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Towson University's Caret Prepares to Ship up to Boston

Outgoing TU president: "The bottom line is (Towson's) a college town."

When Robert Caret came to what was then Towson State College in 1974 to teach chemistry, the town was a much different place.

In the 37 years since—of which Caret spent 29 in Towson— has morphed into what he calls "that other large state university."

To community residents who have complained about the school's growth during his tenure, Caret says: "It's a college town."

The Towson University president officially leaves his post today and starts next Monday as , in Boston. A New England native, Caret earned his bachelor's degree in 1969 from , also in Boston. 

"I like to say that I've spent half my personal life here in Towson and 75 percent of my professional life here at Towson," says Caret in a phone interview, adding that the move is "very much like going home again."

Caret, 63, returned to helm Towson at an awkward time in 2003, as the university was recovering from the brief, tumultuous tenure of predecessor Mark Perkins, who resigned after questions arose about his lavish spending on renovations to his state-owned mansion in Baltimore City’s Guilford neighborhood.

In the past decade, the university has surged to unlikely national renown for its debate team, marching band and minority graduation rates. Enrollment surged, too, to 21,840 students in 2010, up from 17,488 in 2002, before Caret returned.

That growth came at a cost to community relations: Many neighbors felt the university had grown without considering the impact of more students moving into the community. Some residents feel the university should build more on-campus housing before boosting enrollment.

Still, community leaders credit Caret with taking steps to clamp down on student misbehavior throughout Towson neighborhoods with programs like community ambassadors, grants to and citations for nuisance houses.

On the other side of campus, Caret clashed with Rodgers Forge residents last year over the recently finalized Tiger Arena project. Original plans had the arena just steps away from its Rodgers Forge neighbors, catching community leaders off-guard and forcing designers back to the drawing board.

The conflict with the community cost the university millions more, but Caret and community leaders agreed on a hillier site on the other side of the existing Towson Center.

Caret says the university tries to work with residents and he chalks up continued tensions to "the ones who are out in front and have a lot to say."

"When you have 25,000 young people in the middle of a community, it's going to have an impact, but I think the large number of people respect the fact we've done as much as we can to minimize the negative and maximize the positive," Caret says.

Caret continues: "The bottom line is it's a college town, it's going to continue to be a college town, it's going to be more and more of a college town. So the ones that enjoy a college town are going to enjoy it the most."

But all the compromises made to placate the community before building will mean little if the university's bet on athletics doesn't pay off. 

When asked what he wished could have gone better during his tenure, Caret laughs as he recalls the troubled recent history of Towson's athletics program. Towson University has all the amenities and the "look" of an accomplished mid-major school, but such sheen is nowhere to be found in the records of Towson's flagship teams.

The football team went 1-10 in 2010 under second-year head coach Rob Ambrose. The men's basketball team went 4-26 and lost 17 straight. Neither won a single conference game.

Towson  as its new basketball coach this month to turn the program around. In September, Caret brought in an  who has launched initiatives to 

"I feel if these two people can't do it, nobody can do it," Caret says.

David Nevins, a friend who runs a Hunt Valley public relations firm, recently accompanied Caret and Waddell to Houston to hire Skerry. He has ambitious goals for the Tigers.

"We have to start winning. We haven't done that in an awfully long time," Nevins says. "We will become the premier college athletic program in the Baltimore metro area, which will bring even more attention and praise to the institution even well beyond where we are today."

But the man whom many in the university say is responsible for setting them on that path won't be around to watch.

"I'd love to be able to do both things and be there to watch Towson continue to evolve," Caret says. "I just have to do it as a president emeritus instead of as a president."

DCMerkle April 19, 2011 at 02:56 PM
Caret had a knack for disregarding the community and his many remarks about Towson's residents and their concerns about the student growth in the community just underlines what Mr. Caret was all about. He neglects to mention trying to build a 200 bed dorm in the heart of Towson without letting the community know that it was to be included in the Towson Circle III project. He neglects to mention that T.U. did it with out putting out an RFP for the project. He neglects to mention that the story that he was giving about the plans to our district Senator and his delegates was 3-4 different stories. It wasn't until the Senator and his delegates got together to compare notes that they realized that there was more to the plans than was being said. It was the Senator and his delegates that brought it to the attention of the community. His statement in the article about, "the ones who are out in front and have a lot to say.", was the committee that was formed from GTTCA after all the issues were brought to light. The committee did what T.U saw as something that was un-necessary. GTCCA wanted to open lines of communication and T.U. didn't. It's a shame that his statement about, "When asked what he wished could have gone better during his tenure, Caret laughs as he recalls the troubled recent history of Towson's athletics program." it wasn't "I wish that I had remembered that the surrounding communities of T.U. mattered just as much if not more than the University itself."
Tyler Waldman April 19, 2011 at 03:08 PM
That's what we meant. Good catch, Matthew.
Karl Pfrommer April 22, 2011 at 05:16 AM
I don't give Caret credit for, "...taking steps to clamp down on student misbehavior throughout Towson neighborhoods..." Under Caret's leadership Towson exemplifies a culture of alcohol. There are alcohol events on campus where the VP for student affairs has condoned binge drinking. Caret endorsed the Amethyst Initiative. According to its Web site, the Amethyst Initiative is a movement to support "an informed and dispassionate public debate over the effects of the 21-year-old drinking age." In other words, "Let's talk about lowering the drinking age to 18, like it was in 1984. Maybe that will prevent binge drinking." Giving grants to County Police is like closing the barn door after the horses are out. Don't wait until students are binge drinking. Cure the problem before it starts. Frostburg's President, Jonathan Gibralter reduced underage student alcohol incidents by 39%. He notifies parents of alcohol violations and requires students to face a university judicial board even if they were arrested off campus. He received a national award for creating a climate that de-emphasizes alcohol consumption. What has Caret done?
Neversure April 22, 2011 at 02:42 PM
Goodbye and good riddance. Being a long time Towson resident, I concur with the comments of DC Merkle and Mr. Pfrommer. I would just LOVE to know the source of the following quote from the article: "Still, community leaders credit Caret with taking steps to clamp down on student misbehavior throughout Towson neighborhoods with programs like community ambassadors, grants to Baltimore County police and citations for nuisance houses." What???? It was the community that absolutely screamed for some control over the few who cause the trouble, and make life in Towson so difficult for the residents. Bob and his crowd fought us every step of the way. Granted, things are turning around for the better, due to the hard work of our County Councilperson, David Marks, who cares about his constituents. TU must take responsibility for the behavior of its students. Tigerfrest is just around the corner, and the residents are circling the wagons to prepare for the drunken onslaught. If you don't believe me, log onto "Towerlight" and read the comments from the students who are already planning to be too drunk to even care about which bands will be playing. My recommendation for the next president? Sell the house in Guilford, and buy a nice house in Towson. Let him (or her) live in Tigertown.
Buzz Beeler April 28, 2011 at 04:03 PM
Neversure, right on target. I can remember the immense problems even back when when I was on the job. One of the community leaders worked in my office and I could not imagine living in this type of environment. Poor planing, poor enforcement and TU not holding students accountable. Expulsion might shake up the parents and students by announcing that bad behavior will not be tolerated and once the word gets out parents, and students will begin to realize the dollar and CENTS of the issue.

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