Guest Columns

John Haeger's guest columns have been featured in The Arizona Republic, the Arizona Daily Sun and The Lumberjack student newspaper, among others.

He also published a series of blogs for the Huffington Post.

Excellent education, reasonable cost: Arizona has it, April 11, 2014

By Matt Salmon, Michael Crow, John Haeger and Ann Weaver Hart
Today's students and families are concerned not only with the cost of education, but also with career prospects post-graduation. Across the nation, the cost of higher education continues to grow while news articles point to examples of college graduates working in the fast-food industry.
To confront these issues head-on, the U.S. House Education and the Workforce Committee recently convened a hearing in Arizona. We had the opportunity to discuss these important issues between members of Congress and local Arizona experts.
It was a great opportunity to share that, although there is still much to be done, Arizona universities and community colleges are on the cutting edge of creative initiatives to deliver high-quality education while working to resolve the financial challenges of the contemporary world.
Quality of education is as important, if not more so than the cost. In order for Arizona to be globally competitive, we need to ensure that our students are graduating with the skills necessary to forge a great career and to adapt to the ever-changing, global workforce.
Nearly 30,000 students will graduate from Arizona's four-year public universities this year. If we are to maintain a competitive edge in education and the global economy, all schools should be held to a high standard of excellence. Transparency and accountability for institutions of higher education allow prospective students a clearer choice.
All higher-education institutions, whether public or private universities, career colleges or community colleges, should be held to an equal standard of accountability, including gainful employment measures if they move forward. We look forward to the process of developing the details behind this proposal.
Arizona's Constitution states that university instruction "shall be as nearly free as possible." The average national cost of education has experienced inflation twice as high as general inflation over the past several years, averaging about 8 percent annually.
To give our next generation of graduates a fighting chance, we must continue to work together on the challenge of affordability while ensuring that they have the skills needed by top employers. Students need an education that will not leave them still making payments on student loans when they send their own children off to college.
Arizona universities and community colleges have partnered to provide seamless credit transfer and even joint- admissions processes. These innovative, low-cost models provide options for earning a world-class degree at lower total cost. A low-cost education would mean nothing if students were unable to find good work post-graduation.
To maintain strong workforce relevance, our Arizona universities actively partner with local and international industry to shape curricula that prepare students for in-demand jobs. Expansion of programs in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and health fields are two examples of responsiveness from our Arizona universities to meet the high demands of businesses.
This will have a positive impact on Arizona's economy and serve our graduates in well-paying, recession-proof careers that advance the state's competitiveness in the global innovation marketplace.
We look forward to the discussions surrounding the upcoming reauthorization of the Higher Education Act because it is the key federal policy affecting our schools and, consequently, our future workforce. We are encouraged that the House Committee on Education and the Workforce has held several hearings on this legislation.
The recent hearing in Mesa with committee members, including Chairman John Kline, R-Minn., demonstrated the important role Arizonans have in shaping the discussion. It is necessary to create an environment where institutions of higher education can implement innovative strategies to best prepare graduates for careers in an ever-changing economic landscape.
Our Arizona schools, leaders and businesses are taking the lead on this initiative, and the field hearing provided the venue to showcase the great work done here in the Grand Canyon State.
Matt Salmon represents Arizona's Congressional District 5 in the U.S. House of Representatives and is a member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. Michael Crow is president of Arizona State University. John Haeger is president of Northern Arizona University. Ann Weaver Hart is president of the University of Arizona. View the editorial online.
Welcoming change -- and what stays the same

The Arizona Daily Sun, Aug. 24, 2013

By John D. Haeger

At a time of great flux in higher education, the annual flow of students to campus remains an inspiring and invigorating sight.

Despite the growing sophistication of the higher education calendar — now filled with campus visits, summer camps, freshman orientations, early arrivals and various academic prep events — move-in day holds a high place in our culture as a symbol of aspiration. Cars, trucks and trailers bursting with the material goods of students are fitting metaphors for optimism. 

A majority of our students are arriving at the Flagstaff campus of Northern Arizona University for what is now considered a traditional academic experience. But there are thousands more who are joining, or returning to, the NAU family on campuses across the state and through online degree programs. 

Visible changes will greet those arriving in Flagstaff. Yes, there is construction: a science building and an intramural field are under way; new dining space at the Union is being completed; and a new residence hall will begin. There will be more. 

Other changes are programmatic: new programs for first-year students through University College, and a competency-based Personalized Learning program that will draw non-traditional students into the NAU fold from across the nation and perhaps the world. These are just two examples of how our curriculum is undergoing revolutionary changes to meet the needs of today’s students and tomorrow’s work force. 

Yet one constant is that students arriving at our main campus will still feel at home. A full calendar of Welcome Week gatherings and events offers something for just about everyone. And they will probably notice what the community is also feeling: an air of excitement building around athletics as NAU readies for a big year in the Big Sky Conference. No matter which sports you follow, this is indeed a great time to be a Lumberjack supporter. 

Underneath all the activity lies the NAU experience. Our students, faculty and staff truly embody the diversity, positive attitude, active lifestyles and personal touch that make this community so special. There is nothing quite like being reminded of it. 

I hope all of you in the community will join me in welcoming back our students as we enter the new academic year. 

John D. Haeger is president of Northern Arizona University. View the editorial online.

Arizona's health-care future starts now

The Arizona Republic, Oct. 1, 2012

By John D. Haeger

A look inside the Health Sciences Education Building on the Phoenix Biomedical Campus reveals a checklist for the vitality of Arizona's future: 

  • Innovative higher education.
  • High-quality health professions training.
  • Efficient and effective collaboration.
  • A commitment to giving back to the state.

It is difficult to imagine that a complex, newly launched enterprise could have gotten it more right.

What Northern Arizona University and the University of Arizona College of Medicine have done through their recent partnership is to redefine career preparation for our next generation of health professionals -- a generation being groomed to practice in Arizona. The collaborative venture will be celebrated during a grand opening event at 9 a.m. Friday.

This fall, NAU's new two-year master's program in physician assistant studies established itself in Phoenix, along with a branch of the university's well-regarded 33-month doctorate of physical therapy.

Today, students from three high-demand fields at the two universities are pursuing their degrees in a building that by its very design integrates technological advances with face-to-face interactions. Medical students do not often learn in the same labs and hallways as physician assistants and physical therapists, but on this campus they have already begun forming the professional relationships that will serve them throughout their careers.

This model of learning acknowledges both the changing nature of education and the pressing needs of the state. Especially in the case of health professions, the two ideas are closely linked. Developing a deeper pool of college-educated workers is critical for Arizona's economic well-being, and doing so requires a willingness to try new approaches that attract and retain more students. No less important to the state's long-term health is the provision of high-quality medical care, and extending those services to areas that currently lack them.

The physical therapy doctoral degree now offered in Phoenix expands a program with a rich legacy on NAU's Flagstaff campus. The lessons learned since 1978 will undergo a transformation in the tech-heavy and collaborative environment of its new extended home, but what will not change is the quality of graduates produced.

The new physician assistant program addresses an acute national need for graduate-level health professionals. Amid current shortages, they will become increasingly relied upon as primary-care providers, especially as changes in health-care laws bring demands on our health-care providers.

But even though the stakes are nationwide in scope, the focus returns to Arizona. Students in the physical therapy program will work with local clinicians during their first and second years. The physician assistant program will conduct its clinical training --which involves placement for hands-on experience in a community -- only in Arizona.

A grant recently awarded to the physician assistant program will reinforce this approach. Funding will help recruit students from underserved backgrounds, place them in areas that lack a strong health-care presence and build ties to those communities.

These developments on the Phoenix Biomedical Campus, as exciting and important as they may be, are not yet visible to the general population. The public may notice yet another modern-looking structure that has appeared in a collection of office buildings on a block of high-tech pursuits in downtown Phoenix, but the groundbreaking changes to course delivery and their implications for Arizona's future have yet to be felt.

That will change soon. The students, faculty and staff know something special is happening. Our students felt it from the first day they walked in. Before long, they will be working among us, transforming health care in our fast-changing world. We can all look forward to it.

John D. Haeger is president of Northern Arizona University. View the editorial online.

NAU, Yuma partners in opportunity

The Yuma Sun, May 5, 2012

By John D. Haeger

College graduation is a time of looking forward. Lives change in college, and a new path is opened — for young adults and non-traditional students alike. 

Clearing the way for such opportunity has long been a mission of Northern Arizona University. Nowhere does that mission find a clearer expression than at NAU-Yuma. 

For nearly 25 years, in conjunction with Arizona Western College, NAU has worked hard to make a college education affordable and obtainable for all, with a focus on providing access to under-represented populations. Through innovative transfer programs, lower tuition rates and scheduling that is convenient for working professionals, we have opened doors that may otherwise have been closed.

The results are nothing short of astounding. Since 1988, the dream of earning a bachelor's degree has become a reality for more than 6,000 students. 

Just consider what this has meant to Yuma and surrounding communities. Higher education is a powerful tool, and these graduates are making a difference by showing the way for others and advancing their own lives and careers.

But there is even more to the story.

NAU has spent more than $84 million — in state funding, locally developed money and grants —— in the Yuma community since 1988 on salaries, expansion, construction and program development. All of this spending has been aimed at providing educational opportunities locally.

We have made these investments in people and facilities because of the profound value of a vibrant, diverse and well-educated community. The ongoing record of achievement at NAU-Yuma is a success for all citizens of Arizona.

I hope all of you in Yuma and the region understand the important role you are playing in Arizona's future. The entire NAU community, of which you are a vital part, celebrates your accomplishments. 

Be sure to congratulate this year's graduates, who I encourage to savor the moment. They have certainly earned it.

John D. Haeger is president of Northern Arizona University. View the editorial online.

Coconino Voices: Excellence in NAU athletics a worthy goal

The Arizona Daily Sun, March 2012

By John D. Haeger

You have been hearing a great deal lately about our university being in the midst of an important transition. We are enhancing our approach to academics, continuing to evolve our student services and campus life and fundamentally restructuring our business model.

One of the transitions under way is in NAU athletics, and I want to share my vision with you about what this university aspires to accomplish in the next few years.

When I recently agreed with the Arizona Board of Regents on an extension of my contract to 2015, I did so primarily to ensure that NAU emerges from this period of transition in a strong position academically, financially and in athletics. I am committed to making sure that all three areas are addressed.

Two pivotal jobs at NAU, athletic director and men's basketball coach, are soon to be filled. I view this as a valuable opportunity to reinvigorate our program and expand our community participation. We are taking action to make our high-profile teams more competitive, and I am prepared to put the people in place and commit the resources necessary to make that happen.

NAU already has taken major steps to upgrade its athletics infrastructure. More than $25 million in improvements brought the Walkup Skydome fully into the 21st century as a modern multipurpose facility that will serve the university and the local community for years to come. The new Health and Learning Center includes locker rooms and extensive upgrades to Lumberjack Stadium to benefit fans and athletes. And we are exploring financial opportunities and partnerships to convert our fieldhouse into a multiuse arena.

But people remain the most critical resource of all, and you will soon see NAU bring in an athletic director and men's basketball coach who will be the foundation of our resurgence in athletics.

These changes come at a time when the Big Sky Conference is expanding its membership and intensifying its public outreach as well as rebranding the entire conference. As the Big Sky moves to a 13-team football conference in July -- 11 teams in all sports -- NAU will be poised to assert itself as a competitive force. We aspire to have all our teams be among the top contenders in the Big Sky.

The conference, and NAU in particular, also have a reputation for valuing academic excellence among its athletes, and this value is unwavering. A focus on improving our performance on the field will not come at the cost of academic achievement.

I hope that the entire NAU community will welcome the new additions to our athletics staff when a decision is made soon and join me in enthusiastically supporting this university's drive to be consistently competitive.

After all, community support is an important element in achieving success with our athletics programs. With strong attendance, games become community-building events. And when games become sought-after occasions, there are even more tangible and financial gains.

It's no surprise that Northern Arizona University athletics have the potential to increase the economic vitality of our community through ticket sales, restaurant and hotel visits and all the accompanying activities. When our teams are competitive, that potential increases, especially when it comes to drawing out-of-town alumni and fans to campus and enticing others from the region into becoming active NAU fans.

Lumberjack pride is an important part of the NAU experience that all of us can share.

John Haeger is president of Northern Arizona University. View the editorial online.

Coconino Voices: Guns not welcome at NAU

The Arizona Daily Sun, Feb. 2012

By John D. Haeger

NAU provides a vibrant campus community right in the heart of Flagstaff with a student population of 17,000. About half of these students live on campus and all of them learn, exercise and eat on our campus. We are entrusted with a huge responsibility, and as president, I take that first priority of providing a safe place to live and learn very seriously.

Allowing firearms on Northern Arizona University's campuses jeopardizes the safety of our students, faculty and staff and disrupts our educational mission. No one on our campus has requested to exercise the freedom to bear arms on campus. None of our visitors has felt the need to be armed when coming to our campus. Despite the lack of uprising for such ability, the Arizona Legislature is considering legislation that would allow individuals to carry guns onto our campuses. Introducing weapons into an environment where young adults are often living on their own for the first time increases the risk of unintentional incidents and does not enhance campus safety.

Our campus is a safe place. University law enforcement professionals are well equipped and well trained to handle unpredictable situations that may threaten public safety. We partner with the Flagstaff Police Department. The university employs campus safety aides to escort students, faculty and staff to their cars or residence halls. All residence halls require a magnetic card to enter and a key to enter individual rooms. NAU also has invested in emergency notification systems, including an on-campus phone network and emergency text alerts.

Northern Arizona University is a significant part of this rural community where residents respect the proper use of firearms. As president of Northern Arizona University, I also respect the opinions of my constituents about where the appropriate parameters of this right should be drawn. The NAU chief of police, NAU faculty and students and numerous local officials have expressed a desire to keep the campus free of guns. I join with them in requesting the Legislature allow the universities to adequately address campus safety and prohibit guns moving freely on campus.

John Haeger is president of Northern Arizona University. View the editorial online.


College partnerships key to higher-ed success

The Arizona Republic, Oct. 2011

By John D. Haeger and Leah Borstein

Business as usual is an outdated concept in today's tough economic times. Most likely, it has never been an effective concept in a fast-changing world.

The same thing can be said about higher education. Adapt to today's students and today's budget realities or find yourself mired in a outdated past, struggling for survival.

Northern Arizona University and Coconino Community College each began adapting years ago.

But in an era when a bachelor's degree is the new high-school diploma, we believe that strong working partnerships among higher-educational institutions are the most responsible way to serve the students and the taxpayers.

In fact, the Community College Research Center for the Office of Vocational and Adult Education reports that institutions are increasingly becoming "blended," with the line between high school, community college and four-year college becoming more and more indistinct.

Northern Arizona University and Coconino Community College are excellent examples of that blending. We believe so strongly in our partnership that we are personally funding a scholarship that may well be unique in Arizona, if not higher education. The scholarship aids a student from enrollment at Coconino through his or her education at NAU.

It was in 2008 that our two institutions teamed to launch the CCC2NAU program, through which students who enrolled at CCC could immediately start on the path toward an NAU bachelor's degree through joint admissions, intensive advising and access to support services. So far, nearly 850 students have joined this successful program, mostly because the cost savings are significant as students pay the lower community college tuition for their lower-division coursework.

Since then, many similar programs have been developed in Phoenix, Tucson, Yuma and elsewhere.

Next came an innovative alliance through which all CCC students and faculty can take advantage of NAU Cline Library's increased hours, assistance and information resources. CCC students and faculty also have remote access to databases, interlibrary loans and document delivery services from Cline Library.

And earlier this year we embarked on a reverse transfer program that allows students to complete their associate degree after they have transferred from CCC to NAU.

Our intent in deepening this extraordinary partnership is to create a college-going culture throughout Arizona. Improving educational opportunities in the state is critical in developing a skilled workforce imperative to economic success.

Like the institutions we are proud to represent, we have joined together to push hard for student success. We're proud to say that our partnership has redefined business as usual.

John Haeger is president of Northern Arizona University. Leah Bornstein is president of Coconino Community College. View the editorial online.

Coconino Voices: Less state aid drives innovation at NAU

The Arizona Daily Sun, May 2011

By John D. Haeger

Several years ago, Northern Arizona University foresaw impending economic troubles and began immediate and very strategic preparations.

We strengthened our partnerships with community colleges, keeping affordability and accessibility possible; we pursued layoffs, furloughs and outsourcing; and we eliminated courses, centers and labs. Permanent reductions were made when Northern Arizona University was facing its first round of reductions in state appropriations, which at the time seemed nearly insurmountable. Yet we learned from those cuts, heeded the warning signs and took action to live within our means each year.

With changes in revenue sources and more budget cuts to consider on the way, there will be a new paradigm for Northern Arizona University. We will need to look at ourselves in a new way: What will the faculty look like? How will our investments in the university change? How will strategic decisions be made?

State funding reductions of about $60 million, coupled with enrollment growth of 24 percent, have forced NAU to operate differently. We have delayed much-needed maintenance to buildings; faculty and staff have seen significant increases in workloads; we are introducing electronic business operations that have reduced staff time and eliminated huge amounts of paper; and we are increasing the use of technology to deliver classroom instruction. But beginning July 1, when $30 million of the $60 million cut takes effect, we will face even more of a challenge. Modest increases in fees and tuition have been approved, which will allow us to continue our innovative and popular Pledge program that guarantees a flat tuition rate for four years for entering undergraduates.

We are taking effective and permanent steps to reduce our base state budget expenditures. In the fall we offered our second round of retirement incentives for some tenured faculty. We also will institute a strategic hiring policy that will allow only critical positions to be filled. We are examining our benefits structure to determine what changes can be made to achieve cost savings. Layoffs, closure of Extended Campus sites and discontinuing low-enrollment programs still remain options.

When 80 percent of the institution's flexible budget is reserved for personnel, we are forced to look at our own faculty, staff and administrators-all of whom already are among the lowest paid of any of our peer institutions. A significant statistic that must be shared with the public is the fact that the number of faculty and staff has increased by only 78 individuals over the last five years while the number of students has increased by nearly 5,200.

We are an efficient operation. And we will meet goals set by the Arizona Board of Regents to graduate more students with bachelor's degrees.

What I refuse to do is sacrifice the quality that our students expect, deserve and pay for. Arizona is facing unprecedented economic challenges, and Northern Arizona University pledges to be part of the solution by offering a high-quality, affordable education to students throughout the state.

John Haeger is president of Northern Arizona University. 
Read the guest column online.

NAU strives to limit budget-cut effects

The Arizona Republic, March 2011

By John D. Haeger 

An important point should not be overlooked in the discussions about tuition at Arizona's universities: The three state institutions are accommodating huge reductions to their state budgets—and facing even more cuts—while providing a high-quality education that remains affordable by any measure.

Northern Arizona University has been striving to protect students and their parents from bearing the burden of unprecedented budget cuts. Long-range planning, prudent spending and an innovative tuition program have softened the blow. In fact, 63 percent of undergraduate students currently attending NAU's Flagstaff campus next year will see no tuition increase.

Like our sister institutions, Northern Arizona University has seen record enrollment growth over the last several years. Our professors, our curriculum and our partnerships across the state are a few of the reasons.

We also credit our guaranteed tuition rate program as a major catalyst for enrollment growth—students and parents can plan their finances knowing that their tuition rate is locked in for four years.

Despite ever-increasing numbers of students, Northern Arizona University foresaw the indicators of economic instability three years ago. We anticipated the so-called "Cliff Year"- fiscal year 2012 - when the state budget would be in dire straits and federal stimulus dollars would run out.

With astute policies, NAU maintained enrollment growth and allowed students and parents to have a predicable tuition rate. At the same time, the university has worked toward the Arizona Board of Regents' goal of strengthening the workforce by graduating more citizens with relevant university degrees.

NAU's success and solvency did not come without sacrifice.

Strategies that helped NAU mitigate budget reductions and rollovers have included closing the internationally renowned Center for High Altitude Training as well as NAU's Social Research Laboratory. We have streamlined more than 60 academic programs. We have combined colleges, eliminating administrators and staff. We laid off individuals and closed learning sites in rural communities. We asked all of our employees to take furloughs—essentially, a pay cut for a year.

As the university system faces additional cuts in fiscal year 2012, even more reductions at the university level are going to be necessary, threatening the affordability and accessibility of higher education throughout the state.

John Haeger is president of Northern Arizona University.
View the editorial online.

Coconino Voices: Stairwell involves complex issues of safety, expense

The Arizona Daily Sun, Feb. 2011

By John D. Haeger

Your recent news article and opinion piece that take Northern Arizona University to task for "spending $9 million on a stairwell" misses the mark and oversimplifies a very complex situation.

While the confusion is understandable, the modifications the university will be making to the Natural Science Laboratory building are needed to comply with building codes. None of the renovations is overdesigned or unnecessary.

The university relied on a well-respected architectural/engineering firm to design the building. Until very recently, the university believed the building was code compliant. Since the issue of code compliance was first made known to the university, the university has had two private engineering and architectural firms examine the building and building plans to determine if the building, as originally designed, is code compliant.

In going the extra mile, the university also posed the same question to the International Code Council. The council is an association dedicated to building safety and fire prevention that develops the codes and standards used to construct residential and commercial buildings, including homes and schools. Both firms and the council have gone on record as saying the building was not designed to code and as a result is not code compliant. Whether litigation arises from the situation is still under examination, but at this point all indications are that the original design was deficient and the original design professionals did not meet their responsibility to the university. The university will vigorously pursue its rights in this regard.

In order to provide for the continued safety of our students, faculty and staff, NAU has worked cooperatively with state fire marshal representatives and has taken a number of important measures to enhance the safety of the lab building. For example, the entire building is equipped with an approved automatic sprinkler system and all hazardous material storage areas are protected by double containment enclosures and an approved alternate fixed fire suppression system. Recently, the building fire alarm system was upgraded to a total building detection system to provide early detection and occupant notification.

We have asked the Arizona Board of Regents for up to $9 million that may be used to add two crucially necessary outside stairwells; make needed modifications to the elevator; add smoke-containment curtains to the interior stairwell (or remove the interior stairwell altogether and seal the openings between the floors); and make appropriate adjustments to the HVAC system. We are hopeful these modifications alone will resolve the code-compliance issues. If that is the case, we fully believe the project will cost substantially less than $9 million, but we have requested that amount in case our independent experts tell us further modifications are needed. While it is unfortunate we are in this situation, the university is committed to correcting code deficiencies that are known and that may be identified as work is undertaken. The university strongly believes the renovations are not optional and is taking the lead on moving them forward. We do not want to wait for an unfortunate event or for a regulatory agency to close the building-occurrences that are possible yet unlikely.

As your article correctly pointed out, Northern Arizona University is an economic engine in the community. The positive impact achieved by the university is the result of innovative thinking, valuable community partnerships, careful spending and support from throughout Arizona.

Northern Arizona University students, parents, donors and friends -- as well as Arizona taxpayers -- have put their faith in us and our use of their dollars. We will not disappoint them.

John Haeger is president of Northern Arizona University.
View the editorial online.

Early learning key to keeping Ariz. competitive

The Arizona Republic, Sept 2010

By John D. Haeger, Michael Crow and Robert Shelton 

Look no further than the daily news and it is clear Arizona's economy remains slow to recover. Not unlike most places in the nation, Arizona is faced with tough decisions about how to sustain vital public services while balancing an already strained budget - yet still move the state forward.

It is no surprise that as the leaders of our state's three public universities, we would build a case for education as the greatest investment in Arizona's future. By ensuring that children and adults have access to the highest-quality education system, we increase their opportunities as individuals as well as those available to our state.

There is currently so much positive momentum around education. The passage of Proposition 100 was a clear message that education is important to our citizens. The work done around Arizona's Race to the Top application has resulted in solid plans for advancing education at all levels, and the collaboration between K-12, community colleges and universities is unprecedented. All of which are better for our students.

What may surprise many is that our case for a high-quality education system is a comprehensive one that begins with the earliest years of life and continues through entry into the workforce. Studies show that children exposed to high-quality early-learning programs are more likely to read at grade level, graduate from high school and go on to postsecondary education. They are more likely to be contributing members of our society and less likely to need public support services or end up in the criminal-justice system.

It's clear, early learning lays the foundation for long-term academic success and is a solid investment with proven economic and societal rewards. Arizona's current and prospective employers express great concern about the availability of a skilled and knowledgeable workforce pipeline within our state.

To keep Arizona competitive, we must be educating people with 21st-century skills, such as the ability to think critically, solve complex problems, communicate, collaborate and adapt to ever-changing environments. These are the skills that will set our students apart from their national and international peers.

John Haeger is president of Northern Arizona University. Michael Crow is president of Arizona State University. And Robert Shelton is president of the University of Arizona.  

View the editorial online.

Healthy forests create vibrant, sustainable community, economy

The Arizona Republic, July 2010

By John D. Haeger

The 2002 Rodeo-Chediski Fire in the White Mountains, the largest Arizona wildfire ever recorded, sparked nationwide concern for the loss of our cherished forest resources as it torched a half-million acres. The environmental and economic devastation it caused will burn in memories for years.

The recent fires that have destroyed our beautiful landscapes and threatened homes near Flagstaff have been a terrible reminder of the strength of a forest fire and the quickness with which it can spread.

Once started, a forest fire become very unpredictable, affected by weather and the conditions of the land. What is predictable, however, is the research Northern Arizona University has conducted providing the information necessary to reduce the risks of forest fires starting and to reduce their destruction. Yet we must do more to implement healthy-forest science into our maintenance of public and private lands.

NAU is a leader in forest-health research and land planning and works in a tri-state partnership called the Southwest Ecological Restoration Institute with Colorado and New Mexico as an authorized federal program. While much in politics is divided among partisan lines, the institute is a great example of collaboration, and we are grateful to the leadership of Sen. Jon Kyl over the years and the current work of U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick to support a balanced approach to forest health based on scientific research.

The director of NAU's Ecological Restoration Institute, ecologist Wallace Covington, has outlined the problem and provided land-planning tools to address critical issues. "Our once open forests are dark and crowded now, choked with thin, sickly trees all fighting for water, sunlight and nutrients. The numbers and kinds of plants have largely diminished," Covington has advised.

Bark beetle infestations have turned deadly, capable of decimating thousands of forested acres. The forest floor is thick with matchstick-like pine needles and little in the way of native grasses. We believe the formula for sustainable wildlands includes research, applied science, new markets for woody materials and jobs that feed rural communities. The equation also includes strategically placed tree-thinning treatments to protect communities from catastrophic wildfire.

NAU is proud to be a part of the largest forest restoration effort ever attempted as Congresswoman Kirkpatrick continues to bring national attention to a program called the 4 Forest Restoration Initiative, where scientists, ranchers, environmentalists and wood-products industries work with the Forest Service to take on 2.4 million acres in northern Arizona forests.

At NAU we take forest health seriously, not just for today but for generations to come. As one of the leading forest research institutions in the nation, our strategic plan calls for a vibrant sustainable community, one in which the economy and the environment serve as models of sustainability.

Our researchers are ready and able to provide the science necessary to guide forest health. Their findings are helping state and federal land managers tackle the daunting task of restoring forest health on a landscape scale, but both our recent fires and our history tell us that we need to do more and do so quickly.

John D. Haeger is president of Northern Arizona University.
View the editorial online.


Athletic facilities at NAU benefit entire community

The Arizona Daily Sun, Feb. 2008

By John D. Haeger

As many of you know, I recently released an Athletics Task Force report on athletics facilities at Northern Arizona University. The task force included several representatives from the community because our facilities are so widely used for high school sports and a vast range of community events.

Given the involvement of Flagstaff and the region in Northern Arizona University and its athletics facilities, I wanted to offer greater context to the task force recommendations.

The report is a master plan that looks at immediate needs and longer-term opportunities that extend to the year 2014. Obviously, we cannot do everything we would like to do right now, but effective planning requires looking beyond the here and now to future possibilities to maximize the use and benefits of these facilities.

Critical needs relate to public safety and compliance with federal Title IX requirements that mandate equal facilities and scholarships for women's athletics. It's important to stress that these are significant issues. But these are not just NAU issues. These are concerns that must be addressed at the community level if NAU hopes to continue to offer Flagstaff venues for everything from high school basketball tournaments to home shows. Those activities alone bring about 50,000 people into the Skydome each year.

We have serious issues in the Skydome related to access for people with disabilities, and we are concerned about potential safety risks associated with our aged artificial turf and a 30-year-old facility that is past its useful life.

Upgrades also must be made for the university to comply with Title IX regulations. The NAU women's soccer team has no locker rooms or training room. Our female athletes deserve better not just because it's the law but because it's the right thing to do.

The task force report offers some exciting opportunities to expand fan amenities and revenue generating opportunities. One exciting prospect is the recommendation to build a 6,500-seat multipurpose arena.

This facility would provide a much more conducive venue for basketball but also a place to host any number of concerts and events. Today, promoters simply do not consider Flagstaff and NAU for concerts because we lack a venue with appropriate acoustics. What is especially appealing about the multipurpose arena is the potential to generate revenue from performances that would be geared not just for students but for our greater northern Arizona community.

Let me be clear. The revenue generating opportunities of new facilities would benefit not only NAU but would significantly promote economic development of our city and community. For every $1 that would be spent on these facilities and the games, performances and events held within, there is approximately a $1.70 positive impact on the region's economy as the result of an economic multiplier effect. And that's a conservative estimate, based on an economic impact study of the university in 2003.

Some might question the timing of this report with news of a state budget decline. First, the task force was assembled prior to the reported economic downshift. But more important, the key to maintaining the university's momentum is to keep looking forward. We can't stop planning with each cyclical downturn in the economic picture.

This athletics facilities master plan is not something NAU can implement on its own. The entire project will need a financial commitment from the Flagstaff community, donors and other sources. With that commitment, we can offer a more vibrant campus atmosphere, which helps attract and retain more students-ultimately benefiting NAU and the economic vitality of our community.

John Haeger is president of Northern Arizona University.
View the editorial online.


Guaranteed tuition offers predictability; fee promotes wellness

The Lumberjack student newspaper, Nov. 2007

By John D. Haeger

Students may attend a tri-university tuition and fee hearing via interactive television from 5 to 7 p.m. on Nov. 29. The NAU site will be in the Adel mathematics building, room 137.

As the time nears for a decision on tuition for the 2008-09 school year, I wanted to share with you the thinking behind my recommendation for guaranteed tuition for students for four years.

I've proposed to the Arizona Board of Regents a fall 2008 tuition rate for new, full-time, in-state undergraduates that would be 12 percent higher than current tuition but which would be locked in for four years. That equates to a modest 3 percent increase per year, which barely keeps up with the cost of living.

I'm also asking for a 7 percent tuition increase for continuing students, though they may opt into the "block tuition" plan if they choose.

The block tuition plan would set tuition at $5,145 in fall 2008, a $551 increase that remains unchanged for the following three years. The 7 percent increase for continuing students next year would be $332 for a total tuition of $4,916.

The block tuition proposal brings predictability to planning for college expenses. It eliminates the worry of unexpected spikes in tuition. An added benefit of the block tuition plan is that the value of a student's scholarship as a percentage of tuition would remain constant.

Students and their parents are understandably concerned about the cost of a college education. What many do not realize is that the best way to reduce educational debt is to graduate in four years. Block tuition provides the incentive.

I first need to explain that the university's funding comes primarily from two sources: tuition and state appropriations.

About $800,000 would come off the top of revenue generated by the proposed tuition increase and would be set aside for scholarship assistance for students demonstrating financial need.

A combination of tuition and state funding would be used for what we have identified as our highest priorities:

  • Improve faculty salaries and hire more full-time faculty.
  • Expand the number of advisers in the colleges.
  • Renovate more classrooms.
  • Put more money into taking care of our dilapidated buildings--a need that currently tops $149 million.

There's another important need we are committed to addressing. That is our students' well-being.

In October, our Office of Student Affairs worked with a team of students from the Associated Students of NAU, the Recreation Center and Fronske Health Center to conduct a survey to determine interest in a student fee for expanded health and recreation services and facilities.

The survey revealed that 64 percent of the respondents supported the fee. We had an all-time-high response rate of about 19 percent for any student survey, referendum or election.

Students currently pay a $40 per semester health and recreation fee. I am proposing that we increase that semester fee by $25 in fall 2008. The subsequent per-semester increases would be $80 in fall 2009, $65 in fall 2010 and $40 in fall 2011.

The multiyear fee would provide for a new health center joined with an expanded Recreation Center; additional health-care staffing; five new recreational fields with artificial turf, lights and restrooms; improvements to the Field House recreational facilities; and construction of 26,500 feet of space for weight and fitness use.

The funding from this fee could only be used for the purposes specified, and it is structured so students would begin to see benefits as early as fall 2008.

I hope I can count on your support to make the most of your investment in your education.

NAU making pie bigger for all of Flagstaff

Arizona Daily Sun, March 2006

By John D. Haeger

Northern Arizona University values the special bond it holds with the Flagstaff community. We truly believe that what's good for Flagstaff is good for Northern Arizona University and vice versa.

Two items in the news the past week demonstrate this important connection and show that NAU continues to be an economic driver in the community beyond its student and employee population.

The Arizona Cardinals have agreed in principle to return to NAU for their training camp. We do not have a contract and have many details to work out with several departments on campus. We have worked hard to negotiate an agreement that would satisfy the Cardinals' practice needs, but we have to assure that the needs of our students and our own football team remain our top priority.

We're excited about the possibility of having the Cardinals return and will inform the community when a contract is finalized.

It's been reported that the Cardinals bring $2 million to the community. That is a significant figure, but only a portion of the dollars NAU brings in, with even more on the horizon when the conference center on the NAU campus is completed.

The university already brings thousands of people to campus who may not normally visit Flagstaff. By hosting the 3A basketball tournament, about 12,000 individuals visit Flagstaff and its businesses. Summer conferences bring another 20,000 individuals to town in addition to conference participants. The Governor's Rural Economic Development Conference also will bring thousands of visitors.

Of course, the Lumberjack men's basketball team has earned our university the right to host the Big Sky Championship, which brings additional dollars to the community as well as national television exposure.

Perhaps even more exciting than all of these events is the prospect of a new hotel-conference center, which, when completed, will have a $5 million-a-year economic impact on the community through its shops, restaurants and other hotels.

A contract for the conference center has not been awarded, but NAU and the city have been working with Drury Southwest Inc. to design a conference center that will attract conferences that cannot be accommodated today. Designed to hold groups from 200 to 800 individuals, the conference center will bring 52,000 people annually to Flagstaff who would not otherwise be here.

Anyone could have bid on the project through the public "request for proposal" process, but only Drury responded. The level of quality Drury has proposed — and the level of quality the university and city have demanded — will be high enough to justify a room price that will be about double Flagstaff's average daily rate.

Additionally, the hotel deliberately was kept small so that conferences would have significant business pushed to other accommodations throughout Flagstaff.

Not only will other hotels benefit, but other businesses will as well. The university has not changed its plans regarding the size of the facilities, food service and parking accommodations. As with every conference, participants also will be venturing throughout the city to find restaurants, shops and other establishments to visit.

Our state-of-the-art facilities will meet the needs of meeting planners and conference planners across the country. NAU's Ashurst Auditorium, the University Union and du Bois Center make NAU even more attractive for conferences that want to set up displays outside of the meeting area.

We have received several inquiries from associations looking for a location for their conferences. NAU already is turning away academic conferences that it cannot host because of the lack of facilities.

I know some local hoteliers have concerns about the hotel-conference center, but we ask them to embrace the project and the brighter economic future for the community and the university.

This nearly $40 million construction project is of the utmost economic importance to our community and to the institution for recruiting and training our students.

It's apparent that NAU is not taking a bigger piece of the economic pie. It's making the pie bigger for everyone.

John Haeger is president of Northern Arizona University.
View the editorial online.

Putting 'dream' back into teaching

 The Arizona Republic, Dec. 2005

By John D. Haeger

The article "Districts facing teacher crunch" in the Nov. 27 Arizona Republic accurately reported a problem that faces Arizona and the nation: That there are not enough teachers to go around.

The problem itself is no surprise. The Morrison Institute reported in 2003 that Arizona had an average of only 1.3 applicants for every open teaching position. That effectively means school districts have no real choice about who to hire. 

Deans at our universities can tell you that when the economy is down, applications to teacher preparation programs go up; but as soon as economic times improve, fewer students choose a career in education. Not enough young, bright Americans want to teach, and it's no wonder. Teaching in the 21st century means you are agreeing to be subject to more scrutiny with less pay, and higher expectations also mean you will have little ongoing training. 

Add to that the usual mix of an increase in disciplinary problems, one of the largest class sizes in the country and some of the lowest pay in the professional ranks, and then ask yourself: Would I do that job? 

Add to this mix the new reality of a modern, fast-changing economy that needs more talented workers than ever. 

Today's workers must be able to keep up with the ever-changing nature of workplace tools, and employers have a real need for creative talent who can turn their ideas into digital or nano realities. 

Everyone from auto mechanics to nurses will need to be adept at using today's changing technologies. Teachers are the builders of tomorrow's workforce; if they don't or can't adapt, our students won't either. 

This is why in May, Gov. Janet Napolitano created the Committee on Teacher Quality and Support and named me as chairman. She brought together this group of deans, business people and experts in professional development and teaching together to address the critical issues related to teacher quality, including supply. 

First on the list is how to attract more college students and professionals to teaching while at the same time increasing the abilities of new and existing teachers.

More and more expectations are heaped on teachers as fewer and fewer enter the field. Should we roll back these expectations? Absolutely not. Our future depends on teachers becoming better educated in mathematics, science and technology. 

Further, even as research continues to prove teachers are the most important determinant of how well your child will do in school, the value of the job is declining.

Not only are starting salaries well below other college-degreed professions, but pay increases to non-teachers also continue to outpace increases to teachers. All these numbers are worse in Arizona than elsewhere, which makes holding on to our teachers even tougher.

For these reasons and more, today the Governor's Committee on Teacher Quality and Support will forward to the governor baseline recommendations for giving teachers the training they want and need to be better every day and every year, and the pay they need to support a family, buy a house and be valued the way the preparers of tomorrow's engineers, paramedics, computer techs, auto mechanics, scientists and artists should be.

There's more work to do and our committee will be busy in 2006. 

We will work to ensure that tomorrow's teachers share both the responsibility and support that previous generations of teachers have enjoyed so that future generations of kids can take the American dream to new heights.

John Haeger is president of Northern Arizona University.
View the editorial online.

Teacher shortage addressed by Napolitano, committee

The Arizona Daily Sun, Dec. 2005

By John D. Haeger

It's been reported recently — and accurately — that Arizona and the rest of the nation face a problem: There are not enough teachers to go around.

The problem itself is no surprise: The Morrison Institute reported in 2003 that Arizona had an average of only 1.3 applicants for every open teaching position. That effectively means school districts have no real choice about whom to hire.

Not enough young, bright Americans want to teach, and it's no wonder. Teaching in the 21st century means you are agreeing to be subject to more scrutiny with less pay and higher expectations.It also means you will have little ongoing training. Add to that an increase in disciplinary problems, one of the largest class sizes in the country and some of the lowest pay in the professional ranks, and then ask yourself: Would I do that job?

Add to this mix the new reality of a modern, fast-changing economy that needs more talented workers than ever. Today's workers must be able to keep up with the ever-changing nature of workplace tools and employers have a real need for creative talent who can turn their ideas into digital or nano realities.

Everyone from auto mechanics to nurses will need to be adept at using today's changing technologies. Teachers are the builders of tomorrow's workforce, and if they don't adapt, our students won't either.

This is why in May 2005, Gov.Janet Napolitano created the Committee on Teacher Quality and Support and named me as chair. She brought together this group of deans, businesspeople and experts in professional development and teaching to address the many critical issues related to teacher quality, including supply.

First on the list is how to attract more college students and professionals to teaching while at the same time increasing the abilities of new and existing teachers. More and more expectations are heaped on teachers as fewer and fewer enter the field. Should we roll back these expectations? Absolutely not. Our future depends on teachers becoming better educated in mathematics, science and technology.

Further, even as research continues to prove teachers are the most important determinant of how well your child will do in school, the value of the job is declining. Not only are starting salaries much below other college-degreed professions, pay increases to non-teachers continue to outpace increases to teachers. All these numbers are worse in Arizona than elsewhere, which makes holding on to our teachers even tougher.

For these reasons and more, the Committee on Teacher Quality and Support will forward to the governor today recommendations for giving teachers the training they want and need to be better every day and every year and the pay they need to support a family, buy a house, and be valued the way the preparers of tomorrow's engineers, paramedics, computer techs, auto mechanics, scientists and artists should be.

There's more work to do, and so our committee will be busy in 2006. We will work to ensure that tomorrow's teachers share both the responsibility and support that previous generations of teachers have enjoyed so that future generations of kids can take the American Dream to new heights.

John Haeger is president of Northern Arizona University.
View the editorial online.

NAU charts new course to emphasize uniqueness

The Arizona Republic, Nov. 2003

By John D. Haeger

Editor's note: With news reports that Northern Arizona University plans to raise fees and tuition and cut 70 faculty and staff positions, we asked school President John Haeger to explain how this fits into the university's vision for the future. 

Significant changes are in store for Northern Arizona University that will make the university even stronger and more responsive to the needs of the state.

Many of these changes are prompted by declining state resources, enrollment shortfalls and ever-increasing demands on our limited finances. Instead of looking at these changes as a necessary evil, I am seizing this as an opportunity to set a new direction for NAU's future.

This new direction promises long-term financial stability and investment in programs and people that set NAU apart from any other university in the country.

NAU is vastly different from any other four-year university. We place our highest priority on undergraduate education—on giving students the range of skills they need to be productive citizens in whatever career they choose.

Our superior undergraduate education is strengthened by select research and graduate programs that attract some of the best faculty in their fields and involve students in studies that will make differences in people's lives.

NAU is a place where there's one faculty member for every 18 students, so students know their professors. It's a place where our senior faculty know the importance of teaching freshman- and sophomore-level courses. It's a place where students work side-by-side with faculty on such issues as forest health and bioterrorism.

And it's a place where students can live and learn in a setting unsurpassed for its geographic and cultural diversity.

The challenge is issued
I have submitted a plan for reorganization and budget restructuring that builds on who we are and what we do best. It challenges the campus to critically evaluate our organizational structure, including our academic units, and look at ways to consolidate so that we're more efficient in our use of resources. Some of this work has already begun.

If our academic community determines that five or six colleges, instead of the current 10, would represent a more cohesive structure, avoid duplication and strengthen our top academic disciplines, then we will accomplish that goal.

This reorganization also means we will scrutinize job openings to make sure they fit within our changing structure. We anticipate that we will not fill 70 administrative, staff and faculty positions this fiscal year through normal attrition.

In this way, we also minimize the need for layoffs or creating adverse effects on the Flagstaff community. The complete NAU restructuring plan has but one objective: to give us the flexibility to put our resources into the programs and people that are fundamental to our mission. As one immediate step, I have committed to faculty raises, for a total of $2.8 million, starting in July 2004. We have to stop the brain drain, because it's our students who suffer the loss.

Bricks and mortar matter, too
Through the hard work of the Legislature and Gov. Janet Napolitano, we also look forward to the start of bonding initiatives to invest in capital construction over the next six years. We will invest in much-needed building renewal projects, creating state-of-the-art facilities in engineering, communications, business administration and applied research.

Will this time of change be difficult? Certainly. Change is always difficult. But we are a healthy and vibrant institution with a strong faculty and staff who will meet this challenge. Our current situation has given us an opportunity for a self-evaluation that might otherwise not be possible, and it will allow us to build on our strengths and redirect resources to make those programs the best in the state and the nation.

NAU's 104-year history is filled with optimism and success. Ninety-seven percent of our graduating seniors rate their experience at NAU as excellent or good, and when you add alumni into that equation, the satisfaction rating is 99 percent. Arizona has a lot to be proud of in NAU, and NAU will continue to make Arizona proud.

John Haeger is president of Northern Arizona University.