Reynolds Legacy: Advances Amid Controversy


In eight years, Wynetka Ann Reynolds never settled comfortably into her job as head of the nation's largest public university system.

She squeaked into the position in 1982, winning on a split vote, after several of the top contenders withdrew. And she has faced challenges several times from trustees and university presidents who said her manner was imperious and her administration weak.

She was even accused of contributing to the death of the embattled president of Cal State Dominguez Hills, Richard Butwell, when he had a heart attack two weeks after a blistering session with her, during which she blamed him for problems on the campus and told him to find another job.

But while the controversy over her style sometimes overshadowed the substance of her leadership, even her critics acknowledge she helped make improvements that moved the massive university system ahead on several fronts.

Admission standards were raised in the Cal State system, which had 365,000 students in 1988-89. Teacher education improved. Minority and women faculty, staff and students raised their profile on campus as the result of special recruitment. Campus building resumed after a lull of several years. The status of fine arts programs grew.

Reynolds cited those achievements and others as she tendered her resignation as chancellor Friday after the board rescinded her secretly arranged salary hike that boosted her income by more than $58,000 over last year.

"I'm proud of the accomplishments during my tenure," she told the trustees. "I've treasured working on these goals."

She will leave her post in October, and her resignation will be effective at year's end. The daughter of a college president, Reynolds, 52, graduated from Kansas State Teachers' College in Emporia in 1958 and earned her masters and doctorate degrees in zoology from the University of Iowa in 1962.

She began teaching at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., in 1962 and three years later moved to the University of Illinois College of Medicine in Chicago, where she taught and conducted research in developmental biology and embryology.

It was through her medical research that she felt she earned her stripes in academia. "If you're quick on your feet and you can handle biting monkey heads and don't get upset by blood and gore, then you're accepted," she once told a reporter. Her hands bear scars from the bites of monkeys used in her research.

In 1977, Reynolds followed her father's example and moved into academic administration as vice chancellor for research and dean of the Graduate College at the University of Illinois College of Medicine.

Her rise through administrative ranks was swift. After just two years in the Illinois post, she became provost--second in command--at the 50,000-student Ohio State University in 1979.

In 1982 she was picked to head the California State University system, the largest higher education network in the nation. The move was considered by many to be too big a leap for someone with only five years of administrative experience and none of that in a college's top spot.

But Reynolds dismissed that argument and expressed confidence that she could do the job. "The notion that you can do a job only if you've done it before just doesn't make any sense," she said in a 1982 interview.

She moved into the chancellor's residence in Bel-Air with her two young children--she had been divorced years earlier--and later married Dr. Thomas Kirschbaum, a USC medical professor.

At Ohio State she had earned the nickname "Queen Ann" for what some called her abrupt, often insensitive management style. That reputation persisted in California.

Her supporters found her charming and warm, but she could turn icy and cutting when crossed. She was known for publicly upbraiding her subordinates, and detractors said she reacted so personally to criticism that controversy swirled unnecessarily around her.

But they also acknowledge that she is intelligent and hard working and was committed to elevating the status of California's second-tier of higher education.

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