Robby Benson leaving IU, having made a lasting impact

  • April 25, 2016

Editor's note: This story from The Bloomington Herald-Times is being published here as a courtesy for readers of IU in the News.\

By Marcela Creps

During her sophomore year, Emmalie Reif remembers feeling “super lost.” But one day, actor Robby Benson stopped by one of her classes to talk about the film industry. She left inspired.

“I never heard anyone at a university level speak like this, and so eloquently, and to be able to inspire the students that weren’t even his,” Reif said.

When Benson joined Indiana University as a professor of practice in fall 2013, Reif started taking his classes; she has been working with him ever since.

Benson was brought to IU under a three-year contract, which expires at the end of this semester. Benson, who has been teaching at various schools for 28 years, said he thought he would be here for five to eight years, but now he needs to take care of his family.

“That’s really important right now. It’s so funny when you hit 60; suddenly, the people you love and you know are starting to go through health issues. So right now is the perfect time for me to really devote myself to really taking care of my family and writing,” Benson said.

In his three years at IU, Benson has had quite an impact on the students, and the university as well.

In 2014, when IU announced its Student-Athlete Bill of Rights, the plan included a “Hoosiers for Life” program that offered IU athletes a chance to earn a degree if they left school prior to graduation. Benson was credited for his role in the conception and development of that right. For Benson, the adoption of his idea showed how much IU cares for its students.

Teaching film students doesn’t just mean teaching them how to work a camera or write a script. Benson used IU’s faculty to help teach the students about entertainment law, used Jacobs School of Music students to write scores and had journalism students help with writing EPKs, or electronic press kits.

“This is collaborating across the boards. We also use theater students whenever we can as our actors because, to me, I believe that a student in a theater department can be remarkably talented, but you can’t make a living when you leave school just doing Shakespeare,” Benson said.

Collaborating with faculty and students from various university departments creates a strong bond that may serve students in the future as they continue to work in their field of study.

“People go into the arts because they love that family experience. That’s the way that it is in this class as well,” Benson said. “They love one another and respect each other. They’re authentically good, good people.”

Benson said he feels that he still has another musical, and possible film, to write. He is open to returning to teach workshops or seminars at IU. “The best thing about all of this is I really don’t want to do it anywhere else,” he said. “Students are supposed to come first, and you know that’s what they do here, and that’s why the place is so intoxicating and heady.”

Reif said it’s “devastating” to know that future students won’t have the benefit of learning from Benson. She’s also hopeful that the university can find someone from the industry who can offer real-world experience and connections as Benson did.

“You’re not a number to Robby. He loves his students and cares so much about them. Not even the film lessons, those are always good, but he’s taught me so much about life, and I’ll never be able to thank him enough for that,” Reif said.

So far, no one has been named to replace Benson.

“The Media School is in the midst now of a search for a new film production faculty member, and it’s likely that we will conduct an additional search (or more) in the coming year,” said James Shanahan, dean of the Media School, in an email.

More about Benson, films

Read more about Robby Benson's influence on students, as well as an upcoming showcase of IU student films, on page D1.

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