By Alan Gionet
DENVER (CBS4) – Ten years after taking the helm of the vast University of Colorado system, Bruce Benson announced plans Tuesday to retire in July of 2019.
“There’s just a point in your life you say ‘Enough’s enough,’” said Benson. “We’re moving on. We’ve got great things going on. Another year to clean up all the rest of the stuff, and I’ve got a partner right here and she’s involved in everything we do.”
That partner Marcy, his wife of nearly 25 years, sat next to Benson as he explained his departure.
“I guess they thought he would stay until he’s 90, but we’ve been saying for a long time that was not going to happen,” said Marcy Benson.
Benson leaves with a long list of achievements under his watch. All four CU campuses have expanded. The reputation of CU has been lifted. It’s financial position, on more solid ground. Research funding is up from $660 million to over a billion. The university’s endowment is up from $640 million to $1.2 billion.
Fundraising has tripled to more than $400 million. Internally generated financial aid has more than doubled to $184 million. Minority enrollment is at 29 percent, up from 18 percent 10 years ago. While state funding of the CU system is down, the economic impact of the university on the state is up by billions to $8.3 billion.
Benson arrived in 2008 with a background in politics and the oil business. Benson had also headed the Republican party in Colorado and was an unsuccessful party nominee for governor against Roy Romer in 1994.
His signature at CU became bringing together different interests.
“You’ve got to learn to collaborate and work together,” he said. “It’s something I talk about all the time is teamwork. And I think we have built this kind of sense of collaboration in this place and it’s a cultural change.”
He added some informality. “If you need to be called by a title, you probably shouldn’t have the title. I don’t want to be called by a title, my chancellors are all first name.”
Marcy observed, “So many people have decided I need to be the smartest person in the room or think they are. And he’s always saying we need somebody who knows more than I do. And I think it’s that lack of ego that makes that work.”
There have been difficult moments, including Benson’s move last year to suspend chancellor Phil DiStefano and reprimand football coach Mike MacIntyre and athletic director Rick George for their handling of allegations of domestic abuse against former assistant coach Joe Tumpkin.
Benson says his philosophy on solving problems is, “If you’ve got a problem find out what the problem is, figure out why you have the problem, figure out what you’re going to do to fix it, then figure out who’s going to talk about it. Because this place has been known to have three or four people putting out different renditions. You can’t operate that way.”
One task is partially complete. Benson believes the university should open its mind to more conservative thought.
“I say all the time, ‘You’ve got to teach kids how to think, not what to think.’ That’s the job we’ve got is to lay out all the facts and say ‘Make up your own minds. You may make up your own mind. You may not agree with me, and that’s fine.’”
He pushed the Center for Western Civilization, Thought and Policy, which has had five visiting scholars.
In retirement, he plans to spend some time in his downtown Denver oil business office. He has a year to complete his work. The Board of Regents will form a committee to take input from faculty, students, alumni and donors to recommend a replacement. The Board as a whole will have to approve.
Benson had no suggestions, but one comment. “Keep the damn thing going,” he said with a chuckle.