The Eastern Kentucky University Board of Regents has unanimously approved the salary and benefits for its incoming president, Dr. Michael T. Benson, announced Board Chair Craig Turner. Benson will begin his tenure as Eastern’s 12th president on Aug. 1.
Benson, 48, will receive an annual salary of $400,000 along with benefits, including a housing allowance, car and deferred compensation, in addition to a longevity and performance clause.
Current EKU President Doug Whitlock makes $250,000 a year.
“As I have said many times, Dr. Benson is the ‘right fit’ for Eastern,” said Turner. “Excellent leadership demands a competitive salary and compensation. We must accept the reality that institutions like Eastern not only compete with colleges and universities across the nation and world, but with corporations, too, that are establishing their own ‘universities.’
“Dr. Benson’s distinguished record of success as an innovative executive is impressive and well recognized among peers and colleagues,” Turner said.
The board chair noted that Benson has devoted himself to students and their academic success, is an accomplished communicator and scholar committed to diversity and expanding global academic opportunities, and is a proven financial manager who will develop and sustain political and external support for EKU.
“Eastern is at the tipping point of an exciting next chapter to its rich history,” said Turner. “With a highly committed and caring faculty, and so many other attributes and successes upon which to build, the board of regents is convinced that Dr. Benson has the exemplary set of skills, professional expertise and vast experience to refine EKU’s identity and to move the institution forward.
“Dr. Benson’s salary and benefits are certainly within national averages for chief executive officers that manage an operation as large and comprehensive as EKU,” Turner continued.
“His compensation reflects the Board’s highest expectations of him to successfully frame and execute 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; 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 coalitions.
“EKU is working through budgetary challenges caused by the recent recession and reduced state funding. As a result, Eastern is reallocating 10 percent of its budget to strengthen core programs, salary stagnation, recruitment and retention of top-level faculty and program realignment. Dr. Benson is eager to diligently work with the Board and faculty and staff to examine and address these and other issues.”
Turner described Eastern as a “treasured jewel within the communities it serves” and said Benson has the opportunity to broaden and solidify much-needed external support, to operate within a framework of transparency and accountability, to foster regional stewardship, and to position the University as a financially strong, proactive and strategic partner.
Relative to his contract and his imminent start at Eastern, Benson said: “My family and I are honored to be given this incredibly exciting opportunity at EKU. We are thrilled to become part of the Richmond community and are eager to begin work on many of the initiatives currently underway and those we want to launch.”
Benson has stated repeatedly that one such effort is a comprehensive campaign to raise private dollars for the University.
Given Benson’s experience in helping raise $90 million in private support during the “Future is Rising” campaign at Southern Utah University over the past six years, he and his wife Debi announced today a $50,000 commitment to create a scholarship endowment.
“We want this to be a lead gift in EKU’s soon-to-be-announced comprehensive campaign as a way to indicate that the Bensons are ‘all in’ and ready to garner additional support from friends and donors,” he said. We intend to build on what has already been given to Eastern through private donations but will also work to develop additional resources and hope others will join us in this effort.”
Half of Benson’s gift will be directed to need-based financial aid for students in EKU’s 22-county service region; the other half will be allocated to the Model Lab School to use at its discretion for financial aid for students and families.
“We are committed to both EKU and Model’s success and will do all in our power to help them grow and thrive.”
Benson has already sprinted out of the gates by securing an additional $50,000 from friends and supporters to double the amount of the scholarship endowment to $100,000. “This is just the beginning,” he promised.