5 takeaways from the Herald’s meeting with Caboni


Tucker Covey

WKU President Timothy C. Caboni meets with members of the College Heights Herald Editorial Board on the first day of classes of the Spring 2023 semester in the President’s House on Tuesday, Jan. 17.

Herald Staff

The Herald Editorial Board met with President Timothy Caboni on Tuesday, Jan. 17 to discuss the upcoming semester. 

Success of new academic programs despite low enrollment

Caboni discussed the programs that had been both added and suspended in recent years. In recent years, “Kentucky college going rates have gone from 57% to 47%,” Caboni said.

Enrollment at WKU has steadily decreased since 2012, according to the WKU Factbook. In 2012, enrollment at WKU was 21,124 compared to 16,750 in 2021. 

Michael Crimmins

WKU is focusing on programs that encourage growth and retention. The programs they have added in recent years have many graduate students, and keep expanding their numbers. 

Newer programs developed by WKU have been very successful, Caboni said, including Instructional Leadership for School Principals graduate program in education with 32 students, Environmental Sustainability and geographic studies with 78 students, film production with 51 students and legal studies which is an AB program with 22 students. 

These programs were created to satisfy a need seen within the university for programs of this nature. 

Universities do not have an infinite supply of resources, as Caboni pointed out in why you may see some programs get suspended and others created.

“We’re not in an era of perpetual growth or budgets every year, over every year over year growth,” he said. “So that necessarily means reallocation internally for strategic priorities, a different world and it requires not just more internal discipline. It requires being more nimble and a willingness to change.”

Students will see changes, but hopefully they are ones they are happy to see, and welcome. 

“As you all go forth through the semester, I think there are gonna be lots of opportunities around new stuff that we’re doing and to think about it in the context of a dynamic, changing and hopefully, growing organization,” he said. 

Buildings on campus 

During the meeting with Caboni, he provided an update on the new Gordon Ford College of Business building and the series of water pipe leaks that occurred over winter break.

As part of the 2022-24 budget approved by the Kentucky General Assembly during the 2022 regular session, WKU was given $74.4 million to fund the construction of the new building.
Jace Lux, university spokesperson, said that while the building design has not been finalized yet, the university expects to unveil the plans in the latter half of the spring semester, and begin breaking ground on the project by the summer.

Caboni said the college of business was the fastest growing college at WKU, and he hoped the new building would continue, and sustain, that growth.

Caboni also said he hopes this new building will elevate the quality of instruction.

“Everyone is very excited,” Caboni said. “We have been working very hard with our partners, Gensler, the same company that worked with us on the Commons, the business faculty along with the dean’s office and design and construction management have been working together to talk about what facility elevates applied business education on campus.” 

He said the hopeful outcome of the new building will create “an even more tightly knit community.” 

“The new building for the Gordon Ford College of Business is not just a building,” Caboni said. “It is, but it’s much more than that, it is a physical space that will transform the way our students interact with our faculty, the way in which they receive business instruction [and] most importantly, the way in which they apply that in labs and common areas.”

The new building is slated to be constructed where Tate Page Hall, the old Education and Behavioral Sciences building, stood before its demolition in 2021. Caboni said that was one of the few available spaces for the construction.

“I appreciate people getting used to having massive amounts of green space,” Caboni said. “[But] if you go back and look at the campus master plan there were a limited number of places we could place the business school. It came down to what was the number one candidate.”

Caboni also discussed the numerous pipe issues that occurred over the winter break. He said the bursts were a result of the “extreme cold weather.”

He said the facilities staff “responded quickly to the challenges” the university experienced as a result of the bursts.

“They were here, around the clock,” Caboni said. “And they responded quickly and aggressively to mitigate the damaged facilities.”

Caboni said there were pipe bursts in the Commons, the Faculty House, the baseball field house, the football practice field and in some residential buildings including Southwest, Hugh Poland and Gilbert Halls. He said he does not believe these issues will affect classes.

“Most of it has been mediated in such a way that it won’t affect any of our instructional capacity,” Caboni said. 

Football Schedule and Homecoming

WKU Football games will now be consistently held on Tuesdays and Thursdays – specifically in October –  this fall with hopes that this shift will lead to an increase in national visibility. 

“During the course of our conversations,” Caboni said. “What Conference USA decided was for us to have a standalone presence on linear television so ESPNU, ESPN2 and sometimes on ESPN, perhaps that we would shift our games to when there weren’t other games.”

This decision follows a similar one in the Mid American Conference where their teams play on Tuesday and Wednesday nights in November.

“What it means for Conference USA,” Caboni said. “If you’re watching if you’re looking for a football game in October, and you’re looking on a Tuesday or Wednesday night, Conference USA will be the only game on television. The trade off for us as an institution is that we will play two games not on a Saturday in October at home and two games away.” 

WKU will play at home on Oct. 24 for a Tuesday night matchup against Liberty who claimed a 30-24 victory over the Hilltoppers in the 2020 season. After over a week of practice, WKU will travel to El Paso, Texas to face UTEP. The next two games will take place in Bowling Green against New Mexico State and Sam Houston State. Both teams are to join C-USA this summer. 

“What we’ll have to do as a university is [which is a] great opportunity for our students in particular, but also our local fans to be able to come and watch that game,” Caboni said. “We’re gonna have to do something different, just the football game at the same time on a Tuesday night.”

The last game of the season before tournament play will take place on Nov. 25 in Miami, Florida to play FIU, who finished ninth out of the 11 teams in the C-USA standings in the 2022 season. 

Due to the change in the schedule, many members of the WKU community voiced concerns about homecoming this fall. The date is yet to be announced, but Caboni shared that homecoming is likely to fall on a Saturday in November.  

“My perspective on this — I’m not the final decision maker — is that we want any homecoming game to be on a Saturday,” Caboni said. “That’s a traditional time for homecoming and it allows us to build in during the week all of the activities folks who have come to know and love including the homecoming parade, Big Red Roar’s, which to our homecoming, is tremendous. It’s important for us to do that and Saturday games allow us to. It just means we’re gonna be alert when we are a little more flexible.”

Stansbury’s Health

Head Basketball coach Rick Stansbury has missed the past seven WKU games. Associate head coach Phil Cunningham is coaching the team as interim head coach during his absence.

“I know there hasn’t been a lot of information released on my health,” Stansbury said in a video shared on the WKU Basketball’s Twitter account. “I’m doing well and I look forward to returning to the team real soon once my doctor has cleared me.”

Caboni shared that he is proud of the coaching staff and basketball players for how they’ve handled this challenge because “they certainly have stepped up and demonstrated that they’re all in this together.”

“We want him to get better and to feel better. That’s what is most important to us. The program for us is as a WKU family,” Caboni said. “[…]the athletic staff is obviously very qualified to know where he is day to day, and we want him to be in the best possible shape when he returns. I hope that sooner rather than later, but the most important thing for him is dealing with his health issue.”

Changes to campus healthcare and COVID-19 concerns

As students, faculty and staff return to campus after winter break, COVID-19 numbers can be expected to fluctuate.

The current seven day moving average for Kentucky is 5,116 COVID-19 cases. As of Thursday, Jan. 12, Warren County is at medium risk, with a seven day moving average of 249 total cases – a 9.2 percent change in the past week.

Caboni said the university is continually monitoring COVID-19 on campus, and he recognizes the potential uptick in cases after the holidays. According to Caboni, there are multiple tools and treatments available, like vaccinations, to control the virus.

“What we’ve said all along is that we have tools to manage through, and the real goal for our nation, our commonwealth and our institution is to learn to live beside the virus,” Caboni said.

Caboni described one lesson learned from navigating education in the pandemic was the need for in-person learning. He recognized the difficulty of hybrid learning while taking away a new idea of how students more effectively learn.

“We know satisfaction rates go up in person, we know that engagement [with] material goes up in person, we know success rates go up,” Caboni said. “For me, the good thing that came out of the pandemic [was] I think a reaffirmation that what we do as an institution is important for students and the way we do it is important.”

Using COVID-19 prevention strategies, both when avoiding the virus and protecting others, Caboni said the university is confident in being able to “navigate going forward.”

“I will say this, if you’ve been vaccinated, get your boosters, if you haven’t been vaccinated, get vaccinated,” Caboni said. “And if you’re sick, test yourself and stay home, pretty simple.”

At the end of last semester, the Board of Regents quarterly meeting approved the contract and lease for Med Center Health to occupy WKU Health Services. Graves-Gilbert Clinic previously operated the on-campus health center and left campus on Dec. 9.

“I’m thankful for the partnership with Graves-Gilbert,” Caboni said. “I think the quality of care they delivered was outstanding. The decision around the RFP [request for proposal] was one around the fit that the Med Center created with the needs of the institution.”

Med Center Health at WKU Health Services began offering services to students, faculty and staff on Jan. 16. Caboni highlighted new medical services brought with the change, including mental health resources and women’s health services.

“I think we’re going to have on campus counseling available number one,” Caboni said. “Number two, the hope is to have psychiatrists available as well. That means students would have access to a prescribing physician, which was not available before. So if there is a need for medication, antidepressants, for example, psychiatrists will be able […] to prescribe. Whereas a mental health counselor, they’re not going to have that prescribing capacity.”

Caboni said the mental health services provided at Med Center Health at WKU Health Services will work in and out of conjunction with the WKU Counseling Center. This will allow students to choose where to receive counseling or other mental health needs, according to Caboni, and will serve as “just another option for our students.”

“I think that just allowing students that choice is important,” Caboni said. “And if they’re not satisfied with choice A, we can let them know as an institution we have B and C available too.”