Towson University President Robert L. Caret, who bolstered his school's reputation through campus expansion, unprecedented fundraising and new academic programs, will leave to become the next president of the University of Massachusetts system after being selected Thursday over two other finalists.
Caret has served as president at Towson since 2003 and has spent most of his career at the university. His aggressive efforts to expand Towson's physical footprint and academic scope made him a star among state university presidents but also caused occasional friction with community activists and other educational leaders.
"It's a huge loss," said William E. Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland. "There's a real buzz about Towson, both around the state and nationally. It has gained so much visibility, and that's a tribute to Bob's energy and vision."
Caret, 63, was one of three finalists who interviewed Thursday before the UMass system's Board of Trustees. He beat out Phillip Clay, the departing chancellor of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Charles Bantz, the chancellor of Indiana University- Purdue University Indianapolis. The system, which includes five campuses and about 65,000 students, considered almost 500 candidates during a 10-month search to replace its departing president, Jack M. Wilson.
The position offers Caret broader responsibilities and possibly a larger salary. Wilson makes $425,000 a year at Umass; Caret makes $369,300 at Towson.
"The University of Massachusetts is one of the nation's premier public research universities and provides a beacon of hope and opportunity for so many," Caret said in a statement released by the UMass system. "I look forward to building upon its tradition of excellence in academics, research and public service."
"I think Bob is an incredibly dynamic and charismatic individual," UMass trustee James J. Karam, who headed the search committee, told the Associated Press.
Wilson will not step down until the end of June, and Kirwan said he expects Caret to stay at Towson through most of the spring. He said a national search for Caret's replacement will begin soon, and he hopes to have a new president in place by the beginning of the fall semester. Kirwan said he will seek a leader who will "continue the same trajectory."
Caret, a Maine native, earned his doctorate in organic chemistry from the University of New Hampshire in 1974 and then spent 21 years at Towson as a faculty member and administrator. He was provost in 1995 when he left to become president of San Jose State University in California.
Towson endured a rocky period in 2002 under President Mark L. Perkins, who resigned after revelations that the university had spent almost $2 million to buy and renovate a new presidential residence. In the wake of that scandal, university leaders made a hard push to woo Caret back to Towson.
He became Towson's 12th president in 2003 and quickly embarked on plans to boost the university's scope and image. He wanted Towson to transform itself from a regional commuter school to a strong No. 2 in the Maryland system, akin to Michigan State or North Carolina State.
He sought to add more than 2 million square feet of facilities, 2,000 beds and 1,500 parking spaces so Towson's on-campus life would blossom. The university added tutoring programs in downtown Baltimore and announced plans for a satellite campus in Harford County. Caret persuaded the Coalition of Urban and Metropolitan Universities to relocate its headquarters to the Towson campus and served as the organization's president.
"Towson has historically been an important institution to the state, but I think it was something of an underappreciated asset," Kirwan said. "Its visibility increased largely by the dint of Bob's personality. Even more than that, he pushed Towson off in new directions."
Specifically, Kirwan said, Towson's research funding quintupled under Caret, and the university, which had long struggled with fundraising, completed a $40 million campaign in 2009.
Some of Caret's plans, such as those for an expanded basketball arena, irritated neighbors. And his quest to add an MBA program led to an all-out political fight with then- Morgan State University President Earl Richardson, who said it would unfairly duplicate Morgan's business program. Towson ultimately received approval for the MBA.
Caret also hoped to bolster Towson's image by making it a mid-major power in college athletics, but that quest was perhaps his most frustrating. The school's basketball and football teams have continued to lose more than they win, and Caret hired a new athletic director, Mike Waddell, in September.
"We just have to break out of the box in athletics if we're going to be the kind of university we all dream of becoming," he said at the time.
Caret was periodically mentioned as a candidate for other presidencies and was a finalist for the top job at Temple University in 2006.