ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Just a month into his job, Southern Illinois University President Randy Dunn is faced with managing another major transition, as the chancellor of the Carbondale campus prepares for a likely move to Arizona.
The Arizona Board of Regents announced Friday that Rita Cheng, who has overseen the 18,000-student Carbondale school since 2010, has been named the sole finalist for the presidency of Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff.
Cheng's new job isn't a done deal. She still needs to finalize a contract with the Flagstaff school and win approval by the regents, all of which is expected to happen later this month. She is scheduled to attend a formal welcoming ceremony Thursday in Arizona.
Dunn said SIU has not begun a formal search for a successor. And he said the hunt won't be rushed when it does happen.
"I think all of us are very cautious about not getting the cart before the horse on this," Dunn said. "I think we have to be respectful to her while she gets those things finalized."
"I don't see this as anything that puts (our) university at any risk or behind the eight ball in any fashion," he added. "Clearly we have the means within senior SIU leadership and others on campus to get done what needs to get done" in the interim.
Dunn said he was not blindsided by Friday's announcement and that Cheng had already told him privately that "she was looking at some opportunities."
A Northern Arizona University search committee chose three finalists from 60 candidates, though only Cheng agreed to meet with a quorum of regents.
On Friday, Cheng said that Southern Illinois and Northern Arizona are similar in that they have diverse student populations, make distance learning part of their missions and serve a large percentage of students who are the first in their families to attend college.
"I've been aware of the significant, growing stature of NAU over the years," said Cheng, 61.
Dunn credits Cheng with improving enrollment and expanding research on the Carbondale campus, which has weathered cuts in funding from debt-ridden Illinois. Carbondale enrollment has declined for the past decade, but last fall's freshman class was the university's biggest in 20 years, marking what officials considered a possible turning point.
Cheng also oversaw bargaining that resulted in new contracts for the staff in 2011 after many faculty members went on strike for better wages and flexibility in curriculum.
"I think as we see from her record, she's made good investments and gotten things accomplished that I believe can pay dividends for us in the future," Dunn said. "I think she certainly can be proud."
Associated Press writer Felicia Fonseca contributed to this report from Flagstaff, Arizona.
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