Ex-provost relents, will take top job at Towson U.

Caret, now in California, declined TU post in Dec.

April 03, 2003|By Alec MacGillis | Alec MacGillis,SUN STAFF

The regents of the University System of Maryland have named a former provost of Towson University as the school's next president - only four months after he turned down the job.

Robert L. Caret, the president of San Jose State University, has decided to return to Maryland to assume the presidency of the state's second-largest university, said system Chancellor William E. Kirwan.

Caret, 55, was privately approved by the regents Tuesday and will be reintroduced today to the Towson campus, which he left in 1995 after serving there 21 years as a chemistry professor, dean and provost.

"I just couldn't be happier. I've known Bob a long time, and he has a tremendous reputation," Kirwan said yesterday. "We marched up to the brink with him some months ago, and it didn't quite work out. But to our credit, we were persistent, and it has a happy ending."

The regents were days from naming Caret as Towson president in December when he withdrew his name from consideration, saying an "outpouring of support" from the San Jose State community persuaded him to stay at the 32,000-student school.

At the time, leaders of the Towson search expressed dismay at Caret's decision, saying he was by far their best candidate. They believed he was swayed by his California superiors with promises of increased campus funding or a pay raise.

Caret could not be reached for comment yesterday. But Maryland officials said Caret changed his mind after giving the matter more thought and receiving more encouragement to return.

"I believe he always wanted to be here, and now Towson has finally come to the point where he's going to be our next leader," said search committee chairman Jim Clements.

Caret's hiring comes one year after the resignation of Mark L. Perkins, who led the university for nine months before leaving under fire for spending $1.8 million on the Towson president's mansion. Caret will replace interim president Dan L. Jones, the school's provost, in July.

Raising the profile

Search leaders said Caret is ideally suited for raising the profile of the 15,000-student university - the same charge Perkins was given two years ago. Despite a recent surge in applications and a well-regarded faculty, Towson has seen its reputation and state funding lag behind those of Maryland's other large campuses.

With his knowledge of the area, search leaders said, Caret could build support for the college both in Annapolis and the local business community.

"Our goal was to find a superstar for Towson," said regent David H. Nevins. "The campus is a sleeping giant; it performs a fine service for the citizens of Maryland, but a number of us believe it could rise to the next level."

Added Perkins' predecessor, Hoke L. Smith: "[Caret] is an effective leader, a bright, hard-working, outgoing guy who understands the university."

Not everyone is as enthusiastic. In December, dozens of faculty members signed a petition criticizing the search process as too secretive and urging against Caret's selection.

Yesterday, several faculty members renewed their criticism, saying that as provost Caret alienated many with what they called his brusque manner.

"This is an utter disaster. This is a man that has proven he has nothing to give to the university," said David Bergman, a 25-year veteran of the English department who described Caret as "imperious" and "belligerent." "We thought it was very clear that the faculty was opposed to his being president."

Caret's supporters said such opposition was no more than the natural result of difficult decisions he made as provost.

"You cannot get unanimous approval of someone if he's made hard choices. He's going to have made decisions that rubbed people the wrong way," said communications professor Richard E. Vatz.

The most common reaction on campus seemed to be plain surprise. The search committee signaled recently that it might take several months until it settled on finalists for the job.

It was only last month, search leaders say, that Caret contacted system officials to say he was reconsidering the job. The search committee did not re-interview Caret before forwarding his name to the regents, without the names of any other finalists.

Caret's change of heart was motivated partly by California's budget crisis, which threatens San Jose State with up to $20 million in cuts, say those who have spoken with him.

The decision was not driven by any new financial inducements from Maryland, search leaders said. Caret will earn $278,000 - $70,000 more than Perkins did and $65,000 more than Caret earned in San Jose. Caret is expected to live in the university's mansion in Baltimore's Guilford neighborhood, which has been vacant since Perkins left.

"The package he's being offered is very comparable to the previous package" offered in December, said Nevins. "It's not as if anyone upped the ante in any significant way."

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