University leaders want to build on strengths, develop fresh strategies
Within the past year, four of Kentucky’s state universities have named new leadership to guide their faculty, staff and students.
It is a challenging time for the new leaders of Kentucky State University, Morehead State University, Northern Kentucky University and Western Kentucky University, with a new state funding formula and state budget cuts to Kentucky colleges and universities amounting to $200 million since 2008. (The University of Louisville is expected to name a president this spring; Dr. Greg Postel is the interim.)
The goals of the new presidents are similar: growth, service and stability. Dr. Ashish Vaidya, the incoming president at NKU, sums it up: “I believe what has set this country apart is its tremendous higher education institutions. You can come from any background and have access to higher education, which creates an intergenerational impact. I see leadership in this public sphere as a privilege. I’m in the business of serving students and serving the regions.”
Diversity and global competency
“We cannot be all things to all people, but we can do several things well, and that’s what we want to do,” says Dr. M. Christopher Brown II of Kentucky State University, a historically black university founded in 1886 and the smallest public university in the commonwealth, with an enrollment of about 2,200 students.
Brown believes all of his experiences have led him to serve as Kentucky State’s 18th president. His first-year priorities include stabilizing and increasing the enrollment and creating a consensus around brand identity. But his long-term goal is for Kentucky State to be the nation’s most racially, geographically and ideologically diverse historically black institution.
“We have a commitment to create a pipeline of globally competent workers, people who can go into education, health care, business, social work, public administration, and make contributions as competent professionals,” says Brown. The former Alcorn State University president and dean of the College of Education at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Brown holds degrees from Pennsylvania State University, the University of Kentucky and South Carolina State University. He also has served as the provost and executive vice president for Academic Affairs at Louisiana’s Southern University and A&M System.
Personalized atmosphere and new plans
Dr. Joseph A. (Jay) Morgan began teaching at Murray State University in 1997 and continued to serve there as associate provost of Graduate Education, then provost and vice president for Academic Affairs. Morgan, who holds degrees from Murray State and Oklahoma State University, formerly was the chief academic officer and vice president for Academic Affairs and Student Success for the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education in Frankfort. He is now the 14th president of Morehead State.
While Morehead State has seen a great deal of growth in the last decade, Morgan’s focus is on the quality of the educational experience that students can expect to enjoy there.
“We want to be large enough to serve you, but small enough to know you,” says Morgan. “If you come here, you’re going to be part of a family. We want to be known as a personable campus with a family-type atmosphere, whether the student is coming either from coal country or China.”
His first-year goals include developing a new strategic plan, completing multiple construction projects across campus and placing a renewed focus on students within the state’s new funding formula for higher education. “We’re turning our attention on how we can build new scholarship structures for students, and that means wringing out some inefficiencies and trying to maintain an affordability and academic excellence for higher ed,” Morgan says.
Continued entrepreneurship and reinvention
Dr. Ashish Vaidya and his family will arrive in the commonwealth in July, while NKU is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Currently, Vaidya, the campus chief economic officer and interim president of Minnesota’s St. Cloud State University, manages a $210 million operating budget, and he was formerly provost and vice president for Academic Affairs at St. Cloud. He also worked at Cal State Los Angeles as special advisor to the president for Regional Economic Development.
“As an economist, I’m very deliberate in decision making. I look at the pros and cons, weigh the information of a situation, but my first goal is always to listen and learn,” he says. Vaidya says he is excited to get to know the region and the NKU community, adding that what he has seen about the institution has impressed him.
“NKU has a can-do attitude. It’s entrepreneurial, not afraid to take risks and is very nimble, which is refreshing to hear about a large complex organization,” he says. “It’s always looking for new and exciting ways to reinvent itself, and I’m excited to be on that journey.” Vaidya will be the sixth president to serve the university.
Economic partnerships and new opportunity
Of the four new presidents, only Dr. Timothy C. Caboni of WKU is an alumnus of the school he now leads. “The opportunity to lead my alma mater is remarkable. I can’t think of another institution I would be more privileged to lead or serve,” Caboni says.
The New Orleans native earned a master’s degree in corporate and organizational communication from Western in 1994, a bachelor’s degree from Louisiana State and a doctorate from Vanderbilt. The former vice chancellor of Public Affairs at the University of Kansas, Caboni was also the associate dean of the Peabody College of Education and Human Development at Vanderbilt University. His leadership style includes identifying and developing talent, providing autonomy and working together as a community.
His first-year goals encompass a comprehensive plan that includes recruitment, retention and diversity. Caboni sees the new state funding formula as a plus for WKU. “We have a remarkable opportunity as we move toward a budget model that rewards innovation, allocates resources to success and challenges the entire university community to do and be better,” he says.
WKU is an applied research university, so the work of its faculty, staff and students is tied directly to the local and regional economy. Caboni hopes the partnerships he helps to forge across the region grow and attract business investment, and that WKU provides the next generation of talent for the region’s industries.