Cheng Likely Leaving SIU This Summer

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By Emily Finnegan

CARBONDALE -- A leadership change could be coming to SIU Carbondale.

The announcement came Friday that Chancellor Rita Cheng has been tapped to lead Northern Arizona University. Her hiring is still subject to approval from the Arizona Board of Regents, but it appears likely her time in Southern Illinois is winding down.
 
"I do think we've made significant progress," Cheng reflected Friday.
 
The news that Cheng may be leaving came nearly four years to the day she took over as leader of the Carbondale campus.
 
"Once I get an official contract, I will give an official resignation here," she told News 3.
 
Cheng is the sole finalist to become Northern Arizona University's next president. She says the school shares many of the same goals as SIU, and it is a place she feels she can contribute.
 
"Very excited about the next chapter of my life," she said, "But also very sad to leave SIU, because it's a special place."
 
When Cheng took the helm at SIU in June 2010 she was the fourth chancellor in 11 years. Her three predecessors were all fired. At the time she was hired, SIU's flagship campus faced serious funding issues and a student population in steady decline.
 
Cheng made it a goal to get the books in order and bring more kids to campus, and she says she's proud of what's been accomplished.
 
"The financial challenges were more than I expected. And also I knew that growing enrollment would take a long time," she said.
 
Overall, enrollment has fallen more than 10 percent in her tenure. But she insists the university has made real progress. Last fall, SIU welcomed its largest freshman class in 20 years.
 
"The tipping point for enrollment is right on the cusp," Cheng said, "And I would love to be here at the time when overall enrollment goes up. But it takes years to do that. And I know the future is bright for SIU."
 
Cheng's departure would be the second major change in leadership this year. New President Randy Dunn says SIU supports Cheng, and they'll work together through the transition.
 
"We're not going to have any major disruption or bumps in the road. Many people come together for the operation of the university," Dunn said. 
 
"I'll always have a little piece of Saluki in me to smile at the future success of this institution," Cheng insisted.
 
The Arizona Board of Regents is expected to vote on Cheng's selection next week. She anticipates starting there ahead of the fall semester.
 
Dunn says, if necessary, SIU would probably select an interim chancellor while the board of trustees searches for a permanent replacement.
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