BOULDER, Colo. (CBS4) – When Bruce Benson became president of the University of Colorado in 2008 he never expected he’d go on to become the longest serving CU president in more than six decades.

“Did you think you’d be here 11 years later?” CBS4 Political Specialist Shaun Boyd asked the retiring 81-year-old president.

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“Absolutely not,” Benson said.

The CU Board of Regents split on the vote to approve Benson, which was the first time that had happened in 30 years. There was a lot of anger and resentment on the Boulder campus about the oil mogul and Republican operative, but since taking over he has made the university system a better place by virtually every measure.

The school was mired in controversy when Benson came onto the scene. The cloud of a football recruiting scandal a few years earlier was still hanging over CU, and there was national outrage over the remarks of Professor Ward Churchill, who compared some Sept. 11 victims with a Nazi. Its approval rating hovered around 25%. (It’s now 75%.)

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Enrollment is up, including minority students, fundraising has tripled and research funding has nearly doubled. CU also generates almost twice as much financial aid as it used to.

(Photo by Marc Piscotty/Getty Images)

“What are you most proud of over these 11 years?” Boyd asked.

“Cultural change,” Benson said. “Get people to collaborate. To work together. To respect each other. Hear all points of view. Have political diversity.”

That was the very thing he promised when he took office.

Benson says Mark Kennedy, his successor, will have a healthy list of things to work on that he had to leave unfinished. It includes building the south campus in Boulder.

“My final words are this is truly a great and amazing institution and I’m really proud to have been part of it,” Benson said.

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Benson established a visiting conservative scholar program at CU’s Center for Western Civilization, Thought & Policy. The Board of Recents recently announced they will name the center it after him. (It will now be known as the Bruce D. Benson Center for the Study of Western Civilization.)

Benson often says it is important to teach students how to think, not what to think.

At this point, Benson said he isn’t sure what he plans to do in retirement.

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