It’s been one year since Robert L. Caret took over the presidency of the University of Massachusetts, the largest public-university system in New England and a major economic force in the state and South Coast. A scientist by training, Caret was credited in previous leadership roles at Towson University in Maryland and San Jose State University in California with raising the graduation rates of minority students while managing large capital-expansion projects.
At UMass, Caret has made raising graduation and student achievement throughout the system a priority, but faces the same pressure from government spending cuts public institutions across the country are facing. He is also managing the construction of several large facilities, including a biomanufacturing center in Fall River that is intended to be at the center of the new SouthCoast Life Science and Technology Park.
PBN: How do you push UMass into the elite level of colleges and universities in a time of budget cuts and shrinking resources?
CARET: We do so much on our own already, that we continue to do that. We don’t sit still and wait for the state. There are things that we as individual campuses have control of such as research and ramping that up, fundraising and ramping that up, our consulting, our royalty and technology-licensing transfer income. … We are also trying to get the state to understand that those of us at these kinds of campuses do believe in public education in being accessible and affordable for the general population.
We are trying to get Massachusetts to … take on a more proportional role in the education costs of what we do.
PBN: How much of the university’s role is serving as an economic engine for the state and region and how much is pure academics?
CARET: I have always believed that public universities in particular have three missions. The first is the traditional education mission – we take kids and get them educated and give them degrees. But we also have a huge economic-development mission, which we achieve both directly and indirectly – for example we are large employers and purchasers and large land developers. But there is also what I call social well-being as a piece, which is making society a better place, working with the K-12 schools, working with the elderly, working with people who have drug problems, working with people who are sick, working with people who are disabled and using the expertise of our campuses to make all of those things better.