Timothy Caboni was named Western Kentucky University’s 10th president on Friday following a week-long campus visit that he said brought back old memories of his own time on the hill.
Caboni, currently the vice chancellor of Public Affairs at the University of Kansas, earned a master’s degree in corporate and organizational communication from WKU in 1994. He’ll begin his next chapter on the hill July 1 after current university President Gary Ransdell retires in June.
During a public announcement Friday, Caboni said he wants the university to continue sharing its unique spirit.
“This place transformed my life,” he said. “I’m successful today because of the experience I had here, and I want to make sure that every young person we recruit and admit, if they’re from Bowling Green, if they’re from New York or if they’re from Beijing, is successful and graduates from this fine university,” he said. “It is my privilege to serve, it is my privilege to be home, it is my privilege to be a Hilltopper. Go Tops!”
During the meeting, Caboni took questions from members of the media and public.
Frederick A. Higdon, chairman of WKU’s Board of Regents, also announced his support for Caboni and said he’s “confident that he can lead WKU through the challenges we face as an institution.”
“We believe he is the best fit, the right fit, for WKU,” Higdon said, speaking for the board. Higdon then gave Caboni a replica of Cherry Hall, which Caboni said he remembered nostalgically when he drove up College Street while returning to campus with his wife this week.
When Caboni was asked how he would be a transparent president, he said he would listen through conversations.
“I plan in the transition period, quietly, to begin to have those conversations,” he said. “July 1 when we hit the ground running it’s full steam ahead. I want to know what people have as their dreams for WKU, and together I want us to build a shared dream, a shared aspiration, a shared vision for what this place can be in the future.”
Caboni also said he’d have presidential office hours for students in the Downing Student Union and maintain “an open-door policy.”
Responding to other questions, Caboni said he wanted to maintain beneficial connections between WKU and China, help navigate challenges in state funding, prioritize a new business college and ease racial relations on campus.
He stressed the importance of a balanced education between the humanities and sciences and said “universities help people make a good living, and they help them make a good life.”
When asked about how he’d handle budget cuts, Caboni said he’d try to be strategic.
“It’s not going to be evenly shared because that’s not helpful to the institution,” he said.
A copy of Caboni’s contract, which was approved earlier that morning by the Board of Regents, was also given to the Daily News.
Caboni’s initial term of employment will extend for four years up to June 30, 2021. His base salary will be $400,000, and will increase “by the average percentage salary increase granted to the WKU faculty, effective as of the date of any WKU faculty salary increase,” according to the contract.
He can also receive performance bonuses of up to 10 percent of his base salary if he meets certain goals. Some of those goals include enrollment, retention and graduation rate increases and the success of a $300 million fundraising campaign.
Caboni also outlined his priorities in a wide-ranging interview with the Daily News.
When asked how he’ll prioritize salary increases for faculty, Caboni said the university first has to think about improving recruitment, persistence, retention and graduation to bring in more money.
“If we’re able to do that, and be creative and aggressive, the conversation won’t be about how we’re allocating reductions. It will be about how we’re reinvesting additional revenues,” he said. “And at that point, that’s where priority of faculty and staff raises comes.”
Caboni said that includes providing endowed professorships to reward faculty and scholarships to attract and retain students, including students from low-income backgrounds.
He plans to be visible on campus to develop relationships that build a shared vision of what WKU should achieve.
“I tend to do most of my work in person and beat a path to everyone’s door from my door,” he said. “That face-to-face interaction is crucial to building trust.”
From his previous position in Kansas, Caboni has experience working under a performance funding model. Kentucky is forming its own model, which will tie state funding to factors like degree production. He said it makes sense to be rewarded for achieving your goals.
“The great thing about performance funding is that if we do achieve them or do even better, there are more funds available for the institution,” he said.
Caboni is married to Kacy Schmidt Caboni, whom he calls a “remarkable support to me” and “probably more liked than I am sometimes.” It’s not yet clear what specific role she’ll have at WKU, but Caboni said she’s had success raising money for a $70 million school of business at KU, all with private funds.
When it comes to developing WKU’s donor support, Caboni said he wants to focus on cultivating the next generation of supporters.
“We have to identify a group of supporters who’ve not yet been major gift contributors to the institution,” he said. “That involves a tremendous effort to meet people, to reintroduce them to the institution, to involve them in the life of the university and to understand what they’re interested in investing in.”
Caboni plans to spend a lot of time doing that once he starts the job in July.
— Follow education reporter Aaron Mudd on Twitter @BGDN_edbeat or visit bgdailynews.com.