some faculty on campus did think Cheng’s time on campus was productive.

Tony Williams, an English professor, said the administration was not good before Cheng’s arrival. August will mark Williams 30th year at SIU. He said he has seen many chancellors during his time on campus.

“In my opinion over the last five years, we’ve had the worst president (Poshard), we’ve had the worst chancellor and the worst provost that I’ve ever witnessed for the time I’ve been here,” Williams said.

Williams said he didn’t see declining enrollment and micromanagement among other things as accomplishments during Cheng’s four years as chancellor.

Williams said the future of SIU depends on who is selected as chancellor, but a problem has been the rejection of shared government by higher administration. He said one thing that could strengthen the university is to build up the departments that have lost faculty.

“End the dependence on adjunct professors, give those who are adjunct tenure-track appointments and basically starting a movement to respect students and faculty on campus,” Williams said.

Cheng addresses the NAU campus today and the Arizona Board of Regents will vote next week. Cheng could have a contract by the end of next week.

Cheng said SIU has built a strong base and the university is set on a course for future success.

“SIU faculty and staff are caring, they’re talented and the students can really launch their careers at our campus, I really think it’s positive,” Cheng said.

Tyler Dixon can be reached at [email protected] or 536-3311 ext. 252. 

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