University President

Michael T. Benson, D.Phil.
President, Coastal Carolina University

President 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 fund supports 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. During Fall 2023, Benson will teach a graduate seminar on World War I. He has also taught a class on the history of the American university.

Actively involved in community service, Benson is a member of the Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce board of trustees. He worked closely with community partners to secure the renewal of the Horry County Penny Sales Tax, which supports local education. More than 68% of voters supported the tax in November 2022 that is now in place until 2039 and will provide over $300 million in capital funding for the University. In recognition of his service and commitment to local issues, Horry-Georgetown Technical College granted him the Distinguished Patron award in May 2023. 

Nationally, Benson serves on the Council of Presidents of the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, and as the FBS presidential representative on the NCAA Board of Governors Committee to Promote Cultural Diversity and Equity. He also is the board chair-elect of Omicron Delta Kappa, the national leadership honor society. Recently, he was appointed as a member of the education-focused advisory council for the Global Tech Security Commission.

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 latest book, Daniel Coit Gilman and the Birth of the American Research University, was released by Johns Hopkins University (JHU) Press in October 2022. He was a visiting professor in the Department of the History of Science and Technology at JHU in 2020. Benson’s biography of Gilman was named to the list of Best Higher Education Books of 2023 by Forbes magazine. 

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.

President Benson with his wife, Debi, and their children Talmage, Tatum, and Truman.

President Benson with his wife, Debi, and their children Talmage, Tatum, and Truman.

Born in Utah and raised in Texas and Indiana, Benson has worked and studied abroad for nearly 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 graduated with a Master of Liberal Arts from Johns Hopkins University in August 2021.

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 is a TV reporter for KSL in Salt Lake City, Utah; and Samuel is the national correspondent for the Deseret News, covering the 2024 presidential campaign and election.

Follow President Benson on Twitter @michaeltbenson


President Benson Talks About Daniel Coit Gilman Book