Thursday’s announcement that LSU Foundation President and CEO Bryan Benchoff is retiring in the middle of a $1.5 billion capital campaign after less than 2.5 years on the job came as a surprise to many in Baton Rouge’s fundraising community.
But others familiar with the situation say that although Benchoff was an experienced administrator and well-liked personally, he wasn’t necessarily the right fit for the high-profile position, preferring to work behind the scenes. Some also say he didn’t advance the ongoing Fierce for the Future campaign as far as it should be by now.
“Benchoff is a very nice man but he was not one of these people who was out in the community giving speeches and raising money,” says businessman Richard Lipsey, a former chairman of the state Board of Regents and frequent critic of LSU President King Alexander. “He was a very behind-the-scenes type of guy and he was always very nice to me. He tried to improve the organization but he really did not do well on the development side, which is very important.”
To date, the LSU Foundation says the Fierce for the Future campaign, which was planned and initiated under Benchoff’s predecessor, Stephen Moret, is halfway to its $1.5 billion goal.
The campaign, which is the first to unite all the campuses and entities within the LSU system, raised some $801 million between the launch of its silent phase on July 1, 2015, and late September. LSU Foundation spokeswoman Sara Crow says a little less than $300 million of that has come in since early March, which marked the launch of the public phase of the campaign.
Benchoff’s retirement is the third high-profile departure from LSU in recent weeks. Alumni Association President Cliff Vannoy retired in late October. Executive counsel Thomas Skinner also recently announced he will be leaving, though he is still on the job through the end of the year.
LSU President King Alexander could also be leaving in the new year. He is reportedly one of several candidates under serious consideration for the soon-to-be-vacant post of president of the University of California system.
Alexander previously served as chancellor of Cal State Long Beach.
“I think there has been pressure on King, not just from me but from others, and if he gets other opportunities I’m sure the board would prefer to see him leave to go to another school,” Lipsey says. “And that would be good for King if that happens so I hope it does.”
If Alexander leaves, Lipsey says he expects other administrators who came in during his six-year tenure to also follow suit.