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An Opportunity for Real Reform at California State University

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Following news last Friday, that California State University Chancellor Charles Reed will soon be leaving California for Florida to enjoy his retirement, I am hopeful the CSU Board of Trustees can reform, show strong leadership, and gain back the support and trust of its students. In his 14 years as CSU chancellor, Reed became a poster child for tone-deaf decision making and the face of the subsequent demise of our California State University system.

There is no doubt that Chancellor Reed was burdened with a difficult task of leading the university system, which had little support from Sacramento. Reed was forced to work with California's massive fiscal crisis and dysfunctional state government, which is built to routinely sideline funding for higher education. However, the hard truth is that Chancellor Reed had a track record of catering to the needs of campus presidents and senior CSU administrators, rather than to the over 400,000 students.

Transparency is needed badly in the CSU system, this could not be more clear following news on Tuesday that the CSU spent $2 million on campus president's homes over the past decade. These projects included a $300,000 remodeling project to the president of CSU Fullerton President and $115,000 in renovations to CSU Northridge.

The fact is Chancellor Reed was a mediocre leader, out-of-touch, disconnected and seemingly unaware of the student struggle. Reed drew widespread criticism from CSU faculty during his time as Chancellor because he ruthlessly cut teacher salaries and benefits, while he continued to receive raises and increases to his own benefits.

Now that Chancellor Reed is on his way out, the CSU has the opportunity to bring in a new leader who will help to restore the university system to its former prestige. The new chancellor must be willing to engage with CSU students and faculty directly, so that we can all have an open and honest dialogue about how best to handle our uncertain future.

There must be an increase in transparency and accountability within the CSU. During these tough economic times when CSU students and their families are fastening their seat-belts for more cuts and tuition increases, we deserve leaders who will personally endure the same cuts.

State Senator Leland Yee has introduced several bills that aim to increase oversight within the CSU. SB 8, which is designed to make all UC and CSU financial records public upon request, was signed into law last year. SB 1515, which calls for there to be more student and faculty members serving on the CSU Board of Trustees and SB 967, which prevents CSU officials from receiving raises during times when CSU tuition is increased, are also steps in the right direction, but we still have a long way to go.

Earlier this month, the CSU Board of Trustees approved a plan to move future salary hikes from taxpayer funds to nonprofit auxiliary foundations. This plan, while I believe to be well intentioned, is not without deep flaws. Cal State presidents often exude a hefty influence over the foundation boards, and the CSU chancellor and the presidents of nine CSU campuses all serve as voting members of their respective foundations.

Furthermore, several current Cal State executives receive huge annual supplemental payments, upwards of $25,000 from their auxiliary foundations, in addition to their already bloated state-funded compensation packages, which include housing and car allowances, retirement benefits, health care and a myriad of other perks.

Over the past decade, CSU tuition has increased by almost 280 percent while state funding for the CSU has declined by $1 billion in just the last four years alone. Yet, we have CSU officials who are currently making over $400,000 a year -- that's more than the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court.

Chancellor Reed's retirement opens the door to opportunity for real reform and leadership of the CSU. Our higher education system is in a deplorable state in California and the CSU is usually the first on the chopping block in Sacramento.

We need a chancellor who will lead by example and with compassion, one who is willing to be the face of our university system and represent us proudly.

See more from the California College Democrats.