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Charles Reed, Longtime Chancellor of Cal State, Dies at 75

Charles B. Reed, who navigated the 23-campus California State University system through rapid growth amid deep budget cuts as its chancellor from 1998 to 2012, died on Tuesday at the age of 75. In a brief statement, the system did not say where or how Mr. Reed had died.

But at the time he announced his retirement, in 2012, he said he planned to return to Florida, where he had led the State University System for more than a decade.

At Cal State, budget cuts loomed even as enrollments boomed. As California’s economy was rocked by the dot-com recession of the early 2000s, the financial crisis of 2007, and the ensuing Great Recession, the state repeatedly slashed its budget, and higher-education spending was among the most prominent casualties, with more than $1 billion in reductions over one four-year period.

Meanwhile, a rising population of Hispanic and other minority students, along with many adult learners seeking new skills or simply hoping to ride out the recessions in college, put enormous pressure on the Cal State system. Enrollment grew under Mr. Reed by 100,000, to 427,000, but amid budget stringency, the system at one point had to reduce its number of seats by 165,000.

Still, Mr. Reed, who was the first of his seven siblings to make it to college, made access the byword of his chancellorship. He took a series of steps to reach out to nonwhite students, to try to maintain their numbers on his campuses even though a ballot measure had banned affirmative action in college admissions statewide. He also tried to broaden need-based student-aid programs and to improve high-school students’ readiness for college in order to reduce their need for remedial courses.

In recent years, as California’s economy has strengthened, and the state’s budget picture with it, including the passage of a key ballot measure in 2012, the Cal State system has benefited from the groundwork Mr. Reed laid.

Despite those successes, Mr. Reed had a rocky relationship with the California Faculty Association, a union of the system’s faculty members that faulted him for the budget cuts, tuition increases, enrollment reductions, and other retrenchment that marked his tenure.

He almost immediately got off on the wrong foot with the faculty by noting, with the excessive candor for which he was known, that year-round classes were essential to easing enrollment pressures and that faculty members who complained “My God, we can’t work in the summertime. We’ve got to rest” should think again. He immediately apologized for the gaffe, but didn’t back down on the policy prescription.

He also drew criticism for the sizable compensation earned by several presidents in the system. At his retirement, the union said he had presided over “an era of unprecedented turmoil.”

But as he did in facing nearly all of his critics, Mr. Reed responded with customary pugnacity. In an interview with The Chronicle days after he announced he was stepping down, he said: “A lot of the folks out here try to make things as personal as possible.” But thanks to his “thick skin,” he went on, “once the decision becomes clear, I let things go forward.”

“I know what I’m doing,” he said. “None of these other critics has ever led a system.”

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