Published 10 a.m. | Updated 12:30 p.m.
University of Colorado President Bruce D. Benson announced Wednesday morning his plan to retire in July 2019 after serving a decade-long term.
"I want to give the board ample time to find a successor who can continue the tremendous positive momentum at CU," he said in a statement. "I’m proud of what we have accomplished over the past 10-plus years. The university is well positioned for a bright future."
Benson has been the longest, CU-serving president in the last 65 years. He began his tenure as president in March 2008.
Benson’s retirement surprised Joe Garcia, president of the Colorado Community Colleges System and former lieutenant governor. The two had lunch Tuesday where they discussed their futures, but Benson never gave any clues of announcing his plans to retire just 24 hours later.
“Bruce has done a really outstanding job of leading CU at a time when all institutions of higher education have been forced to rethink how we do business,” Garcia said of Benson’s tenure. “He’s raised a lot of money for the institution.”
Garcia also praised Benson’s ability to generate research across all four campuses but especially at Anschutz Medical Campus.
“The university and the medical center have both generated just huge dollars in terms of research grants but also huge economic benefits to the city and the state.”
As a graduate of CU 40 years ago, Garcia said the institution did not have a great reputation for success with students of color, especially Latinos and African American students. But Benson’s focus on improving that position throughout the last 10 years has helped.
“He’s gotten the institution to focus a little more on diversity and serving different students than CU has served in the past,” he said. “I hope that CU overall continues to focus on Colorado students, and particularly Colorado students who are first generation and from minority communities. I think they still have more that they can do there.”
Garcia said Benson’s lack of professional experience leading a university brought a lot of skepticism at first. And former Colorado Speaker of the House Mark Ferrandino, a Democrat, said Benson’s past as a Republican donor worried many Democrats — for a time.
"There's been a big shift in people's mindsets,” Ferrandino said. "He's led the institution in a non-partisan way."
Ferrandino and Benson clashed in 2014 over a bill that changed how the state funded higher education. CU and Colorado State University were getting the lion’s share of state dollars at the expense of smaller schools, Ferrandino said. So he set out to change that.
"Bruce Benson was not pleased with what I was doing. But he and I, and his staff, worked well. He raised legitimate concerns we tried to address,” Ferrandino said. “At the end, the bill passed with CU being neutral on it."
Benson’s focus on fundraising efficiency also gained him fans, Garcia said.
“I think a lot of people who understand how challenging these jobs are were surprised he would continue to put so much effort into it at this stage of his life. But he certainly has,” Garcia said.
When asked about Benson’s passion for higher education, Garcia said Benson was committed to public education even before he was paid to do it.
“He has been very successful. And he probably sees the difference it can make in someone’s life if they’re able to get that degree.”
"My goal as CU president has always been simple – to make sure the university is among the best in the world," Benson said in his statement. "Over the next year, I will work with the Board of Regents and my team to continue to build on the progress we have made."
Potential candidates to replace Benson have not yet been announced.
CPR’s Nathaniel Minor contributed to this report.