Following a joint meeting with the Presidential Search Committee this morning the Eastern Kentucky University Board of Regents selected Michael T. Benson as Eastern's next president.
In a publicly audible phone conversation with Regent's Chair Craig Turner, Benson accepted the position and expressed his excitement to get started. Both men underscored the work to be done and challenges ahead.
Benson is slated to start work August 1st.
In an email to the campus Turner wrote,
Dr. Benson is the “right fit” for Eastern. Following his intensive and successful interviews and forum discussions with Eastern students, faculty, and staff and with Richmond and Madison County leaders, Dr. Benson was the resounding choice as our next great, visionary leader.
Dr. Benson’s distinguished record of success as an innovative executive is impressive and well-recognized among peers and colleagues. He has devoted himself to students and their academic success, is an accomplished communicator and scholar committed to diversity and expanding global academic opportunities, and is a proven financial manager who will develop and sustain political and external support for EKU.
We know the entire Eastern community will offer Dr. Benson, his wife Debi, and their children, Truman, Tatum, and Talmage, and Emma and Samuel a warm welcome and congratulations as they look toward making Richmond their new home. I know they will bless our lives in countless ways.
In closing, I would be remiss if I did not extend a special thank you to retiring President Doug Whitlock and our First Lady, Joanne, for their unswerving love of Eastern. As the Whitlock chapter closes and the Benson chapter begins, we will all be the beneficiaries of President Whitlock’s commitment to student success and regional stewardship for years to come. I am proud that the Board of Regents has recognized this contribution by naming the Student Success Building the Charles D. Whitlock Building.
Also, I deeply thank members of the EKU Presidential Search and Screening Committee and Drs. Jim Appleberry and Carrie Besnette Hauser, senior consultants with Academic Search Inc., for their tireless efforts, guidance and expertise. Throughout the search process and its many long hours, I have developed a heightened appreciation and respect for these professionals whose dialogue was always focused on making the “Eastern Experience” an exceptional one for our current and future students.
And this from Jim Warren at the Herald-Leader:
I now invite you to join with President Benson and members of the Board of Regents as we begin an exciting journey to achieve levels of academic excellence never before imagined. Our best years are indeed ahead of us!
The president of a Utah university was chosen Friday to lead Eastern Kentucky University, succeeding retiring six-year president Doug Whitlock.
Michael T. Benson, 48, president of Southern Utah University, was one of three finalists who had visited the EKU campus and met with faculty members over the past several days. Eastern's Board of Regents unanimously selected Benson on Friday after a 2½ -hour closed meeting to review the finalists.
Benson has been president at Southern Utah University about six years. Before that Benson was president of Snow College, a rural two-year state school in Utah.
He is a grandson of Ezra Taft Benson, 13th president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who also was U.S. agriculture secretary under President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Moments after Friday's vote, EKU Regents chairman Craig Turner phoned Benson at his Southern Utah office in Cedar City, Utah, to inform him that he'd been selected.
"I am honored and humbled," Benson said. "My wife, children and I could not be more thrilled ... I can't wait to get started. Go Colonels."
Benson and his wife, Debi, have five children, two from a previous marriage.
Benson told the Herald-Leader in an interview later Friday that he'll start wrapping up his responsibilities at Southern Utah, and he said he plans to visit EKU as soon as possible to "get my feet wet."
"I need to get there and learn all I possibly can before I officially start," he said.
Turner said Benson will take over his duties about Aug. 1, becoming EKU's 12th president.
The other two finalists were Alan T. Shao, business school dean at the College of Charleston, and Gregg Lassen, vice president for finance at Lamar University in Texas.
It might have been a two-man race. EKU faculty members had favored either Benson or Shao over Lassen.
Even so, the regents discussed the selection with EKU's Presidential Search and Screening Committee for two hours behind closed doors Friday morning. The regents then met by themselves in executive session for another half hour before voting unanimously to name Benson.
Turner said that regents and others in the EKU community were impressed by Benson's commitment to education and his track record of "elevating" both Southern Utah and Snow College.
"He really elevated both of those schools in stature and in their financial situation," Turner said. "At the same time, we wanted to find the right fit as to who was going to interact best with the community, the students, and how they were going to get buy-in from the faculty.
"I think his (Benson's) even-keel demeanor will be accepted very easily here ... and he has the leadership qualities that we are looking for."
Benson will face some immediate challenges, mainly on the financial side. EKU's regents recently gave the go-ahead for job reductions and program cuts to reduce the school's budget by $23 million. EKU's state funding allocations have fallen sharply since the national economic downturn began in 2008, and no immediate end to the tight-money environment is in sight.
Benson's skills as a fund-raiser — he led efforts that raised $85 million at Southern Utah and once ran a marathon to raise cash at Snow College — could help.
Sixty-nine people applied to become EKU's new president, said Carrie Besnette Hauser, senior consultant with Academic Search Inc., the firm that helped EKU conduct its search. She said the "incredibly robust pool of candidates" included nine college presidents and 13 provosts. Women made up 16 percent of the pool, she said, and 16 percent were racial minorities.
Hauser said her firm's background checks on the three finalists turned up "no issues with any of them." She also said her firm found no issues with Lassen's doctoral dissertation. Some faculty members had questioned the dissertation's quality.
Benson told the Herald-Leader he initially heard about EKU's presidential opening through a friend but wasn't interested at first.
"My wife and I were very content here (in Utah); it wasn't as if we were perusing other opportunities," he said.
But after more encouragement from his friend, Benson quietly made an "incognito visit" to EKU in late February. He even took in a Branford Marsalis concert at EKU's performing arts center.
"Sometimes you can get a sense of a place by just walking around and people not knowing who you are," he said. "I got home and told my wife, 'We really need to take a look at this.'"
Benson spent his childhood in Indiana and sometimes accompanied his father on trips to Western Kentucky; the senior Benson often visited that area in his work with the LDS Church. Michael Benson said his wife had two great-grandfathers from Kentucky.
"While I've never lived in Kentucky I feel a certain kinship," he said. "Eastern obviously has a lot of potential and tradition, and I think there is a lot of untapped opportunity to make some wonderful things happen."
This from The Spectrum:
President's bio Michael T. Benson holds a bachelor's from Brigham Young University and a doctorate from Oxford University and is author of a book about President Harry S. Truman and the founding of Israel. He was a special assistant at the University of Utah and president of Snow College before becoming president of Southern Utah University in 2006. His grandfather, Ezra Taft Benson, was 13th president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Southern Utah University President Michael T. Benson was selected as the next president of Eastern Kentucky University Friday after a 2.5-hour closed session of the Board of Regents. He replaces President Charles “Doug” Whitlock, who served six years at EKU.And this from the Deseret News:
Eastern Kentucky, a school of about 16,000 students, is located in Richmond, Ky. The student population at SUU is approximately 8,000.
Benson was one of three finalists for the job, and traveled to EKU two weeks ago for interviews.
He said he received a call from the Regents of EKU close to 10:30 a.m. Mountain time, and they told him they were finishing up their closed session and preparing to conduct a public vote.
“They asked if I would accept the opportunity to serve as their 12th president, and I said. ‘Yes, we would,’” Benson said.
He added, “It’s kind of a bittersweet day for us because we’ve had such a wonderful time at Southern Utah and Cedar City … we have great friends here, and we’ve just had a wonderful tenure, and we hope we’ve made a positive impact on the campus and community, and it’s time to pass the baton to somebody else.”
Benson, 48, became the 15th president at SUU on Nov. 10, 2006. Prior to that, he had been president of Snow College for five years. Benson said he and his wife, Debi Benson, are ready for a new adventure in Kentucky.
“All my professional career in public higher education has been in Southern Utah,” he said. “So it’s a different system in terms of the political landscape and their system of governance there, but we’re excited and up for the challenge.”
Benson said he begins work at EKU Aug. 1. That means a period of transition for SUU in July.
Bonnie Jean Beesley, chair of the Utah State Board of Regents, released a statement regarding Benson’s appointment to EKU.
“Michael Benson has had a significant impact on higher education in Utah over the past 12 years as president of two of our institutions — Snow College and then Southern Utah University,” Beesley said. “I am confident he will be equally influential at Eastern Kentucky University.”
Dean O’Driscoll, vice president of university relations, said the announcement marks the end of an era in SUU’s history, and he was glad to be a part of that era.
“With everybody else, I’m sure, moving from a known quantity to an unknown quantity can always be scary, and I put myself in that boat as well,” O’Driscoll said.
BreeAnn Delaney, an SUU freshman, talked about her impression of Benson. She said she remembered seeing a video of Benson doing the Harlem Shake.
“I thought it was interesting that he was willing to do that with students,” Delaney said.
O’Driscoll said the state Board of Regents will appoint an interim president for SUU, and will then search for a permanent president. The process for appointing a permanent president, he said, generally takes three to four months.
...Benson has served as president of SUU since 2007. During his tenure, he oversaw the university's largest fundraising campaign, which to date has raised more than $85 million of a total $100 million goal, according to SUU officials.
"While we are very happy for President Benson and his family in this new adventure, we are going to feel a great loss of leadership here at Southern Utah University," SUU Provost Bradley Cook said. "His energy and 'can do' attitude has served this campus very well in allowing innovation and creativity of new ideas."
An interim president is expected to be announced within the coming weeks and a search committee will be appointed by the Utah Board of Regents to review candidates for the vacant position...
In a prepared statement, Benson expressed his gratitude to the Utah Board of Regents for the opportunity to serve as president of SUU. He also thanked the SUU Board of Trustees, alumni, donors, faculty and students for their support.
"It has been an honor to work with such dedicated and capable colleagues and I have every confidence SUU will continue forward on its inexorable path to more achievement and even greater distinction," he said.