BOSTON — The University of Massachusetts Board of Trustees on Thursday tapped Robert Caret to be the new president of the five-campus UMass system.
Caret will replace departing UMass President Jack Wilson, who is stepping down June 30.
Caret is president of Towson University in suburban Baltimore, where he has also served as faculty member, dean, executive vice president and provost during the past 25 years. He also served as president of San Jose State University from 1995 until 2003.
Immediately after the board’s vote, the 63-year-old Caret began laying out his vision for the university. He said he will be a strong advocate for public higher education and will press state and federal officials for the funding needed to keep the university system affordable.
“I don’t think having public education become private education is the way we want to go,” Caret said. “The public option has to always be there and it has to be a high quality option. You shouldn’t have a public option that only the people who can’t afford to go to the privates can go to. You want a public option that people choose to go to.”
He said he will emphasize what he called the “research enterprise” at UMass, especially in areas like biotechnology and nanotechnology. He said he’ll work with the chancellors of the five campuses and rely on their “entrepreneurial leadership.”
While he has spent much of his career in Maryland and California, Caret has New England roots.
He was born in Biddeford, Maine, in 1947 and said he was the first member of his family to attend college. He received a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and mathematics from Suffolk University in 1969 and went on to receive his doctorate in organic chemistry from the University of New Hampshire in 1974.
He’s married with four grown children.
Caret beat out two other finalists, Phillip Clay, chancellor of Massachusetts Institute of Technology since 2001, and Charles Bantz, chancellor of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. He was chosen from an initial field of 300 candidates.
Wilson is stepping down as president after nearly eight years leading the $2.8 billion university with 66,000 students. Wilson plans to remain a member of the faculty at UMass and said he’s looking forward to working with Caret.
Wilson made $425,000 annually as president. The board will be negotiating a salary with Caret.
Caret won plaudits from those inside the university system and from the Patrick administration.
State Education Secretary Paul Reville said Caret is the right candidate for a challenging time.
“We’re on the edge of a new era for the university,” Reville said, pointing to increasing demand from those looking for a quality and affordable education. “We’re eager to work with him on developing the next chapter.”
University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth Chancellor Jean MacCormack called Caret “a distinguished and dynamic leader who will advance the mission of the university.”
Caret has written articles in business and professional publications in the fields of chemistry, chemical education and higher education. He has also co-wrote four textbooks in the fields of organic chemistry and allied health chemistry.
At San Jose State University, Caret helped lead a partnership between the college and the city to build the largest library west of the Mississippi — the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library, which serves more than a million people a year.
Caret also recently served on the NCAA Presidential Task Force on the Future of Intercollegiate Athletics.
The search process was thrown into upheaval after the governor and his team weighed in on the search for a new president.
Afterward, UMass Board Chairman Robert Manning resigned from his post, and UMass-Lowell Chancellor Martin Meehan withdrew from the search.
Meehan said Thursday that he had no regrets and praised the choice of Caret.
“I think he has a great perspective on the role that public universities play in the community,” Meehan said. “I think that his focus on the role that higher education plays in urban centers is helpful as well.”