Charles Bass Reed, who served as Chancellor of Florida’s university system from 1985-1998, died Tuesday, December 6. He was 75 years old.
Known to most as Charlie, Reed was born in 1941 and grew up in the working-class coal mining town of Waynesburg, Pennsylvania near Pittsburgh. As one of eight children, Reed’s father told him early on that he either “needed to get a scholarship and go to college,” or get a local job. The high school football star chose the former after George Washington University offered him a football scholarship. Many years later, the top education official reminisced with Tampa Tribune columnist Tim McEwan about his glory days on the college football field: “I played against the Gators in Ray Graves’ first coaching job at Jacksonville. We played them good, and lost 12-6. I can still remember how it was…. And I played against Bill Peterson’s Florida State Seminoles and we got beat.”
Despite a demanding football schedule, Reed graduated on time with a bachelor’s degree in health and physical education. “I understand athletics. I know what they can do for the individual, for the student body and the school,” Reed explained. He would later apply his experiences with college-level athletics to his job as university chancellor, imposing stricter academic standards for college athletes to maintain their scholarships—much to the chagrin of some football coaches. He defended the introduction of these policies, telling the Miami Herald in 1989, “I know what it means to be offered an opportunity, and I know what it takes to earn it.”
After completing his undergraduate studies, the ambitious young Reed went on to receive both a master’s and doctorate in education from George Washington University, where he served as a faculty member from 1963 to 1970. He then worked for the National Association of Colleges for Teacher Education before moving to Florida in the early 1970s. From 1971 to 1979, Dr. Reed was employed by the Florida Department of Education, where he served as the Director of the Office of Educational Planning, Budgeting, and Evaluation. After Governor Bob Graham took office in 1979, he appointed Reed as his Deputy Chief of Staff. The Pennsylvania native served in that position from 1981 until 1984.
In August 1985, Reed became the chancellor of the Board of Regents, which at the time oversaw the operations of Florida’s nine universities. A tenth university campus, Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, opened during Reed’s tenure. At the helm of higher education policy in Florida, Reed was known for his strong work ethic and effective lobbying skills. “He has contacts, he has leadership…. He’s just a hell of a worker,” praised DuBose Ausley, longtime chair of the Board of Regents.
Reed’s leadership skills helped to significantly expand enrollment numbers, reputation, and budget of Florida’s universities. He introduced Florida’s prepaid college program and routinely advocated to expand equal access to higher education. Before leaving Florida in 1998 to take a position as Chancellor of the California State University System, Charlie Reed sat down with reporters to discuss the accomplishments and failures of higher education in Florida during his 13 years as chancellor. “Probably the single biggest accomplishment was the National Science Foundation decision to move the mag lab from MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)” to Florida State University in Tallahassee.
As for any failures, Reed lamented his inability to get raises for university faculty, citing the realities of legislative budget constraints. Overall, when it came to disappointment, Reed took a page out of his old college football playbook. “[On failure] I don’t think that way. If you participate in athletics you might lose today, but you play a new game tomorrow,” he reconciled. Reed retired from his post in California in 2012. He is survived by his wife, two children, and five grandchildren.