The Student News Site of Bob Jones University

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Bob Jones University

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Bob Jones University

The Collegian

Interview: Dr. Alan Benson on leading Bob Jones University and the future

“When the time comes, prayerfully at this point, I will apply.”
Dr. Alan Benson, Bob Jones University acting CEO. Katelyn McKenney/Staff
Bob Jones University’s acting CEO Dr. Alan Benson said he plans to apply for the position of university president when the time comes.

Dr. Benson spoke of his plans during a wide-ranging interview with The Collegian about his work at the University prior to being named acting CEO and the process of the presidential search, which will end with a new president named, the sixth in the university’s history. He spoke of his childhood and what led him to BJU. He also gave insight into his goals as acting CEO and shared advice for the student body.

Dr. Benson’s work at Bob Jones University

Dr. Benson, who joined BJU as the Vice President of Student Development and Discipleship in May of 2018, has recently taken on the role of acting CEO. When asked about what led him to BJU in the first place, Dr. Benson credits his wife for suggesting that it might be where God was leading him.

When he started at BJU, he focused on students’ success to improve retention and graduation rates. He said students today want more proximate measures such as learning how to learn, figuring out who they are and finding a sense of belonging.

When the world shut down due to the global pandemic in 2020, he took on new responsibilities. BJU, like everywhere else, had to adapt.

“I got the auspicious honor of heading up the university’s COVID task force and leading our COVID response,” he lightheartedly pointed out, “which had nothing to do with my job.”

That task, he said, was far more complicated than most people realize. For example, the Dixon-McKenzie Dining Common was large enough that it fell under one set of health guidelines while the residence halls fell under a different set of rules. Dr. Benson led that response and from it, Student Health Services was created.

Eventually, Dr. Benson was promoted by then-President Dr. Steve Pettit to Executive Vice President for Student Development and Ministry Advancement, where he oversaw the ministry leadership and student life. Dr. Benson has also led development of a new strategic plan for the BJU Seminary as well as smart technology for BJU Seminary classrooms.

In Catholic region, an Irish Protestant comes to Christ

Dr. Benson was born in Belfast, Ireland, and is the youngest of five children. At 4 years old he and his family moved to Nova Scotia, Canada in 1973. He remembers making friends with the neighbor kids after stealing their bikes before he was introduced to the gospel at 11 years old. The Benson family were among the few Protestants in a very Catholic town. He was one of only four non-Catholics in his high school of 2,000 students.

At 13 years old, he decided he wanted to go to a Christian high school. He spent eighth and ninth grades and his senior year at a boarding school five hours away from his family. He first visited BJU for a Bible Conference in 10th grade and said it was overwhelming.

Dr. Alan Benson speaks during chapel on Sept. 12, 2023. Provided by BJU Photos. (Derek Eckenroth)

His senior year, he was named captain of his basketball team and was offered a basketball scholarship for a university in his hometown. He decided that’s what he was going to do, that is until he talked to his mother about it.

“All my mom said when I told her about what I was offered was, ‘So what about Christian school?’ and that was like sticking a dagger in me,” he said. “She never said another word. They took me out to dinner to celebrate. And that night I was laying in my bed, like, ‘yeah, what about Christian school?’ My mom worked. She went to work. I got up the next day. I actually got on the phone, called my coach and said, ‘Coach, thank you so much, but I can’t accept your offer,’ and he got mad at me. He said, ‘you’re going to go play for another school?’ And I said, ‘no, no, no, where I’m going to school doesn’t have a basketball team.’ He couldn’t understand that at all; but I just knew I needed to go back to Christian school.”

Dr. Benson looks back fondly at his time as a student. He said his experience was wonderful and he made more friends than he ever thought he would.

He pastored at churches throughout the U.S. for 25 years before the Lord called him back to BJU. His life in ministry was marked by change: planting churches, transitioning new pastors and making multiple leadership changes, he said. He realized God was shaping him with an understanding of how to manage organizational change.

“That happens out of being clear on mission, being clear on philosophy, being clear on values; and so that’s been a part of my life,” he said. “And here I land at Bob Jones, and I’ve been here for five years and now we’re facing a major transition.”

When he pastored in Illinois, not only did he lead the church, but he also led the Christian school and stepped in as business manager, which he said, “helped me to get gray hair.” Dr. Benson said doing all of that helped prepare him for BJU in a lot of ways, but “nothing prepares you for the scale of this.”

Dr. Benson’s future at Bob Jones University

It came as a surprise to many when Dr. Pettit resigned last spring, but Dr. Pettit left the University with a strategic plan in place, slated to run through 2024. Dr. Benson said he hopes to carry out that plan and through it focus on being proactive instead of reactive. He emphasized that a big part of that plan was investing at home and said he is focusing on employee culture. Dr. Benson also reiterated that he wants to provide an environment of healing, unity and stability and that he wants the students to get every part of the student experience that they signed up to get.

When asked if he was considering applying for the role of president, he chuckled and said, “who actually is a candidate is going to be the process of the search. That’s the Board’s work, and I’m not in any way a part of that. Would I be willing? At this point I could say, yeah, when the time comes, prayerfully at this point, I will apply.”

The BJU Board of Trustees met Oct. 4-5 and approved a Presidential Profile to be placed on its presidential search website by Oct. 20, part of the next step in the presidential search process.

Dr. Benson said if he were to become president, he would begin the process of developing the next strategic plan, which includes the 100th anniversary of the school as well as program development and site plans.

Dr. Benson said he has had a great working relationship with the Board. Though as acting CEO his role is different than a president’s, he said he communicates regularly with the board chairman and it “has been great, operationally and communication-wise.”

Dr. Benson said once the portal opens with presidential and institutional profiles, candidates can apply and stakeholders can make nominations. The portal will be open until Thanksgiving.  The goal is to name a new president by March, he said.

Advice for BJU students

Dr. Alan Benson. Provided by BJU Photos. (Derek Eckenroth)

So what sets BJU apart? Its heritage of nearly 100 years, its biblical worldview integrated into the university curriculum and the university’s implementation of experiential learning, Dr. Benson said.

“We’ve got 40 experiential learning courses now and 40 more in development,” he said. The Class of 2027 will take at least two experiential learning courses by the time they graduate.

Students can also now add a biblical worldview minor without taking extra courses if selected right, he said.

“Nobody else does that,” he said.

Dr. Benson closed with some advice for the student body.

“Seize every opportunity you can. This is a time to try new things. So, you might think, ‘oh, I’ve never been a leader in anything.’ If there’s an opportunity to try that, no matter what level that’s at, embrace it. Step out of your comfort zone. The environment of the university experience is actually a workshop in which you get to do that; and you will never get to do it again.

“So, this is an atmosphere to not just do the things you’ve always done in the way you’ve always done them or pick the same kind of friends you’ve always had. This is an opportunity to rightly explore and expand, and that’s my encouragement: Make the most of these days by taking on the most opportunities.”

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About the Contributor
Dray Dickey
Dray Dickey, Staff Writer
Dray Dickey is a junior multimedia journalism major from Bronaugh, Missouri. Dray has been writing stories since he was young and wants to continue writing as a career. He has won multiple playwright competitions and has experience writing for his own blog. Dray's goal at The Collegian is to write stories that students care about and grow as a writer and person.
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