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Allen, Benjamin J.

Published onJul 30, 2021
Allen, Benjamin J.

(January 5, l947-)

Quick Facts

A top researcher in the field of transportation and logistics, Benjamin Allen served the Iowa State University in various interim administrative positions and brought national repute to the College of Business.


To Iowans, Benjamin J. Allen is probably best known for his role as the ninth president of the University of Northern Iowa, where he served for seven years until his retirement in 2013. But to those at Iowa State University, Allen is remembered for his long academic and administrative career, one of great distinction in which he became a top researcher in the field of transportation and logistics and brought national repute to Iowa State University’s then fledgling College of Business.

Allen earned his master’s and doctoral degrees in economics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1973 and 1974, respectively, and his bachelor of science degree in business economics from Indiana University in 1969.

Before joining the faculty at Iowa State University in 1979, Allen taught at Washington State University and was a Brookings Economics Policy Fellow in the Office of Transportation Regulatory Policy at the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Allen rose quickly at Iowa State, serving as acting head of transportation and logistics in the then School of Business Administration in 1982-83. He was promoted to professor in 1984, the same year the business school became the independent College of Business, and served as the chair of the department of transportation and logistics from 1984 to 1988.

In 1988, Allen was nominated as a University Distinguished Professor. In his nomination, one colleague said, “I rank him among the top five scholars in North America in his areas of expertise.” His nomination was accepted and he was named the first Distinguished Professor from the College of Business.

Benjamin J. Allen, Dean, College of Business, 1994-2001, 2003 by Girgis Shehata (Egyptian-American, b. 1953). Oil on canvas. Commissioned by the College of Business and University Museums. In the Art on Campus Collection, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. U2003.214

Location: Iowa State University, Gerdin Business Building

Allen continued to earn distinction. In 1989, he was named one of the top 12 outstanding transportation and logistics professors in the United States and Canada by International Intermodal Expo. From 1988 to 1990, he was tapped to serve as director of the Midwest Transportation Center, a research consortium consisting of Iowa State University and The University of Iowa. He was the Visiting McKinley Professor of Economics and Public Utilities at the University of Illinois during the 1986-87 academic year and also held the Oren Harris Chair in Transportation at the University of Arkansas during the 1990-91 academic year.

Because of his expertise, Allen was asked to serve on numerous boards and hired as a transportation consultant by many major transportation firms and government entities over the course of his career. These included: Conrail, Burlington Northern Railroad Company, American Trucking Associations Foundation, Inc., the U.S. Department of Transportation, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, and the Office of Rail Public Counsel. He testified before congressional panels and on behalf of companies in cases before the Interstate Commerce Commission.

In 1994, Allen was appointed as the third dean of the College of Business. His expertise in transportation – as well as his skill in building relationships – would lay the foundation for what would become one of the most important milestones in the college’s history.

In 1995, Allen was asked by Russ Gerdin, founder and CEO of Heartland Express, a growing trucking firm in Coralville, Iowa, to join his board of directors. Allen accepted, and soon asked Gerdin to join his College of Business Dean’s Advisory Council. The relationship blossomed, and eventually Gerdin and his wife Ann were moved to make a $10 million commitment to Iowa State. The gift launched a fundraising campaign that would culminate in the construction of the Gerdin Business Building, which opened in 2004. It is the college’s first standalone building and the gift remains the largest in its history.

The Gerdins’ gift was part of a $35 million, two-year effort that also provided significant funding for faculty development, endowed chairs, and student scholarship support. During Allen’s tenure as dean, the college also moved its part-time MBA program into the Des Moines market, launched its ISU Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship, and created a corporate business laboratory where companies could collaborate with students on real business problems.

In 2001, Allen was named Iowa State’s interim vice president for external affairs, with responsibility for a wide range of university functions including athletics, marketing, fundraising, arts and culture and many campus facilities. In 2002 he was named interim provost, and by 2003 he had shed the interim tag and assumed the additional role of vice president for academic affairs. He took on responsibility for all aspects of Iowa State’s academic programs. At a time of lean budgets, he worked to improve the university’s efficiency by successfully combining two colleges, reorganizing the provost’s office, leading the university’s budget advisory committee, and chairing a strategic planning process.

Allen’s extensive experience in academic administration and accomplishments at Iowa State made him an attractive candidate when the presidency at the University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls, became vacant, and he was named to the job in 2006.

In 2007, President Allen was appointed by two state college associations to the Presidential Advisory Committee for the National Commission of University Accountability. In 2010, he received a Congressional appointment to serve on the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity, which advised the Secretary of Education with respect to establishment and enforcement of the standards of accrediting agencies or associations.

Under his leadership, the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) established priorities of increasing student achievement in undergraduate programs and providing statewide leadership in Pre-K through 12 education, including UNI's lead role in the Iowa Mathematics and Science Education Partnership with Iowa State University and the University of Iowa. Allen co-chaired Iowa Governor Terry Branstad’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Advisory Council in 2011. He also co-chaired the Iowa Business Council's Education Excellence in Iowa Roundtable, a non-partisan forum of business and education leaders focused on improving pre-K-16 academic achievement and establishing career development opportunities. He previously co-chaired the Institute for Tomorrow's Workforce, a non-profit educational foundation helping Iowa learners prepare for the global marketplace.

Allen retired as president of the University of Northern Iowa in 2013. He and his wife Pat now reside in Webster Groves, Missouri. Allen returned as interim president of the university in 2017 after the resignation of Steven Leath.

Selected Sources

University of Northern Iowa, Allen profile.

University Archives, Iowa State University. Allen, Benjamin: RS 03/01/16 8753 and RS 27/01/02

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