Colorado Editorials

The Colorado Springs Gazette: CU’s Benson, a leader hard to replace

Author: The Colorado Springs Gazette Editorial Board - July 19, 2018 - Updated: July 19, 2018

University of Colorado President Bruce Benson on Wednesday announced his retirement, effective in a year. Benson celebrated his 10-year presidential anniversary in March, and turned 80 on the Fourth of July.

Benson has disrupted and reinvented higher education in a manner other universities hope to replicate.

The CU Board of Regents hired Benson under a barrage of opposition. He was a Republican, an oil executive, and nothing like the establishment academicians typically hired to oversee colleges and universities.

Benson took the helm as CU recovered from athletic date-rape scandals, University Hill riots, alcohol poisonings, racially motivated hate crimes, faculty drug orgies, and an annual pot festival that generated national media images of smoke wafting over stoned students skipping class. Ethnic Studies Professor Ward Churchill had embarrassed the school with everything from plagiarism charges, to claims of ancestral fraud, to a book comparing World Trade Center victims to Nazis.

Former U.S. Sen. Hank Brown quickly ended the circus when hired as CU president in 2005. Benson took the torch three years later, and ran with it. Benson ensured financial stability, grew enrollments and endowments, increased ideological and ethnic diversity, defended academic freedom, improved placement of graduates, and more.

He transformed a cautionary tale into higher education’s role model. Administrative teams from other colleges and universities travel to meet Benson and his staff to learn how this is done. They want and need what Benson has achieved.

A few examples:

• Grew fundraising to more than $425 million, up from $135 million when Benson took office.

• Helped lead the growth of the CU Anschutz Medical Campus, renewal and expansion of the medical school faculty, and ennhancment of the programs at the University of Colorado Hospital — which now ranks 15th out of 5,000 U.S. hospitals.

• Grew endowment to $1.2 billion, twice the $640 million of 10 years ago.

• Grew internally generated financial aid to $184 million, up from $88 million in 2008.

• Doubled the overall budget, even as state funding substantially declined.

• Enacted partnerships with industry, increasing faculty inspired patents and new businesses based on CU technology

• Increased research funding from $660 million to $1.2 billion.

• Oversaw unprecedented growth at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs, which ranks among the fastest growing campuses in the country.

• Increased overall enrollment from 54,174 to 65,375.

We could go on, but would never fit an exhaustive list of positive 10-year indicators into one editorial. We cannot find key cultural, academic, or economic indicators that have not improved under Benson.

Meanwhile, too many other state universities head the other direction with dropping enrollments, declining student outcomes, poor placement rates for graduates, dwindling revenues, and threats to academic freedom and intellectual diversity.

“Bruce Benson has been one of the most effective presidents in the university’s storied history,” said Sue Sharkey, chair of the Board of Regents.” True, and we believe he ranks among a the most effective university presidents in all of contemporary higher education.

Benson largely credits his wife, Marcy.

“She is a partner in every sense of the word, and she has supported me throughout my tenure,” Benson said. “I could not do this job without her.

The Board of Regents deserves great accolades for hiring Benson, and keeping him for 11 years by the time he leaves. The regents have an opportunity to quickly search for another inventive leader of Benson’s stature, to carry on his legacy of enhancing funding, innovation, academic freedom, campus diversity, and overall outcomes for students.

We hope his replacement continues defending and enhancing CU’s brand, and the degrees it confers.

The Colorado Springs Gazette Editorial Board