Eastern Kentucky University's new president will get a $400,000 salary

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

Michael Benson, the incoming president of Eastern Kentucky University, will make $400,000 a year, and he'll receive a housing allowance, a car and deferred compensation.

Benson's contract also offers him the opportunity to get performance bonuses worth as much as $120,000.

The EKU Board of Regents unanimously approved the compensation package Tuesday. Benson, who is president of Southern Utah University, will start as EKU's 12th president on Aug. 1.

Outgoing President Doug Whitlock makes $250,000 a year.

Craig Turner, chairman of the board, defended the salary decision, which comes shortly after the board approved a $23 million cut in EKU's 2013-14 budget, which will result in employee and program reductions. The cut represents 10 percent of the school's annual budget.

"Dr. Benson's salary and benefits are certainly within national averages for chief executive officers that manage an operation as large and comprehensive as EKU," Turner said in a statement. "His compensation reflects the board's highest expectations of him to successfully frame and execute a comprehensive fund- and friend-raising campaign that will lead to improved salaries and benefits for Eastern's faculty and staff and scholarship support for its students," along with other improvements.

Benson's four-year contract allows the board to award bonuses worth as much as 20 percent of Benson's base salary based on factors including student retention and graduation rates. The board can award another bonus of no more than 10 percent of his base salary for increased enrollment and improvement of EKU's financial stability.

The contract says that Blanton House, the traditional presidential residence, is unfit for use, so EKU will provide $4,000 a month for a mortgage and household expenses in Madison County. EKU also will pay for his three children's tuition at the Model Laboratory School on EKU's campus and all moving expenses from Utah. He will get a $25,000 annual discretionary fund.

Benson's contract to lead the 15,500-student school makes him one of the state's best-paid university presidents. University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto makes a base salary of $500,000 at a school of nearly 30,000 students. Western Kentucky University President Gary Ransdell makes $423,588 overseeing 21,000 students. Morehead State University President Wayne Andrews receives $268,000 at a school of 11,000 students.

Benson's hiring has been attributed in part to his fundraising profile at Southern Utah, where he helped raise $90 million in private support during the past six years. Benson is a grandson of Ezra Taft Benson, the 13th president of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Also Tuesday, Benson announced that he and his wife, Debi, had endowed a $50,000 scholarship at EKU and raised another $50,000 from friends and supporters.

"We want this to be a lead gift in EKU's soon-to-be-announced comprehensive campaign as a way to indicate that the Bensons are 'all in' and ready to garner additional support from friends and donors," Benson said. "We intend to build on what has already been given to Eastern through private donations but will also work to develop additional resources and hope others will join us in this effort."

Half of Benson's gift will be directed to need-based financial aid for students in EKU's 22-county service region; the other half will be allocated to the Model Lab School to use at its discretion for financial aid for students and families.

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