Journal-Times (Grayson, KY)

May 15, 2013

EKU Regents also lose touch with reality


Journal-Times

May 15, 2013 —     We criticized Murray State University’s Board of Regents for not doing the public’s business openly regarding the future of President Randy Dunn.

    Then we criticized the University of Kentucky for its lack of transparency in responding to inquiries from the news media about issues in the College of Medicine.

    Today, we direct our criticism at Eastern Kentucky University Board of Regents for demoralizing an entire institution through the hiring of a new president.

    Dr. Michael Benson, EKU’s incoming 12th president, may feel more like a rock star or a pro football coach with this compensation package:

    •$400,000 annual salary, as compared with $250,000 for the president he is replacing.

    •A housing allowance of $4,000 monthly to live anywhere in Madison County he chooses instead of EKU’s official presidential residence, Blanton House, now considered unfit for habitation despite the fact that the outgoing president still lives there.

    •Up to $120,000 yearly in performance bonuses tied to retention of students, graduation rates, etc.

    •Full tuition for his three children to attend Model Laboratory School, EKU’s private K-12 school, the last one operating on a public campus in Kentucky.

    •$25,000 annually as a personal discretionary fund, apparently to spend however he chooses.

    •All moving expenses in relocating from Cedar City, Utah, to Richmond, Ky.

    •A leased or university-owned automobile of his choosing.

    Benson, who won’t take office until Aug. 1, has been president of Southern Utah University where he helped raise $90 million in six years at the helm.

    However, if a president is expected to set the example, EKU’s faculty and staff members might be the unhappiest folks in American public higher education.

    His first official act, just last week, was to announce a 10 percent budget cut, totaling $23 million, including the elimination of several jobs and dropping of some academic programs.

    EKU’s board chair defended the compensation package, saying it was within national averages for an institution with 15,500 students.

    He also said it reflected the board’s expectation that Benson will raise substantial amounts of private money for EKU to improve salaries and increase scholarships.

    At the same time, Benson announced that he and his wife and some friends had contributed $100,000 to endow a new scholarship fund at EKU.

    After several years of little, if any, increase in pay and automatic tuition hikes each year to counter declining state support, EKU’s employees and students may be slow to embrace their new, well-paid leader.

    Who could blame them?