Published: March 1, 2015

Bruce D. Benson

The 50-Year View

University of Colorado President Bruce D. Benson earned his geology degree from CU-Boulder 50 years ago. The longest-serving CU president since that time reflects on how the campus has changed.

What sticks out in your mind about the campus from your time as a student?

It was obviously a much smaller place, with about 12,000 students as opposed to 30,000 today. It seemed simple, with everything largely centered on the quad. I recently told the legislature’s Capital Development Committee that 62 percent of the buildings on the Boulder campus are at least 50 years old. While they have served the university well, many need to be upgraded and we’re making progress there, with Ketchum the latest to receive state funding for renovation.

Where did you spend most of your time on campus?

I spent many hours in the basement of the old geology building. Along with my classes, I was editor of the department’s newsletter, so I had an office, a luxury since our building was overcrowded. That’s one reason I had a strong interest in leading the fundraising for the new facility [Benson Earth Sciences Building]. I’m glad we were able to raise the funds for the facility, and was personally delighted to be able to support the department that got me started as a geologist.

What has changed most from your student days to your time as president?

Our focus on research. We’ve always had it, but in recent decades the campus has become one of the top research universities in the world. That increased focus has certainly changed the physical face of the campus along with our educational focus. We’ve made substantial investments in areas from aerospace to biotechnology, and it shows. Additionally, the use of teaching assistants and technology in teaching is a remarkable change. Flipped classrooms, clickers and online courses all have led to a sea change in how we operate. I suspect that while we will always offer a strong residential campus experience, technology will expand significantly.

What hasn’t changed?

The high quality of a CU education has remained constant — if anything, it’s increased. We have a tremendous faculty, dedicated professionals devoted to student success. That has been a common thread running through CU in my 50-year association with the university. My grandson is getting the same high-quality education I got. And the beauty of the Flatirons and the campus setting will always be spectacular.

Illustration by Melinda Josie