Eastern Kentucky University regents meet to select president Friday

Michael T. Benson. Photo provided by EKU
Michael T. Benson. Photo provided by EKU photo provided by EKU

Eastern Kentucky University could have a new president by the end of the day Friday.

The university Board of Regents and the EKU Presidential Search and Screening Committee have scheduled a joint special meeting for 10 a.m. Friday to consider three candidates.

EKU spokesman Marc Whitt said it's expected that the regents will first meet with members of the presidential search committee behind closed doors, then make the final selection in open session.

There are three finalists for the post: Alan T. Shao, business school dean at the College of Charleston; Michael T. Benson, president of Southern Utah University; and Gregg Lassen, vice president for finance at Lamar University.

All three have visited the EKU campus over the past few days to visit with faculty members and others.

The finalists are vying to become the university's 12th president, succeeding Doug Whitlock, who is retiring effective July 1 after leading EKU for six years.

The board's decision comes as Eastern is undertaking job reductions and program cuts to save money.

While it is anybody's guess which way the regents might vote Friday, comments posted online over the past few days indicate that EKU faculty members favor either Benson or Shao.

On Thursday, the Kentucky School News and Commentary blog posted a copy of a letter to the regents from EKU's Chairs Association Steering Committee, stating that committee members and other department heads think Lassen would be "wholly unsuitable" as the new president.

The association is made up of EKU department heads.

The letter cited questions about Lassen's background and academic experience and noted that he had changed jobs frequently. According to the letter, Lassen failed to calm those concerns when he met with department heads this week.

"Should he be chosen ... we fear that the faculty, staff and students will lack confidence in his leadership," the chairs association letter said.

Richard Day, an EKU professor who runs the school news and commentary blog, said Thursday that Eastern's faculty senate executive committee also had sent a letter to the presidential search committee.

"If the faculty had their way, our next president would be either Benson or Shao," Day said.

An earlier posting on the blog said some faculty members questioned the academic quality of Lassen's dissertation for his doctorate in international affairs.

Malcolm Frisbie, faculty representative on the EKU Board of Regents, said Thursday that he was aware that some reservations about Lassen had been expressed. But he declined to pick a frontrunner for president.

"I don't want to handicap the race at this point. I'm going to wait and let the process play out," Frisbie said.

"We are still looking at input from faculty and staff, and input from the community is being made available to the committee and the board. We need to take all that into account, get together and discuss the candidates."

Frisbie said he's looking forward to the selection.

"We have good candidates ... we're in a good spot," he said. It's exciting to be part of this."

EKU candidates

 Michael T. Benson holds a bachelor's from Brigham Young University and a doctorate from Oxford University and is author of a book about President Harry S. Truman and the founding of Israel. He was a special assistant at the University of Utah and president of Snow College before becoming president of Southern Utah University in 2006. His grandfather, Ezra Taft Benson, was 13th president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

 Gregg Lassen holds a bachelor's from the University of Wisconsin, a law degree from the University of Houston, an MBA from the University of Wisconsin, and a doctorate from the University of Southern Mississippi. He has worked in private industry and dabbled in politics. Lassen held posts at the University of Phoenix, University of Southern Mississippi, and University of Texas-Tyler before becoming vice president at Lamar University in Texas. He was an unsuccessful candidate to become president at Lamar.

 Alan T. Shao holds a bachelor's and MBA from Old Dominion University and a doctorate in marketing from the University of Alabama. He held various posts at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte before becoming dean of business at South Carolina's College of Charleston in 2009. He also has been a distinguished professor there. Shao has consulted for private companies, including Hendrick Motorsports, a NASCAR racing organization.

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader