Leadership & Governance

Charles Reed, Longtime Leader of California State U., Plans to Retire

Reed Saxon, AP Images

Charles B. Reed (left, at a meeting of the system's trustees this year) announced his plans to retire on Thursday. He has been chancellor of California State U. since 1998, overseeing a period of rapid growth and severe budget cuts.
May 24, 2012

Charles B. Reed, chancellor of the California State University system since 1998, announced on Thursday that he will retire.

Mr. Reed, who is 70, expects to continue to lead the 23-campus system until a successor is named, the university said. He and his wife, Cathy, plan to return to Florida, where he led the State University System for more than a decade. In Florida, Mr. Reed also served as chief of staff to Gov. Bob Graham, a Democrat, and as director of planning and budgeting in the commissioner's office at the Florida Department of Education.

At Cal State, Mr. Reed has presided over a system facing rapid growth and deep budget cuts. During his tenure as chancellor, enrollment in the system has increased by 100,000 students, to 427,000, although Cal State has had to limit enrollments as California's economy faltered. Over the past four years, the system said, state budget cuts to Cal State have totaled more than $1-billion, a reduction of 35 percent.

Still, Mr. Reed said, the system's campuses "have continued to flourish."

"It has been an incredible honor to serve as chancellor of the California State University during such a dynamic period in the university's history," Mr. Reed said in prepared remarks. "Over the past decade and a half, the CSU has emerged as a national leader in providing access and support to students from a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds."

Mr. Reed has put in place programs designed to improve Cal State's relationship with various ethnic groups. In one such effort, called "CSU Super Sunday," Mr. Reed and other Cal State leaders have spoken at California churches serving predominantly black congregations to spread the word about how to prepare for college and apply for financial aid. The chancellor has often touted the system's "How to Get to College" poster, which has been produced in eight languages. More than three million copies were distributed during Mr. Reed's tenure, the system said.

He also has sought to improve college preparation, and reduce the number of students entering Cal State needing remedial education, by helping to create a program that gives California 11th graders feedback on standardized tests about their readiness for college-level English and math.

"California owes a deep debt of gratitude to Chancellor Reed," said Mark G. Yudof, president of the University of California. "Chancellor Reed's legacy of public service includes his tireless, multidimensional campaign to reach students who might otherwise not have put themselves on a path toward college, in the process greatly expanding access for Californians of all backgrounds."

Mr. Yudof said Mr. Reed provided "consistently dynamic and innovative leadership" at Cal State and also has proven to be "an effective champion for public higher education at the national level," including on efforts to improve need-based aid.

On other fronts, Mr. Reed worked to build closer ties with the leaders of major state industries, including agriculture and tourism, to find out how Cal State could build on its strengths in work-force preparation and alter its programs to produce graduates with skills that more closely meet state needs.

'Unprecedented Turmoil'

But Mr. Reed's relationship with many of the system's 44,000 faculty and staff has often been contentious. The California Faculty Association, which represents Cal State professors and other instructional employees in the system, said Thursday that Mr. Reed's departure "provides a unique opportunity to reflect on the direction of CSU, and to improve the quality of education at the nation's largest university system."

"We sincerely hope and will actively work to make sure Chancellor Reed's retirement will offer an opportunity to usher in an era of better relations between CSU faculty, staff, students, and system management," the statement continued.

The faculty association cited "devastating budget cuts" and rising tuition, which the group says has more than quadrupled since 2002, in concluding that Mr. Reed "has presided over an era of unprecedented turmoil."

Mr. Reed and other Cal State leaders also have faced a recent outcry over presidential pay, including criticism from Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, and others who have viewed the salaries set for some new campus leaders as symbols of excess at a time of austerity.

Under fire from lawmakers and students, Cal State's board adopted a policy in January that capped the pay of incoming presidents at 10 percent more than their predecessor's compensation. But that decision failed to appease critics, who found fault when the board gave the maximum pay to the next two presidents they hired, at the Fullerton and East Bay campuses. An amended policy freezes all salaries for incoming presidents at current levels, unless a campus foundation can independently finance an increase of up to 10 percent.

Mr. Reed's total compensation, which was not at the center of the recent controversy, totaled $451,500 in 2011.

Mr. Reed earned three degrees from George Washington University, including a bachelor's degree in health and physical education, a master's degree in secondary education, and an Ed.D. in teacher education.

He is the second statewide higher-education leader to announce his departure this year. In March, Jack Scott, the chancellor of California Community Colleges, said that he would retire from the 112-college system on September 1.