Benson selected as new EKU President

Published: April 05, 2013 | Read Time: 8 minutes

Southern Utah University President Michael T. Benson will leave his post in Cedar City to take the helm as Eastern Kentucky University’s 12th president. His tenure in Richmond, Kentucky, begins August 1, 2013.

Benson has served as SUU’s 15th president since 2007 and has propelled the University forward on a steadily rising trajectory in terms of academics, partnerships, and facilities and resources for the University’s nearly 8,000 students.

In his inaugural address, Benson said of his plans for the University: “We cannot afford to be average, nor can we be all things to all people. But those things that are asked of us and that we choose to do, we will do exceptionally well.” Indeed, in his six years on campus, Benson has refined the University’s focus on its core strengths and distinct advantages over other institutions across the state.

What was once just a regional university has become the state’s premier and only public liberal arts and sciences institution, with personalized, experiential education, unique educational partnerships and increased funding that have all heightened the University’s academic profile and reputation across the West.

Most notably, over his tenure at SUU Benson has championed the school’s largest and most ambitious comprehensive campaign, “The Future is Rising.” To date, more than $85 million of the University’s $100 million goal has been raised and pledged.

In conjunction with this campaign, Benson also facilitated the largest gift to SUU in the school’s history: $6 million for the planned Beverley Taylor Sorenson Center for the Arts. This gift came on the tails of another record-setting contribution to the SUU community: $5 million to SUU’s partner organization, the Utah Shakespeare Festival, for a new Shakespearean theatre that will be part of the new arts center. Ever raising the bar, that gift followed a previously record-setting $4 million gift for a scholarship and research endowment to the Walter Maxwell Gibson College of Science and Engineering.

In addition to the soon-to-be constructed Center for the Arts, Benson’s efforts are responsible for the University’s new Science Center, the Cedar Hall University Housing complex and the Carter Carillon.

In terms of academics and student success, Benson, alongside the University’s Provost, oversaw the implementation of the SUU Academic Roadmap, an aggressive four-year plan to substantially increase resources for instruction and advising on campus. He raised the admission index; increased the number of student advisors by 88 percent; and refined the University’s student support programming, all together, ensuring incoming students were better prepared for the University’s academic rigor and better supported in their ongoing endeavors as college students.

He also instituted aggressive student recruiting efforts, which have resulted in additional resources for outreach into underrepresented populations and a 312-percent increase in SUU’s international student population in four years. Under his tenure, the University’s minority student population has increased by 44 percent.

A self-proclaimed sports fanatic, Benson has also done much for Thunderbird Athletics over his tenure at SUU. Most notably, he is responsible for the University’s successful bid for Big Sky Conference membership—a feat that required not only improved athletics programming and performance but, just as notably, a heightened academic record in an athletic conference that places great value on student-athletes as students first. While President, SUU Athletics has also added women’s volleyball and men’s tennis, as well as several coaches of unmatched caliber in institutional history.

A man of the people, Benson has built his leadership model in the footsteps of his hero, Harry Truman. “The buck stops here” is etched on a placard on his desk, and Benson’s open-door policy for all faculty, staff and students has kept him in touch with the base concerns and aspirations of the more than 700 employees under his leadership. For them, Benson has augmented full-time faculty ranks by 15 percent in an era of unprecedented decline in state support, and raised the average salaries of 98 percent of all faculty and staff, bringing them to 95 percent of industry salary averages.

Benson has also served as a tenured professor within the Department of Political Science while on campus and has striven to teach one course each semester. In addition to sharing an obvious passion for the subject matter with his students, Benson used these opportunities, along with many other new traditions he created to stay in touch with the student body, to help ensure his leadership was well aligned with SUU students’ aspirations and expectations.

This next step in Benson’s higher ed. career places him as chief executive to a student body of roughly 16,000 undergraduate and graduate students in Richmond, Ky.—a campus and community that, in our opinion, is very lucky to welcome President Michael T. Benson and his family into their ranks.

In the coming weeks, the Utah State Board of Regents will appoint a search committee for an intensive search for a new president of Southern Utah University. The naming of an interim president will be forthcoming.

In response to this news, state and University officials, as well as President Michael Benson himself, have provided the following comments relative to Benson leaving SUU for EKU.

Michael T. Benson, SUU President

“Debi and I are honored and humbled by the trust placed in us by the Board of Regents of Eastern Kentucky University to serve as its twelfth president, but we will be sad to say goodbye to so many wonderful friends at Southern Utah University.  It has been a privilege to live in an incredible community and to serve as president of a remarkable institution.

My entire professional career in public higher education has been spent in Utah so this is a brand new adventure for my family and me.  Nonetheless, we are up for the challenge and excited by the prospects of leading EKU into the future. 

I wish to thank the Utah State Board of Regents for providing me the opportunity to work at the University of Utah, Snow College, and Southern Utah University.  The citizens of Utah should be very proud of their system of higher education and the positive impact it has on all of us.  Our family leaves our home state with some mixed emotion but we also know that Utah’s colleges and universities are in great hands. 

We are also grateful to the SUU Board of Trustees for the support they have given us throughout our tenure.  And a huge thank you goes to the alumni, friends, donors, faculty, staff, and students – all of the members of the Thunderbird Nation who have given us much more than we ever could have expected. 

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.”

Bradley Cook, SUU Provost

“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.  President Benson has been a remarkable leader on so many fronts: fund raising, raising academic standards, championing a new and distinctive mission, raising the campus' global awareness, elevating faculty and staff salaries in a time of economic challenge, the list can go on.  But we will also miss his personal enthusiasm and positivity.  His energy and "can do" attitude has served this campus very well in allowing innovation and creativity of new ideas.  Faculty morale and productivity have never been higher, the academic preparations of our incoming students are at its highest levels ever, he even oversaw the largest incoming first-year class in the institution's history.  Whoever fills Dr. Benson's shoes surely has their work cut out for them in matching his effectiveness.”

Gayle L. Pollock, Chair of the SUU Board of Trustees

“On behalf of the Board of Trustees, we extend our heartfelt congratulations to President Benson and his family on their new assignment at Eastern Kentucky University. Although this is a bittersweet time for Southern Utah University, the work that Mike has initiated during his years of service will have a profound effect going forward. During his tenure, he has elevated the profile of the University both within the state and on a national level. His many significant accomplishments will be a storied chapter in the history of this great institution.

Always a champion for the students, his humanity, energy and accessibility will be missed. We collectively wish Mike, Debi and their family the best as they embark on this new adventure.”

Donna Eddleman, SUU Vice President for Student Services

"I came to SUU because when I met Mike Benson it was clear to me he was someone with vision, and passion and a strong commitment to students. His leadership has transformed the student experience and has strengthened the University's reputation in the state and beyond. I am a better person and SUU is a better place because of him."


Bonnie Jean Beesley, Chair of the Utah State Board of Regents

“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.  I am confident he will be equally influential at Eastern Kentucky University. It has been a real pleasure to get to know him both personally and professionally, and I wish him well in this next phase of his career and feel confident that his leadership will take EKU to the next level of academic excellence.”

David L. Buhler, Commissioner of Utah System of Higher Education (USHE)

“On behalf of the Utah System of Higher Education, I congratulate President Benson on this appointment and Eastern Kentucky University for selecting him.  Mike helped shape both Snow College and Southern Utah University for the future.  Personally, I have enjoyed working with Mike going back to his days as a Special Assistant to the President at the University of Utah, and wish him and Debi and their family well as they embark on this new adventure.”

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