President Timothy C. Caboni's Convocation Speech
What a terrific way to celebrate the start of a new academic year! Congratulations, Michael – well deserved! Congratulations to each faculty and staff award winner – it is a great honor to be recognized by your peers for your service and excellence. Thank you for all you do to make WKU the very best place for students to come learn and to be successful.
Let’s give another round of applause for Mt. Victor Revue! Thanks for kicking us off in such an upbeat way!!
It’s officially now just over six weeks that I have been on the job, and all I can say is that it’s good to be back home. The warm welcome Kacy and I have received has been remarkable – from the Bowling Green community and all the communities where we have regional campuses – Elizabethtown, Glasgow and Owensboro; from the many local, state, and federal officials whom I’ve met or who have sent greetings; from the business community across this Commonwealth; and, of course, from the WKU family of alumni, faculty, staff and students. Thank you.
Cycle of Renewal
One of the striking things about academic life is its ebb and flow. We have fresh beginnings each Fall – new students starting their journeys, the promise and possibilities of the year ahead. And each Spring we celebrate the accomplishments of another graduating class heading off on their individual adventures, transformed by their time with us. And of course Summer – a time to reflect and recharge, to pursue new ideas with a singular focus, and to plan for the coming year.
We also have larger and longer cycles as a university, usually punctuated by changes in leadership. But presidential transitions have been rather rare in the life of WKU. After 111 years, there have been only ten individuals privileged to serve as its president.
With each transition came a new beginning, a renewed energy, and a fresh focus shaped largely by the challenges and opportunities at the time. While change is frequently difficult, it also brings with it a sense of optimism, of possibilities, and of what might be.
The question posed to me most often is, “what is your vision for WKU?” I would argue a more important question is “What is our collective vision for our university?” And so, as we begin this cycle of renewal, I want us to engage in that discussion together as a community.
Throughout the five-month transition period between the Board of Regents’ decision to hire me in February and my arrival July 1, a small transition team and the Board of Regents worked with me to prepare for this awesome responsibility.
I met with dozens of stakeholders – faculty, staff, and students; alumni; donors; legislators and others - to talk about their aspirations for WKU. Despite the significant challenges we face – and we are not unique – these challenges are faced by higher education nationally – there is great optimism and energy and also a great love for this institution. And all of us feel a deep appreciation for what WKU means to our region and to our state.
WKU is a special place where our traditions transcend changes in leadership. Our foundation as an institution is as a teacher’s college. As we’ve evolved and grown exponentially the number of students we serve, we are now a major comprehensive, applied research institution.
But what makes us different – and what makes us better - is that we always have been a student-centered university. Their success is central to who we are, and that must remain our core mission around which we organize our efforts.
Our first president, Henry Hardin Cherry, coined the phrase “The Spirit Makes the Master,” which we have adopted as our institutional motto. And while that phrase may mean something different to each of us, to me, it speaks to our resolve to prepare students to make a good living but, perhaps more importantly, it captures our commitment to prepare them to make a good life, both for themselves and for those around them.
Working together, our number one goal as faculty and staff is to help our students succeed in the classroom, in the laboratory, in the workplace, in the world, and in their lives.
Many of the students we serve will be the first in their families to receive a college degree – you see the overwhelming number of them stand to be recognized at each commencement, and it is incredible. Most of our graduates stay in Kentucky, go to work, and live in our region. For all of us to succeed in growing the quality of life in our region, we must first help them succeed on our campus.
So how do we ensure that we are well poised in the next decade to do that?
During the next several months, we will engage in an intensive strategic planning process that will reflect the collective vision of our stakeholders and ensure that we are focusing on the core mission of a student-centered, applied research university, which is to inspire innovation, elevate communities and transform lives.
This phrase - “applied research university” - deserves a more fulsome explanation. It captures the unique type of knowledge creation in which we engage as an intellectual community.
We were not built as, nor are we organized to become a Research 1 institution. There is no shame in that. The discovery work we do, the useable knowledge we create, the research partnerships we forge with businesses, and the experiences we build for our students all have immediate or near-future relevance for our world.
We must embrace that role and celebrate the uniqueness of it. It is our strength, and it is a crucial part of what makes the WKU Experience compelling for our students. And, it differentiates us from other institutions in the marketplace.
In addition to thinking about what new opportunities we wish to pursue, we also will need to decide what good things we are doing now that are tangential or do not support our core mission. In these processes, it is often far more difficult to end than to begin, but we will do both.
As part of this effort, we also will revamp our system of budgeting. The way we allocate resources across the university was constructed in a different era. Our budget processes will need to become more flexible and strategic, while also allowing us to incentivize and reward performance across the enterprise.
And, we will need to rebalance our internal investments based upon our strategic priorities. In a context where state funds will follow clearly prescribed performance metrics, we must ensure that our budgeting system supports our core mission while also enabling us to secure any additional funding available through Kentucky’s performance funding model.
Let’s be clear – the new funding model will result in the reallocation of existing higher education dollars between institutions, and we must be well positioned to compete in this new environment.
Our physical plant – our buildings and facilities -- and the sheer beauty of our campus are the envy of our colleagues across the Commonwealth and beyond. For us to continue our success, however, we will turn our attention to how we best accomplish our mission through investment in people and programs.
Now to the details of the planning process. The strategic planning process will be led by a 10-14-member steering committee, which I will co-chair. In the next few weeks I will announce a faculty member to serve as co-chair along with me.
In addition to the steering committee, we’ll appoint four to six working groups with two co-chairs and eight to ten members each. We will have representatives of each of our stakeholder groups included in the process.
Those working groups will have five broad areas of focus: Academic Innovation and Excellence; Student Success and Experience; Diversity, Equity and Inclusion; Research, Scholarship and Creative Endeavors; and Budgeting, Efficiency and Infrastructure.
The steering committee and working groups will be assembled by next month, and they will begin the process of collecting relevant data, assessing strengths and weaknesses, and identifying emerging themes.
To ensure that all voices can be heard, and to maintain transparency throughout the process, we will launch a website where anyone can provide feedback and comment.
We’ll host open forums by the end of this semester or early next semester and will work through the spring to compile a plan from the working group recommendations. We’ll provide the campus and community with monthly updates as well.
By next April we’ll present a draft plan for feedback and then work on revisions through June. A final plan will go to the Board of Regents next July, and we will launch the new plan in August of 2018.
This strategic planning process will be inclusive and will engage every stakeholder group in meaningful conversations about our shared aspirations. It will ensure that we use data to guide our strategic choices going forward, and the end result will be a practical and revisable roadmap for our future.
Strategic planning is necessary, but it takes time. So as we are working on strategic planning, we’ll also be about the business of strategic doing.
Four areas on which we will focus our immediate attention are recruitment; persistence and graduation; diversity, equity and inclusion; and our international programs.
WKU is twenty thousand students strong. We have worked hard to maintain that level of enrollment, and we will continue to do so.
However, the mix of students within that number has shifted over time, and that has implications for revenue, the types of students we serve, and how we deliver instruction. We must be intentional and clear about the proportion of various types of students that comprise our total enrollment.
We are seeing great success in growing the number of qualified students we admit across all of our markets. However, our yield of those students – meaning the number of them who move from being admitted to actually enrolling at WKU – must improve.
This year we will increase our focus on yielding a greater number of those admitted students by making sure we convey in a persuasive and compelling manner what it means to be a Hilltopper and what makes the WKU experience unique and valuable.
Students need to know that this is a place where they can come and have experiences alongside faculty who know their name, that we are a campus community that cares deeply about their success, and that we want them to graduate in four years.
They also need to understand the value of having a research experience that is practically oriented. To deliver on these promises to our students will require the entire community to redouble our collective efforts.
We also have shifted our financial aid strategy during the last couple of years to reach a broader group of students. But in addition to attracting the most talented individuals from across the state, we also need to use our aid to address the strain felt by those students in need.
We must strive to help our students leave WKU with a manageable level of debt. So further review of how we commit our financial aid funds, and placing a priority on private fundraising to support that, will be our focus.
Finally, we must be clear about what it takes to be successful as a WKU student.
As we make decisions about who we admit, we must pay special attention to those who might be better served beginning their college careers at a community college. Burdening a young person with loan debt who has no reasonable chance of succeeding here stands in direct contrast to our mission. And we should not do it.
Access without success is access to nothing.
In that regard, we must ensure that those students we do enroll persist and graduate in four years. An area where we simply must do better is in retaining students from the first year to the second year.
We will begin this fall with the addition of five professional advisors who will focus on intrusive, proactive, and student-centered advising for exploratory students (those that have undeclared majors) and student populations such as first generation, low-income, and underrepresented minority students.
We have launched new scheduling software that will ease the process of registering students for courses. This tool also will provide more effective communication between advisors and advisees. An added focus on professional development for all advisors, as well as increased collaboration to implement proven methods of teaching and targeted programming to boost student success, are underway as well.
We also have added three new living learning communities in Housing and Residence Life beginning this fall: ISEC Academy – for those involved with our Intercultural Student Engagement Center; Top of the Class – a teacher education living learning community; and the WISE Living community – for Women in Science and Engineering.
Moving forward, we will shift our freshman year programming to the bottom of the hill to include a first-year village concept as we build new living space for students. We have a huge opportunity as we re-envision that part of campus.
This is more than replacing Barnes-Campbell, Bemis-Lawrence, and Hugh Poland Halls. It is an intentional shift to more fully embrace living learning communities in our residence halls and to constructing facilities with student success in mind and building with connectivity to campus life. The 150 hours students spend outside of the classroom, learning from and with their peers, are as important as the time spent inside the classroom.
These are proven strategies to address retention and persistence for all of our students. They are particularly effective forthose who struggle to succeed.
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
The work begun last year by the task force on diversity, equity, and inclusion will shift from recommendations to implementation this year.
Given the events last week in Charlottesville, it is important to reaffirm our values as an institution that bigotry and hate have no place on this campus.
WKU is committed to focusing on and espousing the values of diversity as well as recognizing how these values contribute to the preparation of productive, engaged, and socially responsible citizen-leaders of a global society. We have made concerted efforts to enhance diversity in our learning, living, and working environments, and we will continue to make progress as an institution on each of these fronts this year.
WKU’s distinctiveness is due, in part, to the importance we place on both recruiting students from other nations to join our community and sending our domestic undergraduates abroad to experience life and learning from the perspective of others. Internationalization will continue to play an important part in the life of our university. However, we must ensure our organizational arrangements and strategies serve WKU’s larger mission.
Given some of the headwinds felt nationally in the recruitment of students from other countries and the complexity of our internal structures related to international programs, this year we will take a close look at all of our international efforts. Currently our international initiatives are housed across various campus departments and under separate direction and leadership.
To help simplify and streamline this work, we will need to undergo an administrative restructuring to bring all international responsibilities under a single umbrella. I have asked Gordon Johnson to serve as Interim Chief International Officer for this year and to lead a task force charged with a close examination of all our international efforts. This task force will make recommendations about how we might alter our strategies going forward to solve what has become an organizational and administrative challenge for our institution. Gordon brings great institutional knowledge and is a talented leader, and I’m confident he has the right skills to guide this critical review while also continuing to oversee our information technology services.
This also will allow Dr. Craig Cobane, who has been serving in dual roles, to focus all of his energies on building our honors program and ensuring that experience continues to be the best in the state and among the finest in the nation.
Before we close today I want to share some exciting news with you. I mentioned earlier that we must focus on people and programs. Our strength is in our people, and investing in individual potential is crucial to our success. I am pleased to announce today two programs, one new and one returning, that will signal our community’s reaffirmation of the importance of human capital as our most valuable asset.
First, I’m pleased to announce that our university partner, Sodexo, has pledged 650,000 dollars over the next 13 years to fund scholarships for their employees who work on our campus - as well as their dependents - to attend WKU. Sodexo will make their first scholarship awards this Fall.
I’d like to recognize representatives of Sodexo who are with us today: Edwin Morgan, Sodexo General Manager; Kahlicia Pettus, Sodexo Senior Vice President of Operations/Education Market - North America; and Rich Katzman, Sodexo Business Development. Please join me in thanking Sodexo for providing this valuable opportunity to those who make WKU a better place to live and work every day.
Second – I have directed that the WKU spousal tuition benefit be reinstated for this Fall. Even in times of scarce resources, we must continue to seek creative ways to ensure we are investing in people, especially those who serve this campus.
Finally, I want to announce a few changes that relate to personnel. Many of you are likely already aware that Dr. David Lee will retire as provost on June 30, 2018. David has served this institution well for 42 years as a professor, dean, and Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs. He will continue to serve as the University Historian following his retirement from his current post.
David has been a steady hand at the helm and has provided sound leadership, advice, and guidance. He has served this institution with grace and wisdom – he is the consummate professional. Thank you, David. We will begin the process of creating a search committee with the intention of naming a new provost by next spring. We will keep the campus informed as we move forward.
Another important change in academic leadership occurring during this year is the retirement of Dr. Sam Evans, dean of the College of Education and Behavioral Sciences. Sam began teaching at WKU in 1990 and has served as dean of the college since 2003. We will appoint a search committee to produce finalists for the dean’s position in the late spring. This timing will allow the next provost to be involved in the final selection, and for our candidates to know with whom they will be working. Thank you, Sam, for your outstanding service to WKU and for the significant, positive change you have created in education policy for the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
A critical element to successful strategic planning is ensuring that we have the best data and appropriate information with which to make informed decisions. To that end I have appointed Dr. Tuesdi Helbig to serve as Special Assistant to the President for Strategic Planning. Tuesdi will continue to direct the Office of Institutional Research as part of Academic Affairs and will have a dual reporting responsibility to the Provost and to the President.
To finish, let me leave you with you a word of thanks. We each have been chosen to be a part of this remarkable place, to invest our lives in something important for our world. No matter what you do for a living at this university, your work is crucial to our mission. Every day, your efforts transform student lives, and we all are better for it.
Thank you for all that you do. I’m grateful for the opportunity to work with you, and I look forward to an exciting year ahead.
Awards announced during Convocation:
University Faculty Awards
Teaching: Dr. Marko Dumancic
Research and Creativity: Dr. Amy Brausch
Public Service: Dr. Gayle Mallinger
Student Advisement: Dr. Dawn Bolton
Part-time Faculty: Ms. Diana McQuady
University Distinguished Professor
Dr. Albert Meier
University Staff Excellence Awards
Administrative Professional Non-Faculty: Ms. Rachel Goodman
Administrative Support: Ms. Julie Harris
Skilled/Technical/Paraprofessional: Ms. Julie Taylor
Student Advisement Non-Faculty: Ms. Cierra Waller
President's Award for Sustainability
Dr. Nicole D. Breazeale
Spirit of WKU
Mr. Michael P. Crowe, Jr.
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