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By KathyWitkowsky
Long Beach, California
here are two things you need to know about
Charlie Reed, chancellor of the massive California State
University and one of the nation’s most respected higher
education administrators. For eight years now, Reed has
headed the largest four-year system in the country, using
his unique blend of political instincts, competitive drive and
direct, plain-spokenmanner to keep Cal State “on the move,”
as he likes to put it.
Number one, Charles Bass Reed loves to work. “I don’t
think anyone can outwork me,” he said during a recent
interview. This is not a boast somuch as a statement of fact,
one that comes up in nearly every conversation you have about
Reed. “His biggest strength is his dedication to the system, his
willingness to work unbelievable hours, and his tremendous
energy,” saidMurray Galinson, immediate past chair of the Cal
State Board of Trustees.
Even non-fans—and there aren’t many—concede that
point. As president of the Cal State Faculty Association, the
faculty union that has been in protracted and contentious
negotiations with the administration for more than a year, John
Travis has been one of Reed’s harshest andmost vocal critics.
Nonetheless, Travis acknowledged, “Charlie has worked very
hard to promote his vision. And I will give him credit for that.”
Charlie Reed’s vision, like the man himself, is at once both
extraordinarily straightforward and extremely ambitious.
He wants his 23-campus, 44,000-employee system to serve
more students, because education is their ticket to better jobs
and better health, which in turn will create a better economy.
“That’s what universities are supposed to do, is improve the
quality of life of its citizens,” said Reed.
And to do that, Reed says, Cal State must reach beyond its
405,000 students and into the state’s K–12 classrooms, where
many students aren’t getting the education they need to succeed
in college. More than half of all incoming Cal State freshmen
need remedial coursework in English or math, or both.
Because Cal State prepares 55 to 60 percent of the state’s
public school teachers, it is in a position to improve that dismal
remedial statistic.That is why Reed has been so focused on
improving and expanding the institution’s teacher training
programs, which have grown 65 percent since he arrived. Cal
State now graduates 15,000 teachers a year, but the state still
faces a critical shortage of math and science teachers. So Cal
State has undertaken a $2million, five-year effort to double the
number of math and science teachers it prepares, from800 to
But numbers aren’t enough, said Reed: Cal State must also
improve the quality of teaching. It has begun to offer a free
80-hour retraining program for math and English teachers.
Next year, it will compare reading scores of Cal State-trained
Summer 2006
Charles B. Reed
Cal State chancellor strives to promote quality and diversity in the nation’s largest four-year college system
teacher classrooms to those of
teachers trained elsewhere.
Also under Reed’s
leadership, Cal State has
garnered national attention for
innovative programs designed
to help students prepare for
college. One of the simplest is
also among the best known:
Cal State has distributedmore
than 70,000 copies of its free
“Steps to College” poster, a
Reed brainchild that spells out
what middle school and high
school students need to do to
get there. It is available in five
Meanwhile, more than
150,000 high school juniors
have used Cal State’s voluntary
early assessment program, or EAP, which allows them to take
an augmented version of a mandatory 11th-grade standardized
exam so they can find out if they’re ready for college-level
work; if not, they still have a chance to catch up during their
senior year. Should they choose, they can do so online, through
tutorial websites Cal State has developed.
“He’s one of the most important players in K–12 education,”
said Jack O’Connell, California state superintendent of public
instruction, who refers to himself as chairman of the Charlie
Reed fan club. “He’s helped us break down the walls of all the
segments of education.”
Reed is trying to bust through racial and ethnic barriers
as well. Fifty-five percent of Cal State
students are minorities. That sounds
like a lot, but the figure is still far less
than it should be, said Reed, who
wants the Cal State population to better
reflect the population in the state’s high
schools, where more than two-thirds
of students are minorities. So this year,
Reed has stepped up the outreach, going
beyond the public schools and into
the communities of underrepresented
Top administrators fromCal State,
including university presidents and
Reed himself, have made presentations
during Sunday services at 19 African American churches
in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay area to persuade
potential students and their families that college is an
important goal. Just seven percent of Cal State students are
Chancellor Charles B. Reed addresses the
congregation at Oakland’s Allen Temple Baptist
Church, part of Cal State’s extensive outreach effort.
Charlie Reed’s vision
for the California State
University system, like
the man himself, is at
once both extraordinarily
straightforward and
extremely ambitious.
Rod Searcey for CrossTalk