Michael T. Benson
Michael T. Benson, a veteran of higher education administration, became the third president of Coastal Carolina University on Jan. 1, 2021. He also holds the title of professor of history at the University.
Since his arrival, Benson has secured the largest donation in school history: a $10 million gift from Conway Medical Center. The endowed funds support the University’s newest college – the Conway Medical Center College of Health and Human Performance – that opened on July 1, 2022. In May 2022, he led the groundbreaking ceremony for the Thompson Library, a $29.8 million, two-story, 64,000-square-foot facility. Benson established the President’s Council for Sustainability and Coastal Resilience, which is charged with transforming CCU into a more sustainable campus, centering sustainability in the University’s curriculum and student services, and serving the surrounding communities to build toward a sustainable future. He serves as the FBS presidential representative on the NCAA Board of Governors Committee to Promote Cultural Diversity and Equity. In Spring 2022, he taught an upper-level course: History of the American University.
Benson is president emeritus at Eastern Kentucky University, where he served as the 13th president from 2013 to 2020. Prior to EKU, Benson was the 15th president of Southern Utah University. He helped secure SUU’s designation as the state’s public liberal arts and sciences university; established the Hispanic Center for Academic Excellence; gained admission into the Big Sky Conference for all athletic teams; and directed the development and implementation of SUU’s largest comprehensive fundraising effort, which raised a record $105 million.
Benson also served for five years as the 14th president of Snow College in Ephraim, Utah, where he helped raise more private money for the institution during his tenure than had been secured in the previous 115 years of the college’s history combined. Appointed at age 36, Benson was the youngest college president in the history of the Utah System of Higher Education.
His scholarly work has focused on the development of the research university and its impact on society. Benson’s most recent book, Daniel Coit Gilman and the Birth of the American Research University, was published by Johns Hopkins University Press in October 2022 and has received strong reviews. Jonathan Cole, the John Mitchell Mason Professor of the University, and former Provost and Dean of Faculties at Columbia University wrote:
“With the opening of Johns Hopkins University in 1876, a century after Independence, the American research university was born. The force behind the great transformation was Hopkins’ founding President, Daniel Coit Gilman. Until now too little has been written about Gilman. Now, finally, Michael T. Benson has written the definitive biography of the man who changed our educational paradigm almost single-handedly. Gilman started the revolution.
With grace, insight, and rich description, Benson takes us along on the travels of Gilman. This book will allow you to rethink the history of the culture, values, and individual creativity that allowed our research universities to produce scholars and scientists of the first rank. Many of these people made pathbreaking, innovative, and useful discoveries produced at our universities from the last quarter of the 19th century until today. This book should be read by anyone interested in the history of education and the evolution of American society.”
Benson is regularly sought after for public speeches and appearances. He was a featured contributor to the Huffington Post for five years; has written articles for The Jerusalem Post, Lexington Herald-Leader, Louisville Courier Journal, The Kansas City Star, Deseret News, and The Salt Lake Tribune, among others; and appeared on ESPN’s The Paul Finebaum Show.
Born in Utah and raised in Texas and Indiana, Benson has worked and studied abroad for seven years in Italy, England, and Israel. He graduated cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in political science and double minors in English and history from Brigham Young University in 1990. 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 also completed a Master of Liberal Arts from Johns Hopkins University in 2021, where he was initiated into the Association of Graduate Liberal Studies Programs National Honor Society.
An accomplished athlete, Benson played basketball at both BYU and Oxford, and his best marathon time – 2 hours and 41 minutes – won his age division in the St. George (Utah) Marathon, one of the largest marathons in the U.S. He also finished among the top 15% of all runners in the 1984 Boston Marathon.
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 graduated from Brigham Young University and is a TV anchor in Idaho Falls, Idaho; and Samuel is a senior majoring in sociology and Spanish at BYU.
Follow President Benson on Twitter @michaeltbenson