Presidential Finalists announced at EKU

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Updated: 3/18/2013 3:49 pm

RICHMOND, Ky. – Three finalists to become the 12th president of Eastern Kentucky University were announced today by the institution’s Presidential Search and Screening Committee.

The finalists are: Dr. Michael T. Benson, President of Southern Utah University; Dr. Gregg Lassen, Vice President for Finance and Operations, Lamar University; and Dr. Alan T. Shao, Dean of the School of Business, College of Charleston.

Each of the finalists will visit the University for tours and a series of meetings and forums. Benson will be on campus from Sunday evening, March 24 through noon on Tuesday, March 26. Shao will be on campus from Tuesday evening, March 26 through noon on Thursday, March 28. Lassen will be at EKU from Monday evening, April 1 until noon on Wednesday, April 3. A full itinerary of each finalist’s visit is posted at www.presidentialsearch.eku.edu/finalists. Each Presidential Candidate Open Forum will be viewable by live video stream at www.eku.edu.

"It is with great pride and excitement that we introduce the three finalists,” said Craig Turner, chair of both the EKU Presidential Search and Screening Committee and the University’s Board of Regents. “We are confident that all three of these candidates have the ability to lead this institution.”

The selection of the finalists follows “an extensive national search,” Turner noted. “This is an outstanding group of presidential finalists, each of whom has demonstrated proven leadership in all aspects of higher education administration, classroom instruction and scholarship. Drs. Benson, Lassen and Shao are each recognized by their respective institutions and constituencies to have the vision, fortitude, passion and leadership necessary to meet difficult and complex challenges and seize opportunities to take EKU to the next level of academic excellence. Additionally, the finalists have demonstrated an active and productive engagement in their respective communities and service regions by developing and enhancing business, industry, government and educational collaborations.”

Full biographies of each of the candidates can also be found at www.presidentialsearch.eku.edu/finalists. Abbreviated biographies of the finalists follow:

Dr. Michael T. Benson         

Benson has served as the 15th President of Southern Utah University since 2006. A Salt Lake City native who grew up in Texas, he has nearly 20 years of administrative experience in higher education, also including the presidency of Snow College.

While at Snow, Benson helped raise more money in his five-year tenure than in the previous 117 years of the institution’s history combined.  Currently, he is leading efforts at Southern Utah University to raise $30 million for the Southern Utah Center for the Arts; more than $28 million of that amount has been raised so far.

He has also directed the development and implementation of SUU’s largest and most ambitious comprehensive campaign, The Future is Rising. More than $85 million of the $100 million goal has already been raised or pledged. In December 2012, Dr. Benson announced the largest gift in the University’s history – $5 million – for the construction of a new Shakespeare Theatre. That news came on the heels of a $4 million gift to establish a scholarship and research endowment within the College of Science and Engineering.

During the 2009 Legislative session, Benson was successful in procuring state support for SUU’s Science Center – an expanded undergraduate classroom and laboratory complex totaling nearly $20 million in new construction.  

In 2011, Utah Business named Benson one of the “100 Most Influential People in Utah.”

Benson, who has worked and studied abroad for seven years in Italy, England and Israel, is also a regular contributor to the Huffington Post as a featured blogger on higher education issues.  His book, “Harry S. Truman and the Founding of Israel,” has been hailed as a landmark work in the area of American foreign policy and the U.S. presidency.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Brigham Young University, a master’s degree in non-profit administration from the Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame and a doctoral degree in Middle Eastern history from the University of Oxford (St. Anthony’s College).

Dr. Gregg Lassen

Dr. Gregg Lassen has served as Vice President for Finance and Operations for Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas, since February 2011. Previously, he served as Executive Vice President at the University of Texas at Tyler, and as Vice President for Finance at the University of Southern Mississippi.

Higher education is a second career for Lassen. He enjoyed 18 years in the energy industry in a variety of positions across all facets of the business, working for Amoco and then BP following the merger of those two companies. Among his duties were work in finance, audit, marketing, regulatory affairs, international business development, and management in both upstream and downstream divisions worldwide.

Lassen has developed a track record for strategic management and analysis at regional universities facing significant financial constraints. His work resulted in the successful implementation of cost-saving measures while simultaneously improving operational performance. 

At Lamar, he has led the University community through a new Campus Master Plan that includes a $15-million project to renovate an outdated, unused residence hall and convert it into offices for administrative services and a student service center.

While at the University of Texas at Tyler, he was responsible for Business Affairs. Student Affairs was later added to his administrative oversight, including the offices of admissions, registrar, and housing, and a Division III athletics program.

Also while at UT-Tyler, Lassen helped create a strategic enrollment management department and a one-stop shop for student services. He also led a committee and engaged a market research firm to enhance an understanding of the University’s brand and to improve its student recruiting performance in the Dallas metropolitan area.

He earned his bachelor’s and master’s of business administration degrees from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, a doctoral degree in political science and international affairs from the University of Southern Mississippi and a law degree from the University of Houston.

Dr. Alan T. Shao

Dr. Alan T. Shao has served as Dean of the School of Business at the College of Charleston in South Carolina since March 2009. During his tenure, he also served as the Jack Tate Distinguished Professor 2009-11.

As Dean, Shao has established an MBA degree program, obtained AACSB reaccreditation for the school, developed new academic majors, significantly raised funding to record-breaking levels for the School of Business, created the School of Business “Wall of Honor” to recognize philanthropy and long-term impact, and increased globalization throughout the School of Business.

A native of Norfolk, Va., Shao arrived at the College of Charleston after nearly 20 years at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, where he was North Carolina Ports Professor of Marketing and Associate Dean of Professional and Global Programs. While at UNC Charlotte, he created self-supporting graduate business programs in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Mexico and Denmark.

In 2005, the Journal of Advertising named Shao one of the most prolific contributors to advertising research. In his career, he has published more than 50 articles in leading journals, made more than 100 presentations on a variety of international business topics and has authored three books, most recently the third edition of “Marketing Research: An Aid to Decision Making.

In addition to teaching and research, Shao has worked as an Executive Director of Marketing Research and a Manager of Computer Operations, and has developed import businesses that manufactured furniture, motorcycles and crystals in China. He is a frequent traveler, having visited China more than 100 times and lectured in more than 30 countries, and is Past President of the North Carolina World Trade Association.

Among his honors and achievements, Shao was a finalist for the Bank of America Award for Teaching Excellence at UNC Charlotte.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in general business from Old Dominion University, a master’s of business administration degree with a concentration in management from Old Dominion, and a doctoral degree in marketing from the University of Alabama.             

The 12-member EKU Presidential Search and Screening Committee, appointed by the Board of Regents, was assisted in its work by Academic Search Inc., specifically senior consultants Dr. Jim Appleberry and Dr. Carrie Hauser. “Their efforts, guidance and expertise ensured that we had a successful search,” Turner said.

“Our task and goal at this juncture is to find the right fit for Eastern,” Turner added. “It is now our privilege and responsibility to make a decision that sets the course for future generations of EKU graduates.”

Joining Turner on the EKU Search and Screening Committee are Tom Coffey, EKU Foundation Board; Janet Craig, EKU Regent; Tonya Tarvin Crum, president, Alumni Board, EKU International Alumni Association; Dr. Malcolm Frisbie, EKU Faculty Regent; Steven Fulkerson, EKU Staff Regent; Ernest House, EKU Regent; Dr. Shelia Pressley, chair, EKU Faculty Senate; Bob Roberts, at large; Madelyn Street, Student Regent; David Tandy, EKU Regent; and Ed Worley, community.

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