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May 25, 2013

Benson will be state’s third highest paid university president

RICHMOND — When Michael Benson begins his tenure as the 12th president of Eastern Kentucky University on Aug. 1, his $400,000 salary plus benefits will make him Kentucky’s third-highest paid state university president.

Benson’s pay will be less only than that of Eli Capilouto, president of the University of Kentucky, $500,000 a year, and Gary Ransdell, president of Western Kentucky University, $423,588 a year, according to figures obtained from the state Council on Post-secondary education.

A large gap falls between the salaries of the EKU, WKU and UK presidents and those of other state university leaders.

After Benson, the highest-paid president in Kentucky is Geoffrey Mearns of Northern Kentucky University, $350,000 a year. The enrollments of NKU and EKU, roughly the same at just under 16,000, are significantly lower than UK or WKU’s, approximately 30,000 and 21,000 respectively.

Terry Hartle, senior vice president for government and public affairs at the American Council on Education in Washington D.C., said than although Benson is receiving a larger salary that most of his Kentucky counterparts, he is still receiving less than the median salary of university presidents nationwide.

Hartle pointed to an article from the Chronicle of Higher Education WHICH showed the median salary for a university president in 2011-2012 was $441,392. According to Hartle, salaries have been rising recently for those at the helm of universities because the selection process has changed.

“Selecting university presidents is very different from what it used to be only a few years ago,” Hartle said. “Now it’s a national, if not international search. You’re not just competing with Northern Kentucky and Western Kentucky; you’re competing with schools everywhere.”

Hartle said in the past, the president of a university was traditionally the senior-most member of the faculty. Presidential selections were more local and therefore not as competitive. However, the state of the economy within the last decade has caused schools to focus heavily on finding presidents who can bring in outside support for their institutions.

“College presidents are lasered to be focused on raising money and student enrollment,” Hartle said. “He (Benson) had been a successful president at another institution. He had a good job there, he was loved. To get him to relocate will take some money.”

The salary represents a large spike in what EKU presidents have been paid in the past. Benson’s immediate predecessor, Doug Whitlock, made $259,335 a year during his time as president, and the president before Whitlock, Joanne Glasser, made $175,000 during her time as president from 2001-2007.

The benefits included in the contracts for Benson, Whitlock and Glasser have all been similar. The packages include a vehicle, reimbursement for official travel expenses, insurance and university-paid membership at the Arlington country club.

Traditionally, EKU presidents have lived at the Blanton House, located at the corner of Lancaster Avenue and Crabbe Street. However, Benson’s contract states the Blanton House is “presently unfit for use as a residence for Dr. Benson, his spouse and three young children.”

EKU spokesperson Marc Whitt said Benson’s decision to not live in Blanton House was two-fold.

“With having three young children there are safety concerns with how busy Lancaster Avenue is,” Whitt said. “The size of the house is an issue as well. I don’t know when a family that size lived there.”

As an alternative, Benson and EKU came to an agreement that will provide Bensonan allowance of $4,000 a month to pay a mortgage and “general household necessity payments” at a different house in Madison County.

According to a document from the Council on Postsecondary Education, the benefits package at EKU lines up with packages at other universities in the state, including UK and WKU.

In addition to the benefits listed, Capilouto also receives technology support in the form of a Blackberry cell phone and mobile computer. Ransdell additionally receives part-time housekeeping services.

In an earlier statement, EKU Regents Chair Craig Turner said he believes Benson to be “the right man” to lead the university through the challenges it faces.

Benson has the skills to run “a comprehensive fund- and friend-raising campaign that will lead to improved salaries and benefits for Eastern’s faculty and staff and scholarship support for its students,” Turner said.

He expects Benson to: “improve and maximize town-gown relationships and public-private partnerships; enhance Eastern’s efforts to recruit, retain and graduate qualified students; and to forge strong relationships in Frankfort and Washington that will develop or advance regionally-based economic development conditions.”

Seth Littrell can be reached at slittrell@richmondregister.com or 624-6623.

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