By Alex Emslie
SF State Xpress
Retiring California State University Chancellor Charles B. Reed will leave behind a sharply polarized legacy when the CSU Board of Trustees names a replacement for the highly decorated and often criticized administrator.
Reed, who served as chancellor at the State University System of Florida for 13 years, before starting his 14-year stint as CSU chancellor in 1998, is lauded by fellow higher education executives, politicians, leaders of corporate educational institutions and some student organizations for a history of innovation and inclusion at the CSU.
“As a former Associated Student Executive Officer, alumnus of the CSU system, and current Chair of the Latino Caucus, it has been my pleasure to work with Chancellor Reed,” California State Assembly Member Ricardo Lara wrote to the CSU following Reed’s retirement announcement in May. “I thank him for his commitment and dedication to our students and celebrate his leadership in cultivating one of the largest and most diverse university systems in the country.”
Others – like the California Faculty Association, politically active SF State students and at least one California senator – see Reed’s legacy as one tainted by corruption, inflated administrator pay and a fundamental disregard of the CSU’s mission to provide top-quality, affordable higher education to the state’s working people.
“Chancellor Reed leaves behind a legacy of corruption,” said Paul Murre, president of the California College Democrats and SF State political science major. “There was no accountability for continued pay increases in times of increased financial duress in the CSU.”
Reed was paid a $254,000 salary when he was hired in 1998, according to CSU salary schedule documents. Since then, the CSU Board of Trustees has approved seven salary increases for the chancellor, bringing Reed’s current salary to $421,500 per year, plus provided housing and a $30,000 yearly expense account. The board also approved nine undergraduate tuition hikes since 2001, raising the price to attend a CSU from a yearly $1,428 to $5,472, according to the CSU budget office.
“Why is the chancellor of the CSU making more than the governor of California or the president of the United States?” asked Phil Klasky, an SF State lecturer and member of the California Faculty Association Executive Board. “Why did the chancellor just approve a 10 percent raise for presidents within the CSU system to the tune of $30,000? They have lost any modicum of dedication to quality public education. It’s outrageous.”
Reed led the CSU system through an era of cuts to the university’s state funding. In the past four years alone, Sacramento legislators have slashed more than $1 billion from the university system’s coffers, according to the CSU’s budget history publication. At the same time, enrollment in the CSU system has grown, adding 100,000 more yearly students since Reed took office in 1998.
The chancellor pioneered programs reaching out to California high school juniors and military personnel. He oversaw the development of an educational doctorate degree and worked with the state’s community college system to streamline the transfer process. He is credited by several organizations serving Latino/a, Asian and Pacific Islander populations with increasing the diversity of the CSU’s student body and upholding the university’s goal of providing an elite education to underserved Californians.
Reed was awarded many times throughout his long career as an education administrator, including a TIAA-CREF Hesburgh Award for Leadership Excellence in 2012, a Harold W. McGraw Jr. Prize in Education in 2008, and a Lamar R. Plunkett Award in 2001.
But Chancellor Reed’s final few months at CSU were embroiled with controversy. A CBS Los Angeles investigation in May uncovered thousands of dollars spent by the CSU on high-end catering and dining for administrators, including nearly $2,000 in wine alone, and at least some of which was taxpayer money. And the CSU spent more than $1 million remodeling homes provided to campus presidents over the past year, according to an Associated Press report.
The spending of taxpayer money on alcohol ruffled California State Sen. Tom W. Lieu, who called Reed’s conduct and response to the controversy “outrageous” after seeing the CBS Los Angeles report.
“You publicly stated that the taxpayer money was ‘absolutely’ well spent,” Lieu wrote in a letter to the CSU dated May 8. “If the allegations are true and if you continue to maintain your position that taxpayer funds should be spent in this manner, then you need to resign.”
The chancellor’s office disputed most of the CBS Los Angeles report in a May 16 response to Lieu. The response pointed out that, although the cost of the dinner at which nearly $2,000 was spent on wine was charged to a CSU credit card, the entire cost was reimbursed by the private David and Lucile Packard Foundation.
“The KCBS investigation was full of inaccuracies that misrepresented the work of Dr. Reed and the Chancellor’s office,” CSU spokeswoman Liz Chapin said. “To infer an abuse of taxpayer money speaks to a lack of journalistic integrity that is prevalent in that KCBS story.”
The chancellor’s office has instituted close to $49 million in cost saving measures over the past few years in response to massive cuts in funding from the state, according to Chapin, and the KCBS report focused on small costs that were instituted as part of that larger cost-saving effort, she said.
It’s not the first time the CSU chancellor’s office has been accused of misusing taxpayer funds. A California State Auditor report released in late 2009 found that an unnamed high-ranking official in the chancellor’s office received $152,441 in improper expense reimbursements between 2005 and 2008. The state auditor charged that the official was not adequately supervised and that the university “failed to follow long-established policies and procedures designed to ensure accuracy and adequate control of expenses.”
A spokesman for State Senator Ted Lieu’s office said he would not be surprised if the senator introduces legislation concerning CSU administrator spending in the next legislative session.
Reed announced his retirement May 24.
“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,” Reed wrote in his retirement announcement, made May 24. “I have been honored to sign more than a million diplomas. I take great pride in the CSU’s mission to serve California’s students, and I am proud to have played a role in carrying out that mission during these critical years.”
SF State student Paul Murre and lecturer Phil Klasky will not miss Chancellor Reed’s leadership of the CSU, and both said they hope the board of trustees will make the selection of the next chancellor a transparent one that serves the needs of CSU students and faculty.
“The next chancellor has to be an advocate for education,” Klasky said. “The next chancellor has to have a strong orientation in social justice and be willing to go to the legislature and advocate for public education. We need someone who is dedicated to the fundamental principles as described in the California Constitution about the role of the public university. Not a corporate raider.”
The Special Committee for the Selection of the Chancellor expects to finalize its selection sometime this fall, said CSU spokeswoman Stephanie Thara. Reed will serve as chancellor until the committee selects a replacement.
A version of this story was published in the San Francisco State Golden Gate [X]press on Aug. 29, 2012.