My brush with Charles Reed

Why is such a self-absorbed, uninspiring man in charge of the CSU?

The author teaches journalism at Chico State and is adviser to the campus newspaper, The Orion.

I once met Charles Reed, the chancellor of the California State University system. I found him thoroughly revolting, but that had to do with the fact he mostly shouted at me that day.

It was the late-’90s when The Orion editorial board and I met with Reed at the request of then-Chico State President Manuel Esteban. The Orion is a student-managed newspaper that I advise.

Reed was there with his entourage around a huge circular table in the innards of Kendall Hall. It became apparent that Reed’s sole purpose was to vent about an Orion editorial that criticized him the previous semester. The editorial’s writer had graduated, so I became the center of attention, with him yelling and talking over me as I tried to respond to his rhetorical questions.

I was reminded of my encounter while viewing a 10-minute YouTube video, “CSU Chancellor Charles Reed Q&A at Humboldt State University.” About 4 1/2 minutes into the September video, Reed flashes angry at a reporter’s question about the notorious $100,000 pay spike for the president of San Diego State—given at the same July meeting at which the CSU trustees raised tuition for the umpteenth time in recent years.

“First of all, I am really disappointed in the media, OK?” barks Reed. “They don’t ever want to get anything right. They want sensationalism. … Nobody has written the truth about that.”

Reed pompously provides The Truth: First, only $50,000 of the raise came from taxpayers. Second, the previous San Diego State president “had not had a raise for five years!” And, third, half of the $100,000 comes from private sources.

It’s an astonishing explanation, and not because the information hadn’t been previously reported. What astonishes is that Reed, whose salary is $421,500 (plus a $30,000-a-year retirement “bonus”), is so out of touch that he acts as if regular people would find his explanation persuasive.

First, even a $50,000 raise is greater than the average household income in Butte County. Second, there are a lot worse economic horror stories than a $300,000 executive not getting a raise for five years. And, third, that $50,000 from private fundraising could have been awarded to students as scholarships to offset tuition increases, if CSU priorities were not so screwed up.

I left my meeting with Reed surprised that such a self-absorbed, uninspiring individual could be in charge of an institution as vital as the CSU. A dozen years later, I’m beyond mystified that he is the best we can do.