Former Cal State Chancellor Charles B. Reed dies at 75

Cal State Chancellor Charles B. Reed addresses the trustees on the issue of executive salary caps in 2012. Reed, who steered CSU through record budget cuts and opened access to underrepresented students, has died at 75.
(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

Former California State University Chancellor Charles B. Reed, who steered the nation’s largest university system through record budget cuts and widened access to underserved students, died Tuesday at 75.

Reed, known for his blunt talk, tough leadership style and legendary work ethic, served as the sixth chancellor of the 23-campus system from 1998 until his retirement in 2012. He remained chancellor emeritus.

“Our thoughts and prayers are first and foremost with Charlie’s family and loved ones,” Cal State Chancellor Timothy P. White said in a statement. “Charlie will always be remembered as a formative figure in our university’s history and as a tenacious, passionate champion of public higher education.”


At Cal State, Reed — who had previously served 13 years as chancellor for the Florida state university system — sought to improve teacher training programs, boost enrollment and open the campuses to more low-income students, underrepresented minorities and returning veterans. By the time he retired, he had increased enrollment by 100,000 to 427,000 students.

In 2004, he launched his signature Early Assessment Program, Cal State’s first partnership with high schools to assess student readiness for college and offer help to those underprepared.

Five years later, Reed led an initiative to improve six-year graduation rates, using data to set targets for the first time, according to Jeff Gold, an assistant vice chancellor. Those rates have increased from 46% in 2009 to 57% now, exceeding goals to rise to the top quarter of Cal State’s peer institutions with students of similar socioeconomic backgrounds.

Reed also championed greater outreach to underrepresented communities, including a statewide bus tour to recruit students and “Super Sunday” visits to more than 100 largely African American churches.

Under his tenure, Cal State opened its 23rd campus, Cal State Channel Islands, and started a Native American studies program at Humboldt State and the first Central American studies program at Cal State Northridge.

“He was an unapologetic advocate for students in everything he did,” Gold said of Reed.

Reed also is credited with revitalizing Cal State’s teacher preparation program. He encouraged the development of online teacher education programs, such as CalStateTEACH, which became an award-winning national model. In 2011, the university system achieved its goal of doubling the number of math and science teachers it produces — from 750 in 2003 to 1,502 in 2010.


Erik E. Skinner, interim California Community Colleges chancellor, praised Reed for helping streamline and accelerate the transfer process from community colleges to Cal State campuses for tens of thousands of students.

“Charlie Reed’s leadership was guided by his strong commitment to improving higher education opportunities for underserved students,” Skinner said in a statement. “His passion and vision will be missed.”

William G. Tierney, co-director of the Pullias Center for Higher Education at USC, credited Reed with guiding Cal State through economic turbulence following the 2008 recession, when the state cut $1 billion — one-third of its funding — even as enrollment demands grew.

“To Reed’s credit, he was able to get all of the coalitions and unions to accept a very tough budget, and no one went on strike and classes were still held,” Tierney said.

Reed himself told The Times shortly before retiring in 2012 that “I may have done some of the best work in my 40 years as an educator these last five years figuring out how to … keep the doors open.”

To make up the lost state funding, however, Reed presided over double-digit increases in tuition and fees that were furiously opposed by students — some of whom mocked him in effigy. He capped enrollment and laid off hundreds of faculty and staff.

Reed also confronted threats of mass faculty strikes over stagnating pay and poor work conditions, even as he drew fire from lawmakers for granting executive pay hikes.

Tierney called Reed “more a steady-as-it-goes chancellor” who failed to find creative ways to redesign the system so more students could attend despite budget constraints. In recent years, Cal State has turned away tens of thousands of eligible students.

“For the CSU to assume the mantle of national leadership that we all want for it, the system has to have someone who will be transformative,” Tierney said.

Reed grew up in the coal-mining town of Waynesburg, Pa., the eldest of eight children. He received a football scholarship to attend George Washington University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree and a doctorate in education. He was chief of staff for Florida Gov. Bob Graham before taking the helm of the State University System of Florida.

The family has established the Charles B. Reed Scholarship fund for CSU students. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the scholarship fund at or by mailing a check to the CSU Foundation, 401 Golden Shore, 6th Floor, Long Beach, CA 90802.

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