RICHMOND, Ky. – Dr. Michael T. Benson has been named president of Eastern Kentucky University.
The unanimous selection of Benson, currently the president of Southern Utah University, was announced at a special meeting of the EKU Board of Regents on Friday, April 5, and follows a nationwide search that culminated recently in campus visits by Benson and two other finalists.
Benson will assume the EKU presidency on Aug. 1. He succeeds Dr. Doug Whitlock, who last year announced his intention to retire, effective July 31, 2013.
“Dr. Benson is the right fit for Eastern,” said Craig Turner, chair of the EKU Board of Regents and chair of the Presidential Search and Screening Committee. “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,” Turner continued. “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.”
Benson, 48, has served as the 15th President of Southern Utah University, an institution with approximately 8,300 students, since 2006. A Salt Lake City native who grew up in Texas, he brings nearly 20 years of administrative experience in higher education, also including the presidency of Snow College.
Contacted by telephone after the Board announced its selection, Benson told the Regents that he “was honored and humbled” by their choice. “We cannot be more thrilled. Thank you for the opportunity. We’re ready to get started. Go Colonels!”
He joked that he and his wife, Debi, already have their three young children in “Colonel boot camp,” learning more about their future home.
While at Snow from 2001 to 2006, Benson helped raise more money in his five-year tenure than in the previous 117 years of the institution’s history combined. Currently, he is leading efforts at Southern Utah University to raise $30 million for the Southern Utah Center for the Arts; more than $28 million of that amount has been raised so far.
He has also directed the development and implementation of SUU’s largest and most ambitious comprehensive campaign, The Future Is Rising. More than $85 million of the $100 million goal has already been raised or pledged. In December 2012, Benson announced the largest gift in the University’s history – $5 million – for the construction of a new Shakespeare Theatre. That news came on the heels of a $4 million gift to establish a scholarship and research endowment within the College of Science and Engineering.
During the 2009 Legislative session, Benson was successful in procuring state support for SUU’s Science Center – an expanded undergraduate classroom and laboratory complex totaling nearly $20 million in new construction.
In 2011, Utah Business named Benson one of the “100 Most Influential People in Utah.”
Benson, who has worked and studied abroad for seven years in Italy, England and Israel, is also a regular contributor to the Huffington Post as a featured blogger on higher education issues. His book, “Harry S. Truman and the Founding of Israel,” has been hailed as a landmark work in the area of American foreign policy and the U.S. presidency.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Brigham Young University, a master’s degree in non-profit administration from the Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame and a doctoral degree in Middle Eastern history from the University of Oxford (St. Anthony’s College).
EKU’s new president and wife Debi are the parents of Truman, 6, Tatum, 4, and Talmage, 2. He also is the father of Emma, 16, and Samuel, 13.
The 12-member EKU Presidential Search and Screening Committee, appointed by the Board of Regents, was assisted in its work by Academic Search Inc., specifically senior consultants Dr. Jim Appleberry and Dr. Carrie Hauser. The Committee was composed of faculty, student, staff, alumni, community and Board of Regents representatives.
Eastern Kentucky University is a comprehensive university serving approximately 16,000 students on its Richmond campus, at its educational centers in Corbin, Danville, Manchester, Somerset and Lancaster, and throughout Kentucky.