To celebrate the inauguration of Kim Schatzel as Towson University’s 14th leader, we are looking back at the past leaders of the school. These essays are from a book we helped craft, Towson University: The First 150 Years.
When Robert L. Caret agreed to become the 12th president of Towson University, he did so at a time of great anxiety on campus because of the fallout over the presidency and resignation of Perkins. Caret was not new to Towson. He started his career at Towson State College in 1974 as an assistant professor after receiving his Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of New Hampshire. By 1982, he was named Dean of the College of Natural and Mathematical Science and in 1988, was appointed Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs. He remained as provost until 1994, when he became President of San Jose State University.
With Perkins’ departure, Caret’s name was sent by the Presidential Search Committee to the Board of Regents for approval. After first turning down the offer, Caret reconsidered and was appointed president of Towson University in April of 2003.
The task before Caret was daunting. Due to the “baby boom echo,” enrollment was projected to increase while at the same time, standards for new students were rising, which concerned those who feared the school was becoming too elite. The campus desperately needed to expand to make room for incoming students, but State support continued to decline. Other fundraising ventures had to be created. Caret needed to raise the profile of the university while also creating more opportunities for students and finding new sources of revenue. Growth could not be achieved without an appropriate increase in funding.
In July of 2004, Towson launched its “Growing a University” fundraising campaign with the goal of raising $50 million by 2011. By March of 2011, Towson University Foundation, Inc.’s total assets were over $50 million, with an endowment of over $40 million. This was the largest fundraising campaign ever undertaken at Towson. Research funding in the the sciences and other areas also increased at a steady rate.
The accomplishments made by Towson during Caret’s presidency were notable. By developing better relations with the Board of Regents and by projecting a positive strategy for development, Towson’s role in Maryland’s higher education landscape improved. Towson was targeted as a growth institution by the Board of Regents and during Caret’s tenure, enrollment increased by 4,000 students and dormitory space increased by 2,000 beds. At this rate of growth, Towson would become the largest undergraduate university in the state.
President Caret envisioned Towson as a “workforce engine,” supplying the state with the majority of its teacher, health care workers, and business people, and worked to increase the number of graduate and doctoral programs the university offered. This was met with some controversy when Towson and the University of Baltimore began offering a joint Master of Business Administration program in 2005. Despite the objections of Morgan State University and local private colleges who feared their enrollments in business would decline, the MBA was approved by the Board of Regents and the program began in the fall of 2005. A year later, Towson strengthened its commitment to the business program by establishing the Towson University Business Globalization Center, a business incubator. Besides the dramatic change in appearance of the campus as Towson continued to grow was the development of academic programs to support minority students on campus, raising the graduation rates of black students from 45.9% to 69.9%.
The construction of the new 5,000 seat SECU Arena was the culmination of many years of effort to take the athletic programs at Towson to a more competitive level, and therefore increase the reputation of the school on a national scale. In July 2013, SECU agreed to a ten-year, $4.75 million naming partnership, transforming Tiger Arena to SECU Arena. The State Employee Credit Union is Maryland’s largest state-chartered financial cooperative. The partnership ties directly with Towson University’s and SECU’s ongoing work with young adults around the subject of financial literacy. The arena was the last of many building projects during this period. Other buildings included four residence halls, a new student center, a new childcare center, and a new state-of-the-art Liberal Arts building, the first new academic building on campus since 1977. The Center for the Arts, Hawkins Hall, Psychology Building, the Towson Center, the Union, Albert S. Cook Library, and both the Union and Towsontown garages, underwent extensive renovations and expansions. Also underway were two plans to expand beyond campus borders: a facility constructed in Bel Air, Maryland for Harford and Cecil Community College students to transition to a bachelor’s program at Towson, and the leasing of building spaces at the Towson City Center to be used as classroom space by those in the College of Health Professions.
Towson’s expansion proved to be problematic when dealing with neighborhoods surrounding the school. Neighbors complained about increased traffic, parking, and problems created by students renting houses. Towson reached out to neighborhood associations with newsletters and meetings about upcoming campus projects and created a policy placing the student affairs office in charge of handling complaints about off-campus student residents.
All of this was done with increasing support from the state. Caret’s relationship with the Board of Regents, unlike most of his predecessors, was congenial, and the Regents supported the initiatives and expansions Caret proposed. By the end of his time at Towson, the state was financing about 35% of the university’s budget, a marked increase from the 29% it was giving at the start of Caret’s presidency in 2003.
Dr. Caret’s eight years as president of Towson University were no doubt influenced by his twenty years of experience on campus as professor, dean, and provost. He was familiar with the faculty, the relationship between the university and the state, and was able to address the most pressing concerns that Towson had in trying to achieve its next level of growth.
In 2011, President Caret left Towson when he accepted the position of Chancellor of the University of Massachusetts System. But he would soon return to Maryland. In 2015, he came back when the University System of Maryland Board of Regents selected him as Chancellor.