The fireside chat was streamed live on Eastern’s website. It was held in Walnut Hall of the Keen Johnson building early Friday morning for students, faculty and staff to attend. Photo by David Rigel

The fireside chat was streamed live on Eastern’s website. It was held in Walnut Hall of the Keen Johnson building early Friday morning for students, faculty and staff to attend.
Photo by David Rigel

BY: CHRIS McGEE
progress@eku.edu

Incoming Eastern President Michael T. Benson outlined some of his goals and answered questions from faculty and staff in an informal fireside chat 7:30-8:45 a.m. Friday, April 19 in Walnut Hall of the Keen Johnson Building.

In his opening remarks, Benson said he wants his presidency to be as accessible as possible. He said he wants to have an open forum at least once a semester. Benson said Southern Utah University tries to hold one in the fall and another in the spring.

“I hope you [faculty and staff] will come by or give me a call with whatever is on your mind in the months in between open forums,” Benson said.

He said Eastern’s problems aren’t unique, but collectively we can make it through this difficult transition period.

Benson addressed the future of Model Lab School, breaking the ice with a comment before answering the question.

“My two children are going there,” he said. “We may need to do a little bit with the  tuition as it relates to our university subsidy of Model.”

He also said he would like to see the relationship between Eastern’s and Model’s teachers enhanced and strengthened.

One very important issue to the faculty in attendance was the 12-hour tuition waiver for spouses and dependents which could end up being a casualty of the current budget reallocation.

“We are an educational institution; to limit that or restrict access to that is an anathema in my mind to who we are and what we stand for,” Benson said. “If there is any way we can look at other areas as opposed to without limiting access to the tuition waver for your spouses and dependents, that is something I would heartily support.”

Benson said the faculty could count on him to be a strong advocate for access to the tuition waiver.

Linda Frost, a professor and director of the honors program, asked Benson his thoughts on honors programs at universities. He was clear in his response.

“[Honors Programs] are a hallmark that distinguish an institution from other places,” he said.

Brett Morris, director of Admissions, wanted to get Benson’s thoughts on Eastern being one of the top colleges for vets.

“I have two nephews who are Air Force Academy graduates,” Benson said. “ I hope returning vets will always feel this is home. We are going to do everything we can to put them in a position to succeed.”

He also addressed graduation rates during his chat. He said Southern Utah’s six-year graduation rate increased from 39 percent to 45 percent during his tenure. He stressed that this is good in the eyes of state legislators because it shows efficiency and the particular school is a good steward of tax dollars.

Eastern’s new president will begin his term Aug. 1. He said there were some loose ends to tie up at his current position as president of Southern Utah University before beginning his term at Eastern.

Benson was also clear about the direction he wants to take the university in during his administration.

“We are going to choose what we do well and do it better,” Benson said.

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