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 responsiblefor more than 17,000 students on four campuses, nearly 2300 full-time facultyand staff,17 Division I athletic teams, andan annual budget in excess of $355 million.EKUenrollsmorenativeKentuckiansthananyotherinstitutionintheCommonwealth. LastyearEKU hadits highestenrollmentinhistory,and,despite deepcutstostateappropriations,the university has achieved its three best fundraising years in the institution’s history.
During Benson’s tenure, significant increases in retention and graduation rates have also been realized and EKU welcomed its best-prepared and most diverse freshman class to campus in fall 2017. EKU is also in the midst of an aggressive $240 million campus revitalizationwhich 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 public liberal arts university, established the Hispanic Center for Academic Excellence, gained admission into the Big Sky Conference for all athletic teams, completed new residence halls, a teacher education facility and science and engineering center, and directed the development and implementation of SUU’s largest and most ambitious comprehensive fund-raising effort. The “Future is Rising Campaign” 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.
Before his tenure at Southern Utah, Benson served as the 14th president of Snow College where he helped that institution raise more private money during his tenure than had been secured in the previous 115 years of the college’s history combined. Appointed president of Snow College 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 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, one of eight executive officers of the institution. 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. The research grant led to the establishment of the intermountain Center for Campaign and Media Legal Reforms at the Hinckley Institute of Politics.
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 non-profit administration, where he was the recipient of the prestigious Father Theodore Hesburgh Founder’s Award.
Dr. Benson has worked and studied abroad for seven years in Italy (he is fluent in spoken and written Italian), England and Israel. He is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post as a featured voice on higher education and other 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: A Case for Higher Education’s Irreplaceable Role in America’s Future.
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. Governor Jon Huntsman appointed Benson to the Utah Appellate Court Nominating Commission in 2009 as one of two citizen members. He fulfilled a two-year term on the Board of Advisors for the Center for Policy Analysis of the American Council on Education (ACE) and currently serves on the Council of Presidents of the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges (AGB). Benson also serves on the Presidents’ Trust for the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) and was recently appointed to the Task Force on University Partnerships of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU).
Active in intercollegiate athletics on the national and conference level, Dr. Benson recently completed service 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 and has served in leadership roles for both the Summit League and the Big Sky 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. At present, he serves as the convener of all the presidents of Kentucky’s public universities. He is active in business and community affairs, having served on the regional boards of Wells Fargo Bank and Zions Bank and currently sits on the Board of Directors for the Richmond Chamber of Commerce and the Kentucky Law Enforcement Memorial Foundation Board of Directors. He has been an active member of the Rotary Club for over twenty years and is a Paul Harris Fellow.
Benson is an accomplished athlete and 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/head coach over Cambridge University in the celebrated Varsity Match.
An Eagle Scout and active in various volunteer, civic and church activities, Michael is married to the former Debi Woods and is the father of five children: Emma, a junior at Brigham Young University; Samuel, a full-time church service volunteer in Boston, Massachusetts; and Truman, Tatum, and Talmage, all students at EKU’s Model Laboratory School.