There was a moment when I realized that Bob Caret just might be crazy. It was in 2005, during one of the periodic meetings I had with the then-Towson University president. He was laying out his vision for what he called a "metropolitan university." To Mr. Caret, schools like Towson should serve the communities that surround them — sending their students and faculty beyond the campus borders to do good. And, in turn, giving those students a real-world education.

But it wasn't Mr. Caret's vision that seemed crazy to me. It was the fact that he actually seemed to believe what he was saying.


I'm in advertising. We're cynical people. We rarely stop to think if something someone is saying is actually what they believe. Our job is simply to amplify their message in a way that compels people to action. But that day, in his private conference room, Mr. Caret gave me pause. I had asked him what his goals were for the campaign he wanted my ad agency to create.

"I want to be able to help more people," I remember Mr. Caret saying. What's that? You want to help people? Like, really?

The idea, Mr. Caret explained, would be to promote the good that Towson is doing in the community, so businesses with deep pockets — along with the legislature — would give the school more funding to do more good.

In that light, the news that Mr. Caret will now be the next chancellor of the University System of Maryland excites me. The man I came to know seems to have three things going for him.

First, he has vision. He will think beyond what has been done to what might be done. This should be heartening to every student who aspires to greatness, every parent who wants their child to attend a school that thinks bigger and every faculty member who wants to be part of something bigger than themselves. With Mr. Caret's vision, we have a good shot at finally uniting what has always been a rather disparate collection of individual campuses and universities. With a common purpose — a guiding philosophy, if you will — the entire system stands to benefit.

Second, Mr. Caret has charisma. Do not underestimate the power of charm in the arsenal of a university president. He would be as comfortable in a corporate boardroom as he would a blue-collar Baltimore barroom. Despite his thick New England accent, he felt like one of us. Whoever "us" actually is. With his strong interpersonal skills, he will be able to win over legislators, business leaders and anyone else he needs to make the university system bigger and stronger.

But perhaps Mr. Caret's greatest asset is this: He has nothing to lose. After leaving Towson for the University of Massachusetts, Mr. Caret seemed to exude confidence. On a visit to his office in Boston last year, I got a greater sense of why. At 67, he honestly doesn't need to work. He's achieved great things at every university in which he's served. As president of San Jose State, he partnered with the city's mayor to create the nation's first joint university and city library. At Towson, his efforts to do good throughout Baltimore resulted in significant state funding increases for the university. At UMass, he was able to lobby the legislature to pay for half a student's education — thereby allowing tuition to be frozen for the past two years.

There's no reason this man shouldn't call it quits and hit the golf course.

When you have nothing to lose, you're willing to take more risks. You're not afraid to shake up the status quo, stand up to your opponents or give up on things that just aren't working. Mr. Caret can be fearless as he takes the reins of our great university system and pushes it to be more than it already is.

Of course, you don't reach the levels Mr. Caret has reached in his career without having a few detractors. After he left Towson University, the new regime there scrambled to erase his legacy. They issued immediate instructions to remove the school's themeline and Mr. Caret's mantra —"Thinking outside" — from the university website, brochures and advertising. They held large meetings of the school's academic and athletic leadership — one of which I attended — that quickly devolved into complaint sessions over the supposed "autocratic" way Mr. Caret operated. It's true. Mr. Caret didn't always consult every single leader at the university. He sought support and consensus, but he didn't require unanimous approval to make a decision.

He was, in short, a leader.

John Patterson is executive creative director of MGH, a Baltimore advertising agency and the agency of record for Towson University from 1999 to October of this year. His email is jpatterson@mghus.com.