President Benson's Biography
Michael T. Benson is the 13th President of Eastern Kentucky University, a position he assumed on August 1, 2013. He also holds the rank of Professor within the Department of Government.
In his current role at EKU, Dr. Benson is responsible for more than 17,000 students on four campuses, nearly 2300 full-time faculty and staff, 17 Division I athletic teams, and an annual budget exceeding $355 million. EKU enrolls more native Kentuckians than any other institution in the Commonwealth. Last year EKU had its highest enrollment in history, and despite deep cuts to state appropriations, the university has achieved two of the best fundraising years in the institution’s history. During Benson’s tenure, significant increases in retention and graduation rates have been realized and EKU welcomed its best-prepared freshman class to campus in fall 2016. EKU is also in the midst of an aggressive $230 million campus revitalization which is being completed entirely with non-state appropriated funds.
Prior to his chief executive post at Eastern Kentucky, Benson was the 15th President of Southern Utah University where he helped secure the designation for SUU as the state’s lone public liberal arts university, gained admission into the Big Sky Conference for all athletic teams, and directed the development and implementation of SUU’s largest and most ambitious comprehensive fund-raising effort. The “Future is Rising Campaign” was completed in March 2014 and raised a record $105 million for SUU.
Central to this SUU campaign was an effort organized and launched by Dr. Benson which helped raise $38 million for the Beverley Taylor Sorenson Center for the Arts. A classically-trained pianist, Dr. Benson was named the “Administrator of the Year” by the Utah Music Educators Association. He continues to perform in various venues and has played with, among others, the Snow College Jazz Ensemble and the EKU Stephen Foster Music Camp Orchestra. Dr. Benson holds the distinction of being the only university president to make two different colleges or universities “All Steinway” schools by raising over $1 million for each institution to purchase the instruments. In 2004, Benson worked with officials at the Juilliard School in New York City to establish the Juilliard Jazz Festival, held each summer in Ephraim, Utah.
During Benson’s five-year tenure as president of Snow College, he helped that institution raise more private money than had been secured in the previous 115 years of the college’s history combined. Appointed president of Snow at age 36, Dr. Benson was the youngest college president in the history of the Utah System of Higher Education. He is also the former chair of the Executive Committee for Utah State Campus Compact, part of a national coalition of nearly 1,000 college and university presidents representing over five million students committed to fulfilling the civic purposes of higher education.
Benson began his career in public higher education at the University of Utah where he worked as special assistant to the president and secretary to the university, a cabinet-level position on that campus. During his tenure at Utah, Benson was named co-Principal Investigator (P.I.) of a $3.5 million grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts—the first such grant from Pew made to the University of Utah outside of the health sciences area—to study campaign finance reform.
Born in Utah and raised in Texas, Benson earned his B.A. cum laude from Brigham Young University in 1990 with a major in political science and double minor in English and history. He completed his doctorate in modern Middle Eastern history from the University of Oxford (St. Antony’s College) in 1995 where he was a Rotary Foundation Scholar and recipient of the Oxford Graduate Overseas Fellowship. He also earned a master’s degree cum laude in 2011 from the Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame in nonprofit administration, where he was the recipient of the prestigious Father Theodore Hesburgh Founder’s Award.
Dr. Benson has volunteered, studied, and worked abroad for seven years in Italy, England and Israel. He is a contributor to the Huffington Post as a featured voice on higher education issues. His book Harry S. Truman and the Founding of Israel (Praeger 1997) has been hailed as a landmark work in the area of American foreign policy and the U.S. presidency. His forthcoming book with the University Press of Kentucky is titled College for the Commonwealth: Higher Education’s Value to American Democracy.
Benson has served as a consulting historian and essayist for both the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles and the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library in Independence, Missouri, and fulfilled a two-year term on the ACE Board of Advisors for the Center for Policy Analysis. Governor Jon Huntsman appointed Benson to the Utah Appellate Court Nominating Commission in 2009.
Dr. Benson currently serves as chair of the nine-person NCAA Honors Committee, the group charged with awarding the NCAA’s highest recognitions each year. He is also the past chair of the Presidents’ Council for the Ohio Valley Conference. One of three higher education representatives on the Kentucky Rising Committee, Benson is also co-chair of the Higher Education Consortium for Bluegrass Tomorrow. He has been an active member of the Rotary Club for over twenty years.
An accomplished athlete, Benson has completed several marathons, including the Boston Marathon, with his fastest time (2:41) winning his age division in the St. George Marathon and finishing just minutes shy of the qualifying time for the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials. As an undergraduate at Brigham Young, Benson was a member of the Junior Varsity Basketball Team. He has also participated in the world’s oldest collegiate rivalry, leading the Oxford Blues Basketball Team as a player and head coach over Cambridge University in the celebrated Varsity Match.
Michael is married to the former Debi Woods and is the father of five children: Emma (19), Samuel (17), Truman (9), Tatum (8), and Talmage (6).