February 28, 1965, as the youngest of six, to Mark and Lela Benson in Salt Lake City, Utah
Michael T. Benson was appointed 15th President of Southern Utah University by the Utah State Board of Regents on November 10, 2006. Born in Salt Lake City, Utah, the youngest of six children to Mark and Lela Benson, Michael was raised in Dallas, Texas, Indiana, and Utah.
In addition to serving as President, Dr. Benson holds the rank of full professor within the Department of Political Science. He has taught at Brigham Young University, the University of Utah, Snow College, and SUU in the following areas: international conflict, theories of international relations, comparative politics, American history, the U.S. Presidency, and public administration. Michael also holds an appointment as professor (adjunct) within the Department of Management at the Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame, where he teaches a course on public policy.
Benson has nearly twenty years of administrative experience in higher education, over a decade of which has been spent as an institutional president. Prior to his tenure at SUU, Michael was the 14th president of Snow College. Age 36 at the time of his appointment, he is the youngest college or university president in the history of the Utah System of Higher Education. Benson is former chair of the Executive Committee of the Utah State Campus Compact, part of a national coalition of nearly 1,000 college and university presidents representing over five million students committed to fulfilling the civic purposes of higher education. Before his service at Snow, Dr. Benson was special assistant to the president and secretary to the University of Utah, a cabinet-level position on that campus. Among his responsibilities at Utah, Michael led the University’s federal lobbying efforts. During the end of his tenure on campus, he was instrumental in landing a $2.5 million grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts for the establishment of a Center for Campaign Finance Reform. The funds Michael and his colleagues secured for the Center marked the first ever grant from the Pew Trusts for non-medical related research ever awarded to the University of Utah.
A trained historian with a specialty in the modern Middle East, Benson authored Harry S. Truman and the Founding of Israel (Praeger), hailed as a landmark work in the area of U.S. foreign policy and presidential history. Dr. Benson’s expertise in Middle Eastern history has led to several consulting contracts, including work as an academic advisor and essayist for the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles and service as a consulting historian and essayist for the Harry S. Truman Library in Independence, Missouri. He is regularly sought after for speaking engagements on the modern Middle East and is a frequent contributor to newspapers and other publications. Given his acumen relative to the region, Dr. Benson leads regular tours to Israel and Egypt and has twice been invited to the United Arab Emirates as a guest of the Chancellor for Higher Education for global conferences and presentations in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Benson has extensive international experience, having worked and studied abroad for seven years in Italy, England, and Israel. Michael is also a regular contributor to the Huffington Post as a featured blogger in its section on higher education issues.
Dr. Benson helped Snow College raise more money in his five-year tenure as president than in the previous 117 years of the institution’s history combined. The highlight of these efforts was the 2003 dedication of the $19 million Eccles Center for the Performing Arts, the finest facility of its kind in all of central Utah. For his commitment to fine arts generally and to music specifically, the Utah Music Educators Association named Dr. Benson the 2005 “Administrator of the Year.” He holds the distinction as the only university or college president ever to have made two different institutions “All Steinway Schools” by securing over $1 million to purchase brand-new instruments for each campus and their respective music departments. A classically-trained pianist, Dr. Benson continues to practice and to perform in various venues. As an avid patron of the arts, he serves on the Board of Governors of the Utah Shakespeare Festival and is a past member of the Board of Directors of the Utah Humanities Council. Currently, Michael is leading efforts at SUU to raise $30 million for the Southern Utah Center for the Arts; to date, over $26 million of the required amount has been secured.
During the 2009 Utah legislative session, Benson was successful in procuring state support for SUU’s Science Center – an expanded undergraduate classroom and laboratory complex totaling nearly $20 million in new construction. This project, coupled with a new student housing complex which opened in August 2009, totals more than $30 million in state funds (including revenue bonds) directed to Southern Utah University for new infrastructure during President Benson’s tenure. These state resources for bricks and mortar have been augmented by $9 million in private donations and more than $2 million of federal funds for these two facilities alone.
Michael has also directed the development and implementation of SUU’s largest and most ambitious comprehensive campaign, The Future is Rising. Over $75 million of the $100 million goal has already been raised and pledged. In October 2012, Michael announced the largest gift in the University’s history – $5 million from the family of Ralph Engelstad – for the construction of a new Shakespeare Theatre. This news came on the heels of a $4 million gift from the family of Walter and Alice Gibson to establish a scholarship and research endowment within the College of Science and Engineering.
Michael is a past member of the Zions Bank Central Utah Board of Advisors and currently serves on the Wells Fargo Southwest Utah Board of Advisors, in addition to being on the Regional Advisory Board for Rocky Mountain Power. Active in various community activities, Michael is a member of the Cedar City Rotary Club and member of the Cedar City Airport’s Board of Advisors. He is a former member of the Advisory Council at the Center for Policy Analysis, a research component of the American Council on Education (ACE) based in Washington, D.C. Michael also serves on the Presidents’ Trust for the Association of American Colleges and Universities. In 2009, Governor Jon M. Huntsman named Benson to the seven-member Utah Appellate Courts Nominating Commission. Utah Business magazine picked Michael as one of the “40 Under 40” rising stars in Utah in 2003, and the January 2011 issue of Utah Business listed him among the “100 Most Influential People in Utah.”
Dr. Benson is past chair of the Presidents’ Council for the Summit League, SUU’s former Division I athletic conference. During his tenure, the League added two additional member institutions, thus expanding its academic and athletic footprint. SUU joined the Big Sky Conference in all sponsored sports in July 2012 and shortly thereafter, Michael was elected Vice Chair of the Presidents’ Council of the Big Sky.
An accomplished athlete, Michael has completed several marathons, including the Boston Marathon, with his fastest time (2:41) winning his age division in the St. George Marathon and finishing just minutes shy of the qualifying time for the 1984 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials. As an undergraduate at Brigham Young, Michael was a member of the 1988 Junior Varsity Basketball Team. He has also participated in the world’s oldest collegiate rivalry, leading the Oxford Blues Basketball Team as a player/coach over Cambridge University in the 1994 Varsity Match. Michael currently maintains a 5 handicap in his favorite sport, golf.
Benson and his wife Debi (Woods) are the parents of three young children: Truman, Tatum, and Talmage. Michael is also the father of Emma (15) and Samuel (13). He earned his B.A. cum laude from Brigham Young University with a major in political science and double minor in English and history. He completed his doctorate in modern Middle Eastern 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 2011 from the Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame in non-profit administration. Upon completion of his studies at Notre Dame, Michael was named the recipient of the prestigious Father Theodore Hesburgh Founder’s Award. This honor is given to the student within the master’s of non-profit administration program, as determined by the faculty, who demonstrates superior leadership and scholarship.