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Caret says he’s not seeking new contract as USM chancellor

Robert Caret in 2014. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

Robert Caret in 2014. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

University System of Maryland Chancellor Robert L. Caret will not seek a contract extension after his employment ends next year, he announced Thursday.

Multiple sources had told The Daily Record that board chair Linda Gooden and Robert R. Neall, a regent who also serves as the state Secretary of Health, have given assurances to several top state lawmakers that the Board of Regents would not extend Caret’s employment agreement after it ends in June 2020.

Caret, 71, informed the regents last week that he would be stepping down at the end of his employment agreement in June 2020. He has served as the chancellor since July 2015 when he replaced William E. “Brit” Kirwan.

“Returning to the state where my career in public higher education began was a dream come true, but now is the time for me to move on and explore other professional options,” Caret said in a statement.

With Caret’s decision, the system has launched or will launch searches for its two highest-profile leadership positions: chancellor and president at the University of Maryland, College Park. The university’s president, Wallace Loh, announced earlier this year that he would retire in June 2020.

Caret had been approaching the window to negotiate a new agreement with the board. According to his existing employment agreement, if Caret is still chancellor as of June 1, 2019, then on or before July 1 the board “shall confer with you about the Board’s intentions regarding your continued service” beyond June 30, 2020.

Over the past year Caret’s leadership during investigations into the University of Maryland’s football program and an ethics flap had led to questions about whether he would continue as chancellor. The episodes also irritated some state lawmakers and eroded confidence in the leadership of the public institution.

The system is also in the middle of searches for new presidents at two institutions: the University of Maryland, College Park and Coppin State University.

Gooden also gave assurances to lawmakers that Caret would not be the sole decider in choosing the next president at College Park, sources said.

Caret had also floated the possibility of staying on one extra year to finish the searches at College Park and Coppin but has yet to find an audience receptive to his proposal, sources said.

“During Chancellor Caret’s tenure, the system has built upon its role as an economic engine and economic catalyst for the state, with the number of degrees awarded rising to more than 42,000 per year – a figure that includes at least 80 percent of Maryland’s bachelor’s degrees,” Gooden said in a statement.

During the most recent legislative session, legislators sent a message to the board that they were displeased with Caret’s leadership and cut $642,600 from the system office’s budget, the exact amount of the chancellor’s annual salary.

Lawmakers said the cut was made to get the attention of a board they said appeared to be not getting the message.

Caret was also said to have a poor relationship with Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., an alum of the school and one of the system’s most powerful and vocal advocates.

Last fall the Board of Regents oversaw investigations into the death of University of Maryland football player Jordan McNair and the football team’s culture.

While the board’s then-chair James Brady served as the most visible spokesman, Caret was largely absent.

A review by the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges interviewed some people who said that Brady’s visibility and Caret’s marginalization may have been due to the pair’s “dysfunctional” relationship.

“We were told that (Caret’s) relationship with the former chair was best described as dysfunctional, and that some lingering, residual effects from that relationship have spilled over to relations with the current board,” the report said. “Some interviewees felt that the chancellor was marginalized during the tragedy and its aftermath.”

This year, Caret came under more scrutiny when the Associated Press reported an email he sent in 2017 to other higher education leaders promoting Pandora charm bracelets. That email eventually led to a grievance over alleged retaliation by Caret and a settlement signed by the chancellor.

Caret joined the University System of Maryland as chancellor in July 2015 as the replacement for William E. “Brit” Kirwan. He had been the president of the University of Massachusetts System before that.

Caret also had served as the president of Towson University between 2003 and 2011.

Update: This story has been updated with Caret’s announcement Thursday morning that he will not seek a contract extension.

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