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Robert L. Caret (Photo:

Robert Caret is new University System of Maryland chancellor

Caret, former Towson leader, picked to replace Kirwan

Robert L. Caret, a former president of Towson University, will be the next chancellor of the University System of Maryland, officials confirmed Wednesday.

Caret, 67, who has served as president of the five-campus University of Massachusetts system since 2011, will take office on July 1.

Caret succeeds USM Chancellor William E. “Brit” Kirwan, who has held that post for the past dozen years.

Board of Regents Chairman James L. Shea announced the appointment in an email to the university system community late Wednesday afternoon, just minutes before USM officials confirmed it.

“The board determined that Dr. Caret possessed the combination of experience, insight, leadership, and knowledge, and vision necessary to guide the USM and serve the state of Maryland in the years ahead,” Shea wrote in the email.

Caret is already familiar with higher education in Maryland, which several people said will be critical to his ability to navigate the complexities of the 12-institution system, as well as its relationship with the state legislature.

Caret’s career began in 1974 at Towson University (then known as Towson State), as a chemistry professor. He eventually rose to the position of provost and executive vice president at Towson before heading to the west coast in 1955.

He had an eight-year run as president of San Jose University in California, but then returned to Towson in 2003. He served as president of the Baltimore County institution until 2011.

“One thing that was very important was that they found someone who understood the legislature, the government structure, all the various schools that are part of the system and what their missions are,” said Don Fry, president of the Greater Baltimore Committee. “Bob isn’t going to need any on-the-job training.”

The Boston Globe reported that Caret received high marks for lobbying the legislature to increase funding for UMass to reach a level that allows the state to pay for half of a college education, and families to cover the other half.

Over previous years, amid state cuts to public higher education, rising college costs had placed a great financial burden on Massachusetts families. The funding increases have allowed UMass to freeze tuition and fees for the past two years, according to the Globe.

But Caret will likely find a challenging funding environment in Maryland.

With the state facing a nearly $1 billion budget shortfall by the end of fiscal 2016, all USM institutions were instructed to implement hiring and spending freezes until further notice. A spokeswoman for the governor’s office said similar actions were underway within state agencies.

Given the circumstances, at least one top administrator within the university system expressed doubts that Caret would be able to deliver the same legislative successes as he did in Massachusetts.

“[Caret’s] hallmark at the UMass system was in getting more tax dollars out of the state,” said the administrator, who asked not to be named. “The University of Maryland System will not be getting more money from the state. I think we’re close to all-out funding-crisis mode right now. Expect to see massive cuts in programs [at USM institutions] unless we get a tuition increase for the flagship.”

Caret’s name has been tossed around as a potential contender for months, and he was recently rumored to be on the search committee’s shortlist.

But being Kirwan’s successor may not be an enviable role.

“Clearly, Dr. Caret has big shoes to fill as he takes over for Chancellor Brit Kirwan,” Shea wrote in the email. “Under Chancellor Kirwan’s leadership, the USM has established itself as a national model in several areas, including academic and research excellence and innovation, efficiency and cost containment, and access and affordability for our students.”

Kirwan announced in May his plans to step down. He said he will remain on the job until his successor steps in.

The appointment is the result of a six-month national search led by Rick Berndt, a former Regent and managing partner of Gallagher Evelius & Jones LLP in Baltimore.

USM officials will hold a press conference on Friday afternoon in Baltimore to introduce Caret.

“Brit Kirwan did a tremendous job, and was the right person at the time,” Fry said. “And I think Bob Caret is again the right person at the right time.”

About Alissa Gulin

Alissa Gulin covers health care, education and general business at The Daily Record.