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Benson announced as EKU president

Michael T. Benson, president of SUU since 2006, was announced as Eastern Kentucky University's 12th president, Friday.

Michael T. Benson, president of SUU since 2006, was announced as Eastern Kentucky University's 12th president, Friday.

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President Benson Leaving to EKU

SUU President Michael T. Benson accepted Eastern Kentucky Univeristy’s offer to become their new president Friday morning, leaving SUU to begin the search for the university’s 16th president.

SUU President Michael T. Benson accepted Eastern Kentucky Univeristy’s offer to become their new president Friday morning, leaving SUU to begin the search for the university’s 16th president.

SUU President Michael T. Benson accepted Eastern Kentucky Univeristy’s offer to become their new president Friday morning, leaving SUU to begin the search for the university’s 16th president.

Marc Whitt, EKU associate vice president for public relations and marketing, said Benson will begin his new presidential position Aug. 1.

The EKU Board of Regents voted for Benson unanimously in a meeting Friday morning, according to an EKU press release.

Craig Turner, the chair of both the EKU Presidential Search and Screening Committee and EKU’s Board of Regents said he believed the unanimous vote was because of how well Benson fit with all of EKU’s constructs and how well Benson fit what EKU needs as a leader.

“Benson was the best fit for EKU because of his history in higher education,” he said. “He has elevated the past two universities he has been president of, has had a connection with the students, and a love of academics.”

Benson said in an emailed statement, that he was honored to become EKU’s new 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 12th president, but we will be sad to say goodbye to so many wonderful friends at Southern Utah University,” he said. “ It has been a privilege to live in an incredible community and to serve as president of a remarkable institution.”

Benson also said he was excited for the new challenges that were ahead of him, especially since this is his first time working at a university outside of Utah.

“(My family and I) are up for the challenge and excited by the prospects of leading EKU into the future,” he said in the statement.

Dean O’Driscoll, vice president for university relations, said that SUU will now wait for the the Utah State Board of Regents to select an interim president. O’Driscoll said the Board acts fairly quickly, and for students to expect an interim president to be named soon.

Students could see a familiar face as the interim president since sometimes the Board chooses someone from SUU to take the position, as they have in the past, O’Driscoll said.

He said they will choose an interim president while Benson is still at SUU, so there is an overlap.

“They can share a whole bunch of information and insight and knowledge so they don’t have to start from scratch,” he said.

Benson will most likely leave SUU before Aug. 1, O’Driscoll said.

O’Driscoll said the Board of Regents will begin a national search to find the best candidate to become SUU’s new president, but it’s too early to determine when the new president will be selected.

“There are a lot of variables there,” he said. “The Board of Regents takes as much time as needed to find the best candidate for the job.”

Benson thanked the SUU community for his experiences at the university and said he believed that SUU would continue to excel as an institution of higher education.

“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,” he said.

Many SUU faculty and staff and students expressed their appreciation to the hard work Benson has put in as 15th president of SUU, but also how sad they were to see him go.

O’Driscoll said he was excited for Benson and his family to take a new step, and to face new challenges, but was also worried about the future.

“I’m a bit anxious,” he said. “All I know is there will be a change, I don’t know what kind of change, who the next leader will be or who I hope to work for in the future.”

Donna Eddleman, vice president for student service, said she knew Benson was committed to the SUU community when she met him, which was why she wanted to work at the university.

“I am a better person and SUU is a better place because of him,” she said in a press release on Friday.

Bonnie Beesly, chair of the Utah State Board of Regents, said in a press release Friday, that Benson has had an impact on higher education throughout Utah, and she was happy to know him in a professional and personal manner.

Brad Cook, SUU provost, said he was happy for Benson, but sad to see him leave.

“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,” he said in a press release. “But we will also miss his personal enthusiasm and positivity.”

For those students who are distressed at the idea of Benson leaving, O’Driscoll said they should be grateful for the time SUU was able to have Benson around.

“We kept a great leader probably longer than anyone expected us to before he was stolen away,” O’Driscoll said. “We should be grateful for all the ... accomplishments he’s had, while we’ve had him here, and look forward to another great leader we don’t even know yet.”

Turner said he is sure the students of EKU will feel the same way about Benson as the students do now at SUU, and that they are excited for him to get started.

“Cherish the time you have had with him and the history,” he said. “I think SUU has put a fingerprint on his career.”

Alicyn Grow, a senior communication major from Georgetown, Texas, said she was surprised when she heard Benson had gotten the position at EKU.

"I was shocked when I heard he was leaving," she said. “I think that SUU will miss him, but if it is something that he wants to do that's cool.”

Coby Palfreyman, a freshman history major from Spanish Fork, said he wasn't too concerned with the change.

"I never really paid attention much to the administration,” he said. " I guess I’ll see what happens (with the new President) and judge my opinion on whether things get worse get better or stay the same.”

For those students who are distressed at the idea of Benson leaving, O'Driscoll said they should be grateful for the time SUU was able to have Benson around.

"We kept a great leader probably longer than anyone expected us to before he was stolen away," O'Driscoll said. "We should be grateful for all the ... accomplishments he's had, while we've had him here, and look forward to another great leader we don't even know yet."

Turner said he is sure the students of EKU will feel the same way about Benson as the students do now at SUU, and that they are excited for him to get started.

"Cherish the time you have had with him and the history," he said. "I think SUU has put a fingerprint on his career."

Benson was announced as one of three finalists vying for the position on March 25.

After Benson was announced as one of EKU's top three choices for their 12th president, he traveled to the campus, participating in a variety of dinners, meet and greets, and speaking to the campus community.

O'Driscoll said in an earlier interview with the University Journal that Benson was not actively searching for other employment, and was sought out by the EKU committee.

Turner said in a previous interview with the Univeristy Journal that Benson was chosen as one of the finalists because of the qualities he possessed as a leader in Higher Education.

“It was because of their experience, history and successes in higher ed., their interest and concern for diversity, their vision of where higher education was going, their ability to fundraise, and their leadership qualities,” Turner said.

EKU’s current president, Doug Whitlock, announced in August 2012 he would be retiring this July.

Turner said the process the Presidential Search and Screening Comittee had to go through to find EKU's new president was extensive starting with a national search. The committee also hired Academic Search, a firm out of Washington D.C., to find all the candidates possible to fill the position.

Turner said the 12 member committee which was comprised of people from the Board of Regents, EKU alumni, faculty and staff, as well as members from the community, narrowed the list down to 69 candidates and ranked them. They then interviewed the top eight candidates for an hour and a half, Benson being one of these.

The other finalists for the position were Gregg Lassen, the vice president for finance and operations at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas, and Alan Shoa, the dean for the School of Business at the College of Charleston in South Carolina.

EKU, which was founded in 1906 and became a university in 1966, is located in Richmond, Kent. and has approximately 16,000 students with 150 degree programs.

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