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Benson sworn in as the third president of CCU

December 14, 2021

Michael T. Benson was sworn in as the third president of Coastal Carolina University during a ceremony held on the front steps of the Edward M. Singleton Building at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 14. Benson took office on Jan. 1, 2021, and also holds the title of professor of history at CCU.

The University was founded in 1954. Since becoming an independent institution in 1993, Coastal Carolina has installed three presidents: Ronald R. Ingle, who served from 1993 to 2007; and David A. DeCenzo, Ph.D., who served from 2007 to 2020; and Benson.

Presiding over the swearing-in ceremony was Justice Kaye G. Hearn of the South Carolina Supreme Court. In 2009, she became only the second woman in history to be elected to the state’s highest court. The Bible used during the ceremony, which was held by Benson’s wife, Debi, was given to him by his parents in 1980. They were surrounded by their three children: Truman, Tatum, and Talmage, as well as Benson’s eldest son, Samuel.

During the ceremony, representatives from six of the University’s constituencies offered greetings. They were Barbara Blain-Bellamy, mayor of Conway; Kevin Cox, president of the CCU Alumni Association; Brianna Martin, president of the Student Government Association; Sandy Baldridge-Adrian, president of the Staff Senate; Brian Bunton, chair of the Faculty Senate; and H. Delan Stevens, chairman of the CCU board of trustees. The charge was offered by Natasha Hanna, vice chairman of the CCU board of trustees.

Benson will deliver his inauguration remarks the University’s commencement exercises today at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. in the HTC Center. During his brief remarks at the swearing-in ceremony, Benson thanked the trustees and all those who extended greetings and welcomes.

“I am humbled to stand before you today,” Benson said. “These ceremonies are not about Michael Benson. They are about our graduating students and the inspiring trajectory of this amazing institution. That my family and I have a role as historical markers along this path is truly an honor.

“We are assembled together in the shadow of the Singleton Building. Dr. Edward Marion ‘Dick’ Singleton served first as director and later chancellor of USC Coastal Carolina College from 1963 until his retirement in 1983. Before coming to Coastal, Dr. Singleton was employed with the Conway Public School System as a teacher, coach, principal, and superintendent of the Conway City Schools.

“He was, literally, present at the creation of the institution we know today as Coastal Carolina University. Writing of the experience in a memoir in the early 1970s, Chancellor Singleton reflected back on what happened when an intrepid group of townspeople gathered in 1954 to found a higher education institution. He wrote: ‘It was a unified, determined effort by the populace to achieve a goal. The secret to this success story was that all the people of Horry County were involved. No big foundation led the way. The rich, the poor, the elite, the laboring; the intellectual and the deprived all joined hands in a single effort.’

“Just as this gathering today is an inspiring cross-section of our community, the founding of this place was a collective effort by everyone. What happened here was the physical manifestation of a favorite quote of mine from George Washington Carver: ‘Start where you are, with what you have. Make something of it and never be satisfied.’

“The founders started with what they had and made something of it. The implementation of their vision is all around us. Our task is to build on that foundation and never be satisfied. And that is what we will do.

“Thank you again for this singular honor … and Go Chants!”

Prior to his arrival on the CCU campus, Benson served as president at three other institutions: Eastern Kentucky University (2013 to 2020), where he was named president emeritus; Southern Utah University (2007 to 2013); and Snow College (2001 to 2006) in Ephraim, Utah. When he was appointed president of Snow College at age 36, Benson was the youngest college president in the history of the Utah System of Higher Education.

Benson’s background includes membership on the Council of Presidents of the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, on the Presidents’ Trust for the Association of American Colleges and Universities, and on the Task Force on University Partnerships of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. He has chaired multiple substantive change committees for universities in Texas, Georgia, Florida, and North Carolina for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Active in intercollegiate athletics, Benson completed a four-year term as a member of the nine-person NCAA Honors Committee, the group charged with awarding the NCAA’s highest recognitions each year. He is also a past chair of the Presidents’ Council for the Ohio Valley Conference and was elected as representative for the Ohio Valley Conference on the NCAA Division I Presidential Forum. In November 2021, Benson was named the FBS presidential representative on the 13-person NCAA Board of Governors Committee to Promote Cultural Diversity and Equity.

Born in Utah and raised in Texas and Indiana, Benson has worked and studied abroad for seven years in Italy, England, and Israel. He earned his bachelor’s degree cum laude from Brigham Young University in 1990 with a major in political science and double minors in English and history. He completed his doctorate in modern 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 nonprofit administration in 2011 from the University of Notre Dame Mendoza College of Business, where he was the recipient of the prestigious Father Theodore Hesburgh Founder’s Award. Benson graduated with a Master of Liberal Arts from Johns Hopkins University in August 2021.

Benson’s scholarly work has focused on the development of the research university and its impact on society. His forthcoming book, Gilman at Hopkins: The Birth of the Modern American Research University, will be released by Johns Hopkins University Press in 2022.

Benson and his wife, Debi, are the parents of three children – Truman, Tatum, and Talmage. He also has two older children from a previous marriage. Emma recently graduated from Brigham Young University and is a TV anchor in Idaho Falls, Idaho; and Samuel is a junior majoring in sociology and Spanish at BYU.