BOULDER (AP) - When Bruce Benson started his job as president at the University of Colorado, he thought the office
looked as though it belonged to a used-car salesman.
So the self-made oil tycoon spent $50,000 - out of his own pocket - remodeling it with new furniture, fresh paint and
carpet. Eventually, when he retires, the furniture will be left behind for the next university leader.
Benson, the owner of Benson Mineral Group, accepted the job as CU's top leader almost two years ago. Not once has he
turned in a receipt to the university for reimbursement.
He pays for business lunches and dinners with donors, business and state leaders. He pays for his own airfare when he
travels for CU-related trips, chartering private planes.
He hosted regents at his ranch near Silverthorne for a meeting retreat instead of renting hotel and conference space.
And, over the summer, when he traveled throughout the state for an outreach tour to tell the story of his alma mater,Benson picked up the tab for the gas and his hotel.
When his annual donations are tallied up, and the amount of money he spends to conduct CU business is considered, the
expenditures come close to canceling out the take-home pay from his $359,000 salary.
In essence, he's a free president.
I'm not doing it for the pay," Benson said. I am doing all I can to help the university. I'm more than happy to
basically volunteer my time."
Throughout the last year, Benson said he's spent $112,000 that could have been categorized as expenses" to be repaid
by CU, and which he can deduct from his income taxes. But that's a conservative estimate.
I don't keep track when I drive my car around the state," Benson said. A lot of lunches and dinners slip through the
Benson, a multi-millionaire oil and gas executive, became CU's 22nd president amid controversy in February 2008, after
regents named him the sole finalist for the job.
His highest level of education is a bachelor's degree, as he abandoned graduate work for physical work on oil rigs.
Critics questioned whether the former chairman of the state's Republican Party could shelve his politics for the
bipartisan leadership job. Environmentalists criticized Benson's success in the oil and gas industry.
But Benson - whose name lands on the CU Foundation's top 10 donor list - persistently said that he was on a crusade"
Benson had chaired boards, including the Colorado Commission on Higher Education and the Board of Trustees for
Metropolitan State College of Denver. The CU presidency became his next step in the education crusade.
The role of university president had evolved to become much less an academic job and more about securing donations and
state tax dollars for the school. A series of reforms before Benson's arrival crisply defined chancellors' roles,giving them more power on the campus level, especially on academic issues.
When he took the position, Benson said he didn't negotiate his pay. He turned down a car allowance. And he now lets his
oil company run on auto pilot," checking in for a few hours every month, he said.
It costs me a lot of money to do this job," Benson said. Because I could be out making money."
Now, Benson's colleagues say he works seven days a week, and his wife, Marcy, contributes an immense amount of her time
to CU business, including outreach to donors and business leaders.
Today, he remains concerned about the accessibility of college and the financial stability of higher education and its
starved budget, as the university plans for a $50 million budget shortfall from the state over two fiscal years.
If we do not educate the less fortunate people in this country, we're going to become a third-world country," Benson
Benson - over the last year - cut $6.3 million from the central administration budget by implementing a 5 percent pay
cut for top administrators, including himself. He also moved forward with a controversial measure to save about
$600,000 by eliminating the Silver & Gold Record, a faculty and staff newspaper.
But the president's generosity raises the question whether CU will turn to its donor rolls when looking for its next
Regent Michael Carrigan, a Denver Democrat who voted against Benson's selection for president, doesn't think so.
Being a large donor is not a qualification for being president," Carrigan said. And that is not why President Benson
The recession has caused the shortfall in state funding, but CU's Foundation last year posted its second-best
fundraising year, with a record number of individual donors.