Incoming UMass President Known For Raising Profile Of Urban Universities

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The president of Maryland's second-largest university will head the University of Massachusetts system. The new president, Robert Caret, is a native New Englander, a chemist and an evangelist for what he calls "Metropolitan Universities."

Robert Caret (Towson University)
Robert Caret (Towson Univ.)

Caret has specialized in raising the profile of lesser-known state universities.

"It's an image thing, we joke. We're the Rodney Dangerfield of education. We get no respect," Caret said a couple of years ago, talking about Towson University, a public school outside of Baltimore.

"We were the stealth universities. Everybody knew we were there, but they couldn't see us," he said.

Before heading Towson, Caret was president of San Jose State University in California. He helped found the Coalition of Urban and Metropolitan Universities. According to Caret, these schools have to work hand-in-hand with their communities.

"If you don't dream with your community — if your dream is only your dream, and someone starts to come in and, pardon the vernacular, 'screw around' with that dream, the community doesn't really care that much," Caret said. "But if you dream with your community and create a common future together, and somebody comes in and starts to tinker with it, everybody cares, and they all come up to protect you."

Last year, some of those dreams came true.

At most colleges, white students graduate at a higher rate than black and Latino students. But Towson closed the gap last year. It's one of only 11 institutions across the country to do that, according to analysis by a think tank in Washington, D.C.

"He understands all of the intricacies and nuances of being in an urban setting. And most of our campuses are directly or tangentially in urban settings."

Henry Thomas III, UMass search committee

Towson did this by admitting minority students from strong public high schools and then tracking them. The university also provided mentors.

Members of the UMass search committee said these were major factors in choosing Caret.

"He understands all of the intricacies and nuances of being in an urban setting. And most of our campuses are directly or tangentially in urban settings," said Henry Thomas III, who helped lead the search. "And the other thing that's impressive is his commitment to diversity."

Secretary of Education Paul Reville voiced support for another candidate, Phillip Clay, the departing chancellor at MIT. But Reville ultimately voted for Caret.

"I was overwhelmingly impressed by the management experience, legislative experience, sense of energy, enthusiasm and drive that Robert Caret brought to the position," Reville said.

The board of trustees voted unanimously for Caret after closed-door interviews with three finalists. At the announcement, Caret hesitated to spell-out a grand vision for the UMass system. He said the campuses are already on a good trajectory of doing more research and attracting tenure-track faculty. He said he'll try to speed up the improvements.

"Each of the campuses needs to be the best of its type. Whatever programmatic mix it has, whatever student population it's working with, whatever challenges it's facing, research emphasis it has, each needs to be best within its peer-group," Caret said.

Caret said he's well aware of the challenges facing the system, especially continued budget cuts. He noted that there is more public support for higher education in Maryland than there is here.

This program aired on January 14, 2011.


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