Ex-provost returns to Towson as president

Caret to start in July

school's image a priority

April 04, 2003|By Alec MacGillis | Alec MacGillis,SUN STAFF

Returning to the campus he left eight years ago, the next president of Towson University told dozens of faculty and staff yesterday that his aim is to bring the college the funding and recognition it is due.

"My role is to make sure Towson gets more of the respect it deserves -- and as a result, more resources," said Robert L. Caret, Towson's former provost. "Towson needs to work hard on its image. Its image is solid, but it needs to be better. Towson deserves to be a player in the state of Maryland."

Caret's decision this week to leave the presidency of San Jose State University for Maryland occurred four months after he declined an offer of the Towson job, saying he had grown too close to San Jose State to leave.

At his reintroduction to Towson yesterday, Caret, 55, said he first turned down the presidency because there were "too many complicating factors" at the time to say yes. He said he reconsidered when he found himself dogged by thoughts of returning.

"What changed my mind was that I couldn't get it out of my mind," said Caret, who will assume the $278,000 post in July. "I said no, but I kept thinking about whether it was the right decision and coming back to it."

For the 15,000-student campus, Maryland's second-largest, Caret's selection is a momentous event. The school's direction has been up in the air since the resignation a year ago of Mark L. Perkins, who was forced out after nine months as president for spending $1.8 million on his official residence.

Since then, the school has been guided by an interim president, Provost Dan L. Jones. But the search for a permanent leader dragged on longer than planned, and many faculty members and students accused the search committee of being overly secretive.

Yesterday, several faculty and staff continued to criticize the nature of the search. But employees generally expressed confidence in Caret and relief that the university will have its top leadership in place.

The dozens gathered to see Caret laughed when he and Jones joked about the presidential mansion in Baltimore's Guilford neighborhood, which has stood vacant since Perkins left. The message behind their jokes was clear: The lavish spending on the house is a chapter that can now be closed.

Caret said he would move into the house with his wife and use it to entertain university guests and raise money for the college -- the purpose for which it was purchased two years ago.

"I like the idea of having a presidential house. But I didn't have anything to do with this house. I didn't ask for this particular house, and if you have another house to offer ..." Caret said, tailing off amid laughter. "But this is our house, ... and I hope the neighbors of Guilford come to love me."

Caret said he would spend his initial months learning about what has changed on the campus where he spent 21 years as a professor, dean and provost. For now, he said, he plans no major changes at the university.

He was unconcerned about harshly critical comments made this week by faculty members who feuded with him as provost. "There are always some people who are unhappy," he said. "Hopefully, the numbers who are not enamored of me are few."

University system Chancellor William E. Kirwan said Caret's arrival comes at a key moment for Towson, the start of the term of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who has expressed strong support for the school. "We have found the right leader to maximize the advantage of this propitious moment," Kirwan said.

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