Into the light
Faculty leaders call for open dialogue in choosing the CSU’s next chancellor
Contentious from the beginning.
That’s how Lillian Taiz describes the tenure of Charles B. Reed, chancellor of the California State University system, who recently announced he’s retiring from his post as the head of the largest public university system in the nation.
Taiz, a historian and CSU professor who has been the president of the California Faculty Association for the past five years, was reflecting on Reed’s 14 years leading the system. She thought back to his appointment by the CSU Board of Trustees in 1997, after a selection process that took place behind closed doors.
“I think sort of parachuting someone in … without an open process got him off on the wrong foot,” she said on Tuesday by phone from the Los Angeles area. “He seemed ready for combat from the moment he walked in the door.”
And, she added, that initial impression carried on throughout Reed’s career, which she said has been punctuated by combat with faculty, students and others.
Then, speaking as college educators do, Taiz, a Cal State Los Angeles professor who’s worked at the CSU for 24 years, noted that there’s a lesson to be learned. She and other members of the union are now calling upon of the Board of Trustees to adopt a new hiring method.
“We’re hoping for an open, inclusive process on the front end that will help avoid these problems,” Taiz said.
But getting the transparency the union is seeking will not be an easy sell with the board.
Trustee Bob Linscheid, a Chico State graduate and local businessman, called the CFA’s proposal an “unrealistic expectation.” That’s because the trustees will be seeking highly qualified individuals who have a lot to lose should it become public knowledge that they are candidates, he said.
“We don’t want to jeopardize people’s careers,” said Linscheid, who is the chairman of the Board of Trustees.
That said, he noted that the board comprises a range of members, including student, faculty and alumni trustees. Linscheid is the latter; he was appointed to the board by the CSU Statewide Alumni Council in 2005. In February, he was promoted from vice-chairman to chairman of the board, following the departure of former Chairman Herb Carter, whose reappointment to the panel by Gov. Jerry Brown was blocked by Senate Republicans. (Carter’s ouster followed the board’s controversial decision to increase the salary of the newly hired San Diego State president on the same day it raised tuition.) Linscheid is serving out the remainder of Carter’s term, and will take up his own one-year appointment in July.
Meanwhile, less than a week after Reed’s announcement last Thursday (May 24), he said the trustees already are receiving voluminous emails from the public about the qualities they want to see in a new chancellor.
“We’re open to getting the best person for the job, committed to having each section of CSU family have a voice, and deeply committed to replacing Charlie Reed with a capable chancellor to lead us into the next phase of the CSU,” Linscheid said Tuesday afternoon.
That person will be taking on a tough job, as the stability of the already financially strapped system depends on Gov. Brown’s proposed tax initiative. The CSU stands to lose $250 million in the coming year should the measure fail. That’s on top of a $750 million cut during the current fiscal year.
As of now, Linscheid has appointed veteran Trustee Bill Hauck as chairman of a search committee. In the coming weeks he’ll fill the panel with other trustees. The hope is to choose Reed’s successor by fall, said CSU spokeswoman Claudia Keith. The chancellor will stay on during that time.
Commenting by email while out of town, Chico State President Paul Zingg said he thinks the process will indeed include broad solicitation of viewpoints, which he believes Linscheid will bring to the attention of the search committee.
According to an Oct. 7, 1997, article in the Los Angeles Times, Reed was chosen by a unanimous vote of the Board of Trustees during a closed-door meeting. He came to the CSU from the State University System of Florida, where he served as chancellor, after a nationwide search, though none of the other top candidates was ever revealed.
In an Oct. 12, 2007, editorial in the Times, Reed was heralded as “a promising new leader” who had successfully dealt with declining expenditures during a time of growing enrollment. However, it noted he had “earned a reputation for working to prevent faculty disagreements from surfacing publicly.” The piece called on him to “engage in more open dialogue with the faculty.”
Based on Taiz’s experience, Reed didn’t heed the newspaper’s advice. She described the chancellor as a “his way or the highway” leader who lacked a cooperative spirit. Suffice it to say, she found him a challenge to work with.
“He has a lot of folks who find him charming, but there also are those who find him thin-skinned and abrasive,” she said.
For her part, Taiz is looking forward to the potential of a renewed vision in the coming years.
“It’s an opportunity, an amazing opportunity to begin fresh and to take on a serious challenge, and stand together in a way we haven’t been able to in over a decade.”