xml:space="preserve">

In selecting University of Massachusetts System President Robert Caret as its next chancellor, the University System of Maryland has kept up a tradition of leadership by those with deep ties to the state and its higher education traditions. Mr. Caret spent 29 years as a professor, dean, executive vice president and provost at Towson university before eventually becoming its president, spending just 11 years of his career outside of Maryland — three in his current job and eight as president of San Jose State University in California. That's a resume much like that of the man he's replacing, William E. "Brit" Kirwan.

That experience and his political and diplomatic skills — he's a schmoozer — should serve him well in much the same way that they did for Mr. Kirwan. The outgoing chancellor helped orchestrate a period of tremendous state support for higher education that contributed significantly to its improved affordability and enhanced quality, and he also managed to hold together a system whose individual institutions vary widely in character and mission yet find themselves competing with each other for attention and resources.

Advertisement

But as stellar as Mr. Kirwan's tenure was, Mr. Caret now faces additional challenges. In the short term, he must grapple with state budget shortfalls and a new governor whose commitment to higher education is not yet established, and he must find a way to resolve the long-standing grievances of the state's historically black colleges and universities, which are currently subject to court-ordered mediation. In the long term, he needs to preside over a reinvention of the higher education business model in Maryland to account for changing demographics, economics and technological advances. It's an idea Mr. Kirwan championed but one whose implementation here has barely begun.

Gov.-elect Larry Hogan praised the selection of Mr. Caret, and there is reason to hope that the new chancellor can build a strong relationship with him. The Ehrlich administration, in which Mr. Hogan served, had strong ties to Towson University during the years when Mr. Caret was president. That said, the state's universities are already taking steps in anticipation of budget cuts, and Mr. Hogan has cited the need for "strong medicine" to get state spending under control. Higher education is a big potential target. Given Mr. Hogan's disavowal during the campaign of the Ehrlich administration policies that led to huge spikes in college tuition, it's hard to imagine that the new governor will repeat them. But some level of cuts may be inevitable; Mr. Caret's job will be to find ways to limit the damage.

The HBCU lawsuit presents another kind of challenge. A federal judge faulted the state for creating programs at traditionally white universities that duplicated ones at HBCUs, but some of the potential remedies for that — shutting down programs or moving them — would certainly be divisive and could be detrimental to the system as a whole. Mr. Caret has some history in that fight — as Towson president, he started a joint Towson-University of Baltimore MBA program that Morgan State University bitterly fought. His selection suggests the regents aren't interested in backing down in the dispute with the HBCUs; that may signal controversy ahead, but it is also likely in the best interests of the system and the state as a whole.

Mr. Caret is taking over the university system at a time of great introspection in American higher education, as parents, students and policymakers question whether its expense has exceeded its value and whether its traditional model is the most efficient and effective in meeting present needs. The state spends too much on remedial classes for students who aren't ready for college level work and doesn't take sufficient advantage of opportunities for advanced students to earn credits before they ever reach campus. The University of Maryland University College is a pioneer in online learning, but that's not true of most other campuses. Too many students complete a substantial number of college credits but wind up without even an associate's degree to show for it. Under Mr. Kirwan's leadership, the state has taken some initial steps to address those problems, but Mr. Caret will have to do much of the heavy lifting in terms of envisioning and implementing reforms to solve them.

Perhaps most importantly, Mr. Caret is steeped in the Maryland tradition of viewing its public colleges and universities as one of the state's most vital economic development tools, and at Towson, he displayed an expansive view of the university's place in the community. That mindset and his experience give him an excellent chance to fill the very big shoes Mr. Kirwan leaves behind. We wish him the best of luck.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement