Charles Reed was a hands-on kind of guy.
When the former chancellor of Florida’s state universities wanted lawmakers to face him, he grabbed them by the shoulders. When he applied for the position in 1985, after serving as Gov. Bob Graham’s chief of staff, colleagues at the governor’s office offered him friendly advice: Get a haircut. Don’t get drunk at dinner. Don’t talk dirty.
Described as “earthy and erudite” in a Miami Herald profile in 1997, Charlie Reed, determined and tenacious, advanced to one of the highest offices in education.
Reed, oft-lauded for his work ethic, was the oldest of seven children and raised in the small coal-mining town of Waynesburg in Pennsylvania. He said he escaped through a football scholarship to George Washington University. He earned a master’s and a doctorate.
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“I’m glad I worked hard and got out,” he told the Herald in 1997.
When he left his Florida chancellor position in 1997 after nearly 13 years — an unrivaled tenure as chief executive of a then-$2 billion university system — Steve Uhlfedler, then-Chairman of the Board of Regents, said of Reed in a Herald article: “We may not replace Charlie Reed, but we are going to try to come damn close.”
Reed, who served as California State University’s chancellor for 14 years after leaving Florida, died on Tuesday. He was 75.
“I had known Charlie for 50 years in many different ways, all of which were exemplary,” Sen. Graham said, citing Reed’s dedication, focus and positive results. Florida has since grown into a 12-school university system with a $4.7 billion budget.
“Charlie was a giant in higher education, and in two of the three largest states. … He led both to new standards of excellence and accessibility and for that received many recognitions,” Graham said.
Among them, the TIAA Institute’s Theodore Hesburgh Award for Leadership Excellence in 2012, alongside Eduardo J. Padrón, president of Miami Dade College.
“This award is especially meaningful, as it reflects the important role higher education plays in providing students with opportunities for a better life,” Reed said in accepting the award.
Charlie was a wonderful husband and father to his family and a friend of great devotion to the thousands of people who were touched by his life. We have lost a great American, but he leaves us a proud legacy.
Sen. Bob Graham on Charles Reed, his chief of staff when he was Florida governor
Under Reed’s watch in Florida, from 1985 to 1998, universities added a 10th campus, Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers. Florida A&M University was selected as the first College of the Year by Time magazine and the Princeton Review College Guide in 1997, a significant accolade for the historically black college. And he oversaw the advent of a popular prepaid tuition program for future state university students.
Reed also pushed for tougher standards for student-athletes to meet minimum academic requirements, including a C average, to remain eligible for play — a stance that put him at odds with many coaches.
“I know what it means to be offered an opportunity, and I know what it takes to earn it,” he told the Herald in 1989.
In California, Reed headed the nation’s largest public university system from 1998 to his retirement in 2012. He remained chancellor emeritus.
During his tenure, enrollment soared by more than 100,000 students, but so did tuition. The system also dealt with a series of budget cutbacks before and after the recession.
However, Reed was applauded for expanding educational opportunities for minorities and lower-income students.
Reed is survived by his wife, Catherine Reed, two children and five grandchildren.
The Associated Press contributed to this obituary.
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