University Celebrates Inauguration of President Richard Benson
Dec. 7, 2016
The University of Texas at Dallas formally inaugurated on Oct. 27 its fifth president, Dr. Richard C. Benson, an engineer with a self-described “appreciation for all things artistic and beautiful” and a vision to not only maintain the University’s excellence in science, math and technology programs but also to boost the arts and humanities.
Benson succeeds Executive Vice President and Provost Hobson Wildenthal, who served as president ad interim when Dr. David E. Daniel became deputy chancellor of The University of Texas System after a decade as UT Dallas president.
A cool jazz combo onstage highlighted Benson’s unique interests and qualifications, and served as a more casual counterpoint to the formal inauguration ceremonies, playing beneath banners that bore the University’s seal.
“He is everything that I believe UT Dallas needs. He is a world-class engineer. He is an incredible leader. He is a gregarious visionary who inspires confidence in everyone he meets. He is a deep thinker with a plan for the future. ”
Benson sprinkled his inaugural address with references to jazz musicians like Bix Beiderbecke and big-band leader Glenn Miller, saying UT Dallas “has a sound all of its own and we will continue to build upon that distinctive personality.”
It’s no surprise, he said, that at a university that is different by design, the “rock stars” at UT Dallas are the ones who make animated films, build robots and play chess.
The inauguration ceremonies drew distinguished guests from The University of Texas System and community partners. Among the attendees were Board of Regents members Ernest Aliseda, Sara Martinez Tucker and Brenda Pejovich; Chancellor William McRaven; and Margaret McDermott, longtime campus supporter and widow of UT Dallas co-founder Eugene McDermott.
Also witnessing Benson’s inauguration were his wife, Leslie, and sons James and Kenneth. Daughter Stephanie watched a live stream of the ceremony from afar.
McRaven said the search committee for the University’s new president did the right job in choosing Benson because he is someone who will “not only keep UT Dallas on its steep upward trajectory but take it to an entirely new level.” The University’s dramatic growth, he said, has been critical in helping to make North Texas one of the most dynamic and diverse economies in the world.
“He is everything that I believe UT Dallas needs. He is a world-class engineer. He is an incredible leader. He is a gregarious visionary who inspires confidence in everyone he meets. He is a deep thinker with a plan for the future. And from what I’ve seen, he is already off to a fantastic start. In short, Dick Benson is, without a doubt, the president we need to lead UT Dallas to another quantum leap forward,” McRaven said.
The Chain of Office was presented to President Benson by Naomi Emmett, president of Staff Council, during the ceremony.
Mary McDermott Cook, president of the Eugene McDermott Foundation, reminisced about her father’s early vision to start a great university that would help grow a great city, and said UT Dallas is now “one of the most exciting places to be in Dallas.”
Faculty and staff presented Benson with the symbolic emblems of office. Staff council president Naomi Emmett bestowed the chain of office. Dr. Tim Redman, speaker of the faculty, presented the University Mace, traditionally carried at the head of academic processions.
In his inaugural address, Benson thanked Wildenthal for serving as president ad interim the past year and for his service as chief academic officer for more than 20 years at UT Dallas. Benson also paid tribute to the University’s founders and former presidents who oversaw the University’s growth “from a small graduate program housed in a single building to a large research university on a modern and beautiful campus.”
As a young institution, the current faculty, staff and students are still able to help shape its vision, Benson said.
“We are still giving shape to this superb university, defining purpose and creating traditions that will last for 100 years and more,” Benson said. “Together, we will direct the comet-like arc of our success.”
Benson, who came to UT Dallas in July from Virginia Tech, where he was dean of engineering, recounted his own academic journey with humor and anecdotes, saying he was better known as a teenager for carrying a trumpet than a slide rule. He sought to dispel the perception that an engineer is limited to narrow experiences, saying his interests today include music, nature hikes and photography.
Just so, UT Dallas has grown beyond early perceptions of being “a night school churning out engineers and MBAs” to become an outstanding undergraduate and graduate institution with an interdisciplinary approach that offers more than 135 degree programs on an inviting campus with an array of housing and dining options.
Benson revealed that a new strategic plan — the first since 2013 — will be unveiled by the end of the spring 2017 semester. He said the plan would celebrate UT Dallas as a university “that has reached the highest echelon of research and educational excellence” and present his vision, which will include:
- Faculty and staff who reflect the global diversity of the school body.
- Early adoption of new technology to enhance the teaching and learning experience.
- Continued support of the region’s corporate neighbors and technological innovators.
- Connecting growing numbers of alumni to the university.
- Integrating arts and technology so that UT Dallas embraces not only the founders’ vision of a technologically astute institution but one whose students “take joy from music, art, dance, theater, literature and aesthetics.”
The stage party’s recessional was accompanied by the sound of the Kelly Durbin Jazz Combo playing “Sweet Georgia Brown.”
After the ceremony, well-wishers from the community and campus stood in line under a sunny October sky to welcome Benson at Chess Plaza.
“I am excited about the future of this University. While huge accomplishments have been made over the years, I believe the future has almost limitless possibilities. President Benson, with the support of staff, alumni and the UT System, UT Dallas has a wide-open door to even higher levels of performance and achievement.”
Chuck Davidson MS'80, Distinguished Alumnus award recipient and Development Board member
“We are privileged to have you on our campus, and already are excited by the energy you bring to us. Your vigor during freshman orientation, your positive attitude during Residence Hall move-in, and your eagerness to meet everyone in our community has not gone unnoticed. … We look forward to collaborating with you to enhance the future of our institution.”
Akshitha Padigela, accounting and finance major, and president of Student Government