Our Rich History: Thomas More’s President, Dr. Charles Bensman, Later Years, 1989-1992

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from dr Raymond Hebert
Thomas More University

Part 28 of our series: “Retrospect and Vista II: Thomas More College/University, 1971-2021”

The 1990s saw a number of achievements at Thomas More College under Charles Bensman’s presidency, including the construction of the Connor Convocation Center, named after legendary coach Jim Connor. It was also the beginning of a successful football program, having an unbeaten season (10–0) in the fall of 1991 in only its second year of existence. In addition, the college has created an accelerated degree program for working adults. The latter became known as the TAP program (for Thomas More College Accelerated Degree Program).

Looking back on his accomplishments and looking to the future, Dr. Bensman in a June 11, 1992 letter to the Thomas More College Community, “This is the most opportune time to transfer responsibility to a new and energetic individual.”

Charles Bensman, tenth President of Thomas More College. (Courtesy Kenton County Public Library)

In his words:

“When I assumed the presidency of Thomas More College in 1986, I embarked on a program designed to bring financial stability, academic excellence, increased enrollment and improved recreational facilities. I am pleased to report significant achievements on each of these goals. The college has been balanced on budget since 1990, 1992-1993 enrollment is up 40%, the Four Seasons and Connor Convocation Center have physically improved the campus, the college is popular with Greater Cincinnati leadership, and our own curriculum liberal arts has received awards from numerous quarters for its integrity, strength and coherence.” (Dr. Charles Bensman, Letter to the Thomas More College Community, June 11, 1992, TMU Archives).

It is important to note that in the 1991-1992 academic year, prior to this writing, there had been a major controversy on campus over the proposed structural changes. The process was guided by an Academic Structures Task Force chaired by Fr. Bill Cleves, who later became Dr. Bensman’s successor as President of Thomas More College. The task force had begun its work by drafting recommendations that would relate to an agreed set of goals.

President Charles Bensman and Bishop William Hughes at the Connor Convocation Center site, a dedication to Coach Jim Connor. (Courtesy Kenton County Public Library)

1. Increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of the college academic department;
2. Decentralize authority, responsibility and decision-making…
3. Increasing Creativity and Productivity…
4. To increase faculty incentives,
5. To generate more revenue by making TMC more attractive to donors…
6. In support of the mission of the quorum…
7. To analyze a variety of solutions…
8. Positioning a new kind of leadership…
9. To better prepare students with a solid liberal arts curriculum…
10. And to provide ongoing opportunities for creativity, collaboration, and efficiency (letter from Dr. Charles J. Bensman to faculty and staff, June 8, 1992; TMU archives).

It seems no coincidence that Dr. Bensman in the same letter commenting on the “expressions of deep and genuine concern conveyed on May 8, 1992 which persuaded him to delay implementation of the restructuring until January 1993 and then the Academic Structure Task Force as above.” mentioned to set up. Remarkably, and not surprisingly, it was only three days after writing that Dr. Bensman announced on June 11, 1992 that he was stepping down as President. Faculty concerns that year included the expected expansion of administration at the expense of faculty recruitment, as the proposed new structure was to include the creation of multiple colleges, including business, nursing, arts and sciences, and education, along with the proliferation of new ones Administrators at a time when faculty were more interested in new and expanded academic programs.

Sister M. Philip Trauth, SND. (Thomas More University Archives)

As noted in several faculty letters written during the 1992-1993 academic year: 1) “What bothers me is that the proposed structure would give us a new layer of people whose only function is to serve other people say what they have to do;’ 2) ‘Can we justify the cost to the deans with our budget problems?’ 3) and the most common point ‘I haven’t seen a reason to have three deans having anything to do with how they improve student teaching…” It was even jokingly nicknamed “three dean salad” on campus ‘sure you get indigestion.

Among the strongest letters of opposition was one from Sr. M. Philip Trauth, SND, the college archivist and longtime member of the history department, who, in a May 10, 1992 letter to Bishop William Hughes, concluded that “few proposals were made Has ever such a faculty objection been raised, such division created, and led to such disgust with the administration as that of a ‘divisional (now ‘school) structure’” (see several faculty letters sent in April 1992 about the proposed change of structure were written). of the Institution, TMU Archives, Box 13, Dr. Charles Bensman).

William Hughes, Bishop of the Diocese of Covington (Courtesy Kenton County Public Library)

Not surprisingly, the proposed structure was not implemented at the time and the issue faded into institutional lore until Thomas More College converted into Thomas More University in 2018 for the 50th anniversary of its move to the suburban campus in Crestview Hills of Covington ( 1968). Currently, as of Fall 2021, Thomas More University has a structure with colleges in Business, Humanities and Social Sciences (including Education), and Science and Health Sciences.

back to dr Charles Bensman, The Kentucky Post published a cover story on Thursday, June 11, 1992 entitled: “Thomas More Losing Leader”. In it said Dr. Bensman that “health issues are also a factor in his resignation,” although “he declined to elaborate.” In the same article, former chairman of the board of trustees, local attorney Robert Ruberg, added: “We feel [Dr. Bensman] has done an excellent job for the college and we wish him the very best.”

Bishop William Hughes spoke about how “Thomas More will miss Bensman’s enthusiastic leadership,” and he praised “Bensman’s fundraising skills, the physical improvements he’s made on campus” and most importantly, “the manner in which eliciting strong community support for Thomas More” (Jeanne Houck and Debra Ann Vance, “Thomas More Losing Leaders,” The Kentucky Post, June 11, 1992). The same day that Kentucky investigatorsThe front-page story was titled “Thomas More Leader Retires.” In this article, current CEO Merwyn Grayson Jr. discusses Dr. Bensman quotes: “Under Charlie, college has just reached a level previously only dreamed of. Thomas More has become a respected school nationally.” For example, this article showed how Bensman received “$1.5 million from the James Graham Brown Foundation in Louisville” during his tenure. Grayson concluded that “Bensman’s full load combined with his church work (e.g. as a deacon at Blessed Sacrament Church) and health issues may have become overwhelming” (Smita Madan Paul, “Thomas More Leader Retires”, Kentucky investigators, June 11, 1992, p. 1A).

Robert Ruberg, Attorney for O’Hara, Ruberg and Taylor Firm and Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Thomas More College. (Courtesy Kenton County Public Library)

Unfortunately, Dr. Charles J. Bensman just over two years later on November 22, 1994, when a November 25 vigil service was held at Blessed Sacrament Church in Ft. Mitchell and a Christian funeral service at Immaculate Conception Church in Celina, Ohio on November 26, 1994. His presidency was instrumental in preparing Thomas More College for the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

dr Raymond G. Hebert is Professor of History and Executive Director of the William T. Robinson III Institute for Religious Liberty at Thomas More University. He has just completed his 46th year with Thomas More and with this background will now serve as General Editor of the Official History of Thomas More College/University from 1971 to 2021. Intended to be titled REVIEW AND OUTLOOK II, it will serve as a sequel to Sr. Irmina Saelinger’s REVIEW AND OUTLOOK, the history of the first 50 years of Thomas More College (formerly Villa Madonna College). He can be contacted at [email protected]

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