The trajectories of UT-Dallas and the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech are similar: skyrocketing student enrollment, increased research expenditures and higher academic rankings.
Those trajectories will soon cross when Richard Benson, dean of the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech, becomes the new president of UTD, starting July 1. Although Benson has not officially been offered the job because of a mandated 21-day waiting period per Texas state law, he will almost certainly be named president.
David Daniel, former president of UTD from 2005 until 2015 and current UT System deputy vice chancellor, said he had heard nothing but praise for Benson during the search for a new president.
“By all accounts, he’s just an amazing individual — a smart, caring, compassionate leader, who knows not only what needs to be done but also knows how to deal with people,” Daniel said.
During his presidency, Benson will need to address the need for more academic buildings as UTD strives to become a Tier I university, Daniel said.
“UT-Dallas is the fastest growing major university in Texas,” Daniel said. “It’s growing not only in student attendance but rapidly growing in faculty building and research. It’s a tremendous opportunity for someone knows how to build a top-flight research university.”
During Benson’s tenure at Virginia Tech, the number of applicants to the engineering school nearly doubled, and increased research expenditures to $226.8 million, according to a UT System press release. Benson said that while he “loved” his job at Virginia Tech, he’s eager to work across disciplines at UTD.
“Almost from the earliest days when I was in education, I had enjoyed working beyond my department, beyond my college,” Benson said. “I enjoyed working across the whole breath of the whole university. A college presidency offers that.”
This scope of broader issues will not only include engineering continued growth at UTD but also issues such as campus carry and tuition funding that remain of perennial interest at the intersection of higher education and state government. He said the Virginia Tech shooting of 2007 left some individuals “badly traumatized” and said he strongly opposed guns on campus.
Caitlynn Fortner, UTD’s Student Government president, said Benson’s compassion for students set him apart from other candidates.
“More than any of the other candiates, he seemed to really care about student well-being,” Fortner said. “He’s going to offer guidance far beyond tier one.”