How does one begin to put a label on the career of outgoing chancellor Charles Reed? Some do it by honoring him as an advocate for diversity and as a man who oversaw outreach programs aimed to bring underrepresented groups to the California State University (CSU) system. But others claim to see a different side of Reed, one that culminated during the end of his 14-year tenure with violent clashes between protestors and police at the CSU’s headquarters in Long Beach.
Regardless, the praise and controversy will reach its end on Dec. 31 when the “hard-lined, no-nonsense” chancellor officially finishes his time as the top-ranking official in the CSU.
A champion of the kids
As Reed entered the CSU in 1998, Californians got just what they expected: a “politically savvy veteran” coming into office to train the state’s workforce, the Los Angeles Times wrote.
Reed was no stranger to leadership in higher education: he came with the experience as the head of Florida’s public university system. It was there that Florida Trend Magazine named him one of the state’s top 10 toughest bosses — a managing style those who work with him say he carried over to the CSU.
“He’s just all business … there’s no B.S.,” Steve Dixon, a former student representative on the CSU Board of Trustees, said of Reed. “You can tell by the look on his face whether he’s listening to you or telling you to move on.”
But that style worked for Reed, and earned him praise during his time in office. In March, Reed won the Hesburgh Award for Leadership Excellence at a meeting of the American Council on Education in Southern California. The award underscored Reed’s reputation as a leader who advocated for typically underrepresented student populations and brought them into the world of higher education.
The CSU claims it is now the nation’s most diverse university system, which some say is a further testament to Reed’s priority on increasing access to the CSU. They credit Reed’s initiatives to bringing this level of diversity to the CSU, where 36 percent of students receive federal financial aid.
“They’re all related to access with underserved communities,” CSU spokesperson Liz Chapin said of Reed’s programs. “For example, like Super Sunday, his focus was the message that the path to degree begins before high school.”
Reed began Super Sunday as an outreach effort in Los Angeles to bring CSU leaders to typically African American churches each February. The university presidents help young parishioners learn how to work toward an education in the CSU and tell them about financial-aid opportunities.
Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong was among those who represented the CSU this past Super Sunday. He visited two churches with his wife, Sharon, and says Cal Poly is still in touch with one of the pastors he met. Cornel Morton, Cal Poly’s leader of outreach and student recruitment efforts, plans to return to the pastor’s church and follow-up with some of the students Armstrong and his wife met on Super Sunday.
“It was a great opportunity to let the community know the power of education,” Armstrong said.
The CSU said it reached more than 100 churches in February, and made progress toward its goal of increasing the number of male, African American students at four-year universities in the state.
Ben Guerrero, youth and young adult pastor at Maranatha Church in San Jose, has participated in Super Sunday for three years. He said having CSU, San Jose President Mohammad Qayoumi come to deliver a message of how California makes higher education affordable has led some students at his church to go on and attend state colleges.
“This chancellor has been a champion of the kids,” Guerrero said. “The kids who are going to the state schools, it (Super Sunday) is giving them info and making sure they have a face to talk to. That’s what’s really good.”
Along with managing access to education, Reed also focused on the quality of it by authorizing the Student Success Fee at Cal Poly in March. Armstrong said working with Reed on the student-endorsed fee was the chancellor’s most significant contribution to Cal Poly since the president arrived in 2011.
“He believed that was best for students and knew our students supported it,” Armstrong said. “Everything he does, it is driven by what he thinks is best for students.”
Years of conflict
But Reed received much more than just praise during his time in office. Facing one of the worst fiscal crises in California’s history, Reed led the CSU through years of continued tuition raises and frozen faculty salaries despite loud and frequent criticism.
A fact sheet published by the California Faculty Association shows nearly $4,000 (263 percent) in fee increases since Reed began as chancellor. During that same time, Reed’s own salary increased by 66 percent to $421,500.
“I don’t think his tenure as chancellor will go down in the history of chancellors as a good one,” local CFA President Glen Thorncroft said. “I’m hard-pressed to find real positive stuff he’s done, come to think of it.”
Reed’s own salary increase and oversight of fee hikes has led to what the CFA calls a larger issue of misplaced priorities. Years of conflict between faculty and the chancellor resulted in threats of — and actual — strikes during his time in office.
Thorncroft dates the conflict between Reed and faculty back to 1999, when a comment circulating around the CSU via email left faculty offended and stunned by Reed’s words at a speech in San Luis Obispo. Cal Poly mathematics professor Myron Hood sent an email to faculty after Reed spoke, quoting the chancellor as saying: “the faculty only works 7-8 months a year, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and only Monday through Thursday.”
It was only a small detail to faculty at the time, the Los Angeles Times reported, that Hood’s email misquoted Reed — his original comment was not quite as direct. “We’ll never be able to serve them, if we work about seven or eight months a year. You know, I guess, from about 9 to 2, Monday through Thursday,” the transcript read.
Regardless, the comment spread across the state to every campus in the CSU and prompted an apology from Reed. Though the quote was proven to be inaccurate, the damage it did to the chancellor’s relations with faculty can still be seen today.
“Unfortunately, the chancellor chose a combative approach toward the faculty since day one,” Thorncroft said. “We could have been unified in our education as a state, and we weren’t. And that’s a darn shame.”
Students also had their grievances against the chancellor after feeling the pain of yearly tuition raises during his time in office. Opposition toward Reed culminated near the end of his tenure with dozens outside the chancellor’s Long Beach home on a hunger strike, protesting tuition increases and administrative salary raises.
Meanwhile, Reed dined with the Board of Trustees on a meal inside his home paid for by university foundation, not taxpayer or tuition, money.
Less than one year later, at Reed’s final Board of Trustees meeting this past month, the CSU proposed more fee increases for those retaking classes, taking more than 16 units at a time and for “super seniors.” Student protestors dubbed the proposals as “Reed’s punishment fees,” and the CSU postponed the vote after Gov. Jerry Brown pressured the Board of Trustees to do so.
Former trustee Dixon, a strong opponent of new fees during the time he worked with Reed as a student representative, didn’t take long to sum up his first impression of Reed: “He was intimidating,” the alumnus said.
“The first time I really met him, he told me about my own life story and told me I needed to spend more time with my own university president,” Dixon said. “So obviously he had done his research on me.”
Regardless of that first impression Reed left on Dixon, the latter said even when the two disagreed, he maintained complete respect for the CSU’s veteran leader.
“To call him tough would be an understatement,” Dixon said. “Everyone has that time when it’s time to take the accolades and step down, and I think he recognized it was that time.”