6 Things We Learned Speaking With President Caboni

Herald Editorial Board

President Timothy Caboni joined the Herald Editorial Board for the start-of-the-semester meeting to discuss the vaccine incentive program, new living learning communities, results of the Voluntary Separation Incentive Program and other issues within the university.

Vaccination and Quarantine

Caboni shared details about the university’s new COVID-19 vaccination incentive program, which will enter students who receive or have received the vaccine into a prize lottery. 

Student prizes include five full-time undergraduate in-state tuition scholarships, five $500 book scholarships, five iPad Pros, 100 $100 WKU Store gift cards, 50 student parking permits and 30 $250 dining dollar credits. Faculty and staff who receive the vaccination can win one of 25 $1,000 awards as well as iPad Pros and $100 WKU Store gift cards. 

Drawings for prizes will begin the week of Aug. 30 and will run for five weeks. Members of WKU’s community who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 at any time are eligible to win.

“We also know there’s hesitancy, so I would encourage anyone who’s hesitant to please check with their health care provider about vaccination,” Caboni said. “But we also think that providing incentive for people to be vaccinated and [to] make themselves eligible for these prizes is important.”

WKU has reported 38 positive cases — 29 students, nine university employees — since Aug. 12. Three people are currently in quarantine on campus.

“For students who are worried about being quarantined, here’s the way to not to be quarantined – If you are vaccinated, even if you are in close contact, you are not required to quarantine,” Caboni said.

With Barnes Campbell Hall demolished, the university moved quarantine spaces to other locations to house unvaccinated close contact students and students who have tested positive for COVID-19. Caboni did not disclose quarantine locations but stated quarantine capacity is 33 beds with room to expand.

Campus residents who live within three-hours of the university and need to quarantine are required to return home unless they can provide a reason for exemption.

“Go get the vaccine if you don’t want to go home if you’re quarantined,” Caboni said.

First Year Village and Living Learning Communities

WKU’s recently-opened First Year Village, consisting of Normal and Regents Hall, has 13 new Living Learning Communities, bringing the university to 22 total LLCs on campus.

Caboni said the opening of the First Year Village is going “better than anyone anticipated.”

According to Caboni, one-third of WKU’s new students will be participating in LLCs this year. 

“I don’t think the entire community yet understands how transformative this will be for our first-year experience,” Caboni said.

In relation to the university’s goal of an 80% first-year retention rate, Caboni said that academically and socially integrated students are retained at a higher rate.

“If we hit an 80% freshman retention rate, we’re competitive with flagship universities across the country, which is where we want to be,” Caboni said.

Caboni hopes these LLCs will bring academic quality to the time students spend outside of the classroom.

He said the university is also looking into ways to bridge the benefits of LLCs into students’ sophomore years.

“We’ll see how this year goes,” Caboni said. “But my expectation is that this is going to be so attractive for both faculty and students, we’re going to see the numbers grow.”

Naming and Symbols Task Force

The Herald asked Caboni about the decision from the Naming and Symbols Task Force, the financial harm he cited in his decision to not rename the buildings focused on in the report and how these names were tied to the university’s finances.

“I appreciate the question,” Caboni said. “Everything I wanted to say, I said in that note.”

He said the group was done with their work.

The Herald also asked if he would be willing to speak on the nondisclosure agreements the Naming and Symbols Task Force signed.

“Everything I needed to say, I said in that note,” Caboni said.

New Scholarships and Enrollment

Two new scholarship programs, the Hilltopper Guarantee and the Border State Scholarship, launched this year for incoming students. 

The Hilltopper Guarantee ensures 100% tuition coverage for any first-time, first-year freshman from Kentucky who receives Pell Grant assistance and has at least a 3.0 cumulative unweighted high school GPA. 

The Border State Scholarship allows for full-time, first-time freshmen who are residents of any state that borders Kentucky to attend WKU for the in-state tuition rate. Caboni said this scholarship will lead to a rise of enrollment from outside states, specifically from Tennessee. 

The official enrollment rates for Fall 2021 will not be available until September.

Caboni said the university could not afford to include current students in the new scholarship program.

“What we focused on is using the Opportunity Fund to meet those needs of current students, not for a scholarship program per se,” Caboni said. “Through working hand-in-glove with every student who has a financial need to help meet those needs, either with a grant, or a short term loan, debt forgiveness.”

WKU re-vamped the targeted Cornelius A. Martin Scholarship, which underrepresented minority students with a minimum 2.5 unweighted GPA qualify for the scholarship up to $3,000 per year. Caboni said the scholarship is crucially important to supporting students of color.

Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts at WKU focus on providing scholarships and programs, such as Intercultural Student Engagement Center (ISEC) and the Pride Center, to underrepresented students.

“We’re going to continue to engage as a community around issues of diversity, equity, inclusion, and perhaps most importantly belonging,” Caboni said. “I want every person on this campus to be a part and feel a part and internalize being part of the university.” 

Out of the strategic investment funds, the university allocated $250,000 to continue the growth of ISEC, Caboni said.


The WKU Commons is expected to be completed sometime this fall, Caboni said.

Caboni noted that despite the Commons not opening before August, he is very proud of the WKU Food Group’s efforts to supply food trucks as dining options on the top of the hill.

Concerning the demolition of Garrett, Caboni acknowledged that the building had gone far past its life-time.

“When they built buildings in the 1950s and 60s, they didn’t build them as 100 year buildings,” Caboni said. “We were lucky if they built them as 40 year buildings.”

Caboni noted that this change would allow for a more scenic view on College Heights, hailing President Henry Hardin Cherry’s original envisioning of the top of the hill as an academic village rather than a long quad.

Faculty and Administration

The Voluntary Separation Incentive Program carried out last June resulted in 125 positions removed with the goal of reducing base salary resources for the university and reevaluating department makeups.

Caboni said freeing up positions previously held by long-term staff has allowed departments to “rethink how they work.”

“I’ll be the first to say there was institutional memory loss,” Caboni said. “We miss some of those colleagues desperately, because they were such great colleagues, but at the same time, it also created opportunities for them to go on and pursue whatever came next in their career. Some of them went to spend time with their grandkids, and they’d just been waiting for an opportunity to do that.”

Caboni said these positions have “evaporated” and faculty, departments and deans will need to reevaluate to determine if new positions will need to be created to redistribute responsibilities.

He said the drop in faculty size during his administration is not an issue when looking at the overall faculty-to-student ratio.

“Even though we’ve shrunk a little bit, on the faculty-staff side, long term we think that we’re going to get real stability and enrollment,” Caboni said. “The changes we’ve made, the shifts we’ve created, the investments we’ve made in new scholarship programs and supporting young people will keep us at a steady tuition revenue.”

Caboni also addressed differences in the salaries of Terrance Brown, dean of Potter College of Arts & Letters, and Dave Brown, dean of Ogden College of Science & Engineering.

Despite Potter College being larger than Ogden College in enrollment, Terrance Brown is paid $92,998 less than Dave Brown this fiscal year.

“The market dictates what we pay, and an engineering college dean is paid more than the dean of a liberal arts college nationally,” Caboni said. “If you look at any national study of academic administrator salaries, I think that would be more now.”