By Barry Rascovar
Dec. 18, 2014 — Hooray for Jim Shea and the rest of the University of Maryland Board of Regents for making a common-sense choice in choosing Bob Caret as the new chancellor of Maryland’s state university system.
In an Oct. 2 column, I listed Caret as one of the best candidates with in-state higher education experience. He’s got the right personality to keep 12 competing academic institutions on the same page.
After all, he’s “been there, done that” — as president of Towson University. He’s seen what works and doesn’t work in drawing all of USM’s presidents into collaboration. (He also spent nine years running the 28,000-student San Jose State University campus to rave reviews.)
Strong Local Roots
Caret understands what it takes to coordinate a sprawling university system with multiple power centers and geographic locations. He’s done that with a great degree of success as president of the 70,000-student, five-campus University of Massachusetts since 2011.
Though he’s a New Englander, Caret’s academic career (29 years on the Towson faculty) give him strong Maryland roots. He’ll start as chancellor knowing the key players in Annapolis and in state higher education.
The regents wisely picked someone whose path parallels the career track of the outgoing chancellor of the 153,000-student University System of Maryland, the legendary Brit Kirwan (45 years on the College Park faculty).
Both men spent decades in the teaching trenches (Kirwan’s PhD. is in mathematics, Caret’s is in organic chemistry), then moved up the administrative ladder to become chief academic officer, Kirwan at College Park, Caret at Towson.
Each man gained on-the-ground experience running a university campus within a larger system — Kirwan at College Park for 10 years, Caret for 18 years split between San Jose State and Towson.
The two men also had served in major CEO roles running large, state university systems, Kirwan at Ohio State, Caret at U.Mass.
And both returned to their true higher education home, Maryland.
In some ways it will be an awkward transition, though that Kirwan and Caret have known each other and worked cooperatively for over three decades.
Caret’s appointment is effective next July 1. That means Kirwan, not Caret, must handle the budget retrenchment now taking place within USM’s $1.1 billion fiscal blueprint.
“Downsizing” and “right-sizing” are the operative words under Gov.-elect Larry Hogan Jr. and that will mean painful shrinkage on state university campuses.
Caret must live with budget decisions made months before he arrives. He won’t be able to put his full imprint on fiscal plans until the budget for 2016 is drawn up.
That will be the key budget year for both Caret and Hogan. By then, both will be in their new jobs long enough to formulate a broader, long-range vision that will be incorporated into the state’s budget (and the university system’s budget) a year from now.
Caret is well aware of the dramatic message Maryland voters sent government leaders: Spending is spinning out of control, as are taxes; yet government isn’t doing enough to encourage job-creation.
The Maine native struck the right notes in his initial comments, saying he’ll focus on two academic priorities — making quality college education affordable and building “a research-based economic engine.”
He’s already singing Hogan’s song!
While many USM institutions are thriving and rising in prestige, Caret faces a tough task improving the performance of the bottom-rung schools — Coppin and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.
UMES’ collaboration with nearby Salisbury University is beginning to pay academic dividends, but Coppin’s sorry status remains deeply troubling. There’s a sharp disconnect between the abysmal performance of Coppin compared with the rest of the USM campuses.
That disconnect was acutely illustrated in comments by a Coppin professor in responding to Caret’s appointment.
Virletta Bryant, who chairs USM’s faculty council, displayed stunning ignorance in stating that the USM faculty didn’t know enough about Caret to offer an opinion.
Heck, he’s only been a faculty member in the system for three decades!
Then Bryant went on to display an appalling lack of knowledge of how USM actually conducts its business by criticizing the secretiveness of the regent’s search for Kirwan’s successor.
Hasn’t she read the law that mandates the chancellor search, and vote, must be kept secret?
If that’s the best a Coppin professor heading the system’s faculty council has to offer, no wonder Coppin students are getting such a poor education.