The possibility became general knowledge on campus about 2 weeks ago. Then I heard that the base salary was double what it was here (Utah has the most even distribution of income of any state). So it seemed like a done deal.
Personally, I like Mike Benson. Although I’d still like to know the real reason he dropped my MBA class after one week.
Professionally, we all knew he would not be here for the long haul. He is definitely an up and out after a few years sort of guy: build your resume, and move on. In fact, I’m a little surprised that he lasted 6.5 years.
As a faculty member, I do have to admit that he raised quite a lot of money. He was easily an upgrade in that category, although I think a lot of people were sold a bill of goods that he would be able to raise a lot more.
I’m also not convinced that he didn’t just raise the easy money. He just got a big donation from the Sorensens, but they already have connections to SUU. Presumably he helped a lot in getting some money from the Eccles foundations for the Shakespeare Festival … but Eccles’ money gets showered over the state regularly. It’s not clear how much we netted from our connection to Senate Majority Leader and SUU alum Harry Reid. It’s also not clear whether Benson was able to raise more from the family of former EPA Administrator and alum Mike Leavitt than we would have gotten otherwise.
Now, he did secure a big donation for the College of Science from an alum. That helped grease the kids for a much needed second science building. For better or worse, that still didn’t bring them up to the space they need for their enrollments.
And for my home, the business school, it’s hard to see that we are in any better position post-Benson as pre-Benson.
Part of that is that Benson succeeded in getting us designated by the state as its liberal arts university. Not great for the business school, but this fits our campus environment and our reputation across the state. I wish that came with a bunch of money to upgrade our liberal arts faculty, who are notably weak in some areas.
Athletic programs benefitted greatly under Benson, and he was very honest that he wanted them upgraded. Most academics bristle at this, but I see it as a good thing: high school students just don’t come to a place like SUU because of the sparkling classroom performance of professors like me.
When Benson was selected for us in late 2006, I wasn’t that happy, And after I poked around a bit, I found conflicting views. I give him a lot of credit for calling me up, noting that his sister had told him he should read what I said about him on my blog, and then coming over to my office for a private chat to give me his sales pitch.
On the whole, I’d put him in the 70th percentile for university presidents I’ve been exposed to (you can view Benson's CV here). He raised more than enough money, he didn’t have any major scandals, he kept out of academics, and he got us some more visibility.
But I don’t think he did much of anything, and we may have even lost ground on a dimension that I brought up at the start of his tenure:
[One of my problems] is that we are the uppity school in the state system; the one that is growing fastest, the one piling up shiny new top-level accreditations, the one beating the pants off a politically connected but academically weaker nearby 4-year college. This choice smells strongly of the Regents not wanting to be bothered with us.
Six years later, we’re growing, but not the fastest. Our shiny new accreditations haven’t led to any groundswell in attendance (other than what we could pick up when everyone went back to school in 2009). And we’re still getting are butts kicked by, what is now Dixie State University, even though the state seems content to give them a name that matches the status we can back up with academics, without giving them the financial support to upgrade the academics that are supposed to go along with that name.
That was SUU’s biggest threat, it continues to be SUU’s biggest threat, and none of that changed under Benson’s tenure.