After a year of public criticism and legislative rebukes of the University System of Maryland, Chancellor Robert L. Caret has decided not to seek another five-year contract, and will leave his job in June 2020.
After a year of public criticism and legislative rebukes of the University System of Maryland, Chancellor Robert L. Caret has decided not to seek another five-year contract, and will leave his job in June 2020. (Kenneth K. Lam / The Baltimore Sun)

After a year of public criticism and legislative rebukes of the University System of Maryland, Chancellor Robert L. Caret decided not to seek another five-year contract, and will leave his job in June 2020.

When Caret arrived to head the 12-campus system in 2015, he was returning to familiar turf — he had been president of Towson University — and he was praised by a cadre of academics and politicians.

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In the past year, Caret been through a series of trials, beginning with the death of a 19-year-old football player and ending with the legislature deciding this winter to eliminate his $650,000 salary from the system’s administrative budget, a clear signal to his bosses, the Board of Regents, that he was not liked.

And in March, The Associated Press reported that Caret sent an email in August 2017 to three university presidents outside the Maryland system, saying he was writing “on behalf” of a system alumnus, the then-president of Pandora Americas jewelry, to make them aware of an opportunity involving university logo-branded charm bracelets. Caret acknowledged he should not have sent the email.

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Caret informed the Board of Regents of his plans this week.

“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 news release. He declined an interview request.

Caret still retains the respect of some of the university system presidents, according to Freeman Hrabowski, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

“He understood our campuses because he had served at Towson,” Hrabowski said. “He brought great experience from other systems in California and Massachusetts. … He brought additional national visibility to the state of Maryland.”

Caret started his career in 1974 as a chemistry professor at Towson. He subsequently served as dean, executive vice president and provost there before moving to San José State University. In 2011, Caret was named president of the five-campus University of Massachusetts system. In 2015, he became Maryland’s chancellor.

"I want to thank Chancellor Caret for his leadership and service to the state, and we wish him and his family well as they look to the future,” said Republican Gov. Larry Hogan in a statement.

Caret’s announcement follows a rocky period for the University System of Maryland. The system’s flagship campus was embroiled in controversy last year following the death of Jordan McNair.

McNair died June 13, 2018, two weeks after suffering heatstroke during a football practice in College Park.

Caret found himself at the center of a power struggle between the Board of Regents and College Park following McNair’s death. He became the unseen intermediary between the board that oversees the university system and University of Maryland President Wallace Loh.

Loh notably went against the regents’ instructions when he decided to fire football coach DJ Durkin.

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University System of Maryland Chancellor Robert Caret has been a silent voice in public, but behind the scenes, he has been at the center of the power struggle.

Just as that crisis was fading, the story emerged that Caret had sent the jewelry email. When a member of Caret’s staff brought the issue to the attention of university officials, she filed a grievance for what she said was allegedly retaliation in the form of a poor job performance review, the AP reported.

State Sen. Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat, said he believed Caret’s retaliation against an administrator who alerted leaders of the system to Caret’s ethical lapses was “unconscionable.”

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Ferguson said he remains concerned that Caret will oversee the system at a time when there are searches for two new presidents at Coppin State University in Baltimore, the University of Maryland flagship campus in College Park.

“I am pleased the Board of Regents recognized the level of frustration that the legislature demonstrated this session when we withheld from the system’s budget the amount equal to the chancellor’s salary,” Ferguson said.

He pointed to “several instances of reputational crisis for the system” that led to the legislators taking such an unusual stance.

Linda Gooden, the chairwoman of the Board of Regents, declined to be interviewed.

In a statement, Gooden said that during Caret’s tenure, the system “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% of Maryland’s bachelor’s degrees.”

Despite the events of the past year, Hrabowski said Caret will have plenty of other opportunities to pursue in higher education because of his national reputation.

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And Marty Meehan, the president of the University of Massachusetts campus system who worked under Caret, said he has a “proven track record” and solid reputation in higher education and other states will be eager to get his expertise.

“The reality is that Bob Caret is an outstanding public university leader,” he said. “In my view, he would be in demand at universities throughout the country.”

Caret will stay through the next academic year while a search for the next chancellor is conducted.

“Maryland launched my academic career, invited me to become president of the campus that meant so much to me and then asked me to become system chancellor,” Caret said in the release. “Three times, Maryland has asked an immigrant’s son from a mill town in Maine to be part of this remarkable public university, and I am truly grateful to have had these opportunities to serve.”

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