LONG BEACH -- The past few years haven't been easy for embattled Cal State Chancellor Charles Reed, and now he's retiring after 15 years on the job.
He has stood amid a whirlwind of protests over double-digit tuition hikes, threats of faculty strikes and statewide scrutiny of executive compensation.
And his budget has taken $1 billion in cuts since 2008 -- one-third of the total state funding for the 23-campus system with 427,000 students and 44,000 faculty members and employees.
But he's leaving proudly.
"I think I've done my best work as a public servant in these last five years frankly in keeping things together and providing as much access and quality to these institutions" as the state disinvests in higher education, he said.
In his Long Beach office overlooking the Queen Mary, shelves that once held awards and memorabilia are empty. Reed will soon return to his original home in Tallahassee, Fla., where he plans to catch up with his five grandsons.
Now 71, Reed said he took the Cal State post in 1998 with the goal of improving enrollment and widening access for low-income and minority students.
During his tenure, Cal State grew by 100,000 students at its peak and added a campus. Reed also established programs to target traditionally underserved students.
Reed's peers have described him as a tenacious leader who rarely backs down when challenged.
"He's a very effective leader," said former state Sen. Jack Scott, who worked with Reed on winning authority for Cal State to grant doctoral degrees in education. "He's been through tough times with budget constraints, but I think he gave great leadership during that time."
He also has been seen as curt.
"I've been criticized for being 'East Coast blunt,'" Reed said. "But you know what? Nobody ever misunderstands me or goes away confused. ... I don't play hide the ball. I don't play gotcha."
Although nationally recognized as an influential leader in higher education, he has been harshly criticized by students, faculty and others.
During his tenure, student tuition rose by 263 percent, sparking protests across the state.
Chanting slogans such as "No more Reed, No more fees!" students picketed in front of Reed's home and at meetings in Long Beach.
He has said the tuition increases are necessary to maintain enrollment. Students have accused him of being out of touch.
"Chancellor Reed has never been open to hearing student input or involving students in the decision-making," said Cal State Long Beach senior Ojaala Ahmad, a member of the CSU-wide group Students for Quality Education.
Reed's relationship with the Cal State's faculty union also was contentious
A faculty leader said the tension began almost as soon Reed arrived, when he said that he believed the faculty could work more hours.
"You could argue that he came out swinging," said Lillian Taiz, president of the California Faculty Association. The chancellor and the faculty had different visions, she said.
"Reed envisions a much more privatized university where the cost is shifted onto the individual rather than shared by the state," she said.
The tension peaked this year when the faculty announced a rolling strike on all 23 campuses after two years of unsuccessful contract negotiations. The two parties reached an agreement in September.
Reed, shaking his head, said the frustration is mutual.
"I would say my biggest disappointment has been the faculty union, all they wanted to do was fight and demonize me rather than being a partner in trying to make things better," he said. "All they're doing is looking to gain power, and that's not their role."
Cal State's executive compensation came under wide fire from students, faculty and state leaders -- Gov. Jerry Brown and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson among them.
As one of the state's highest-paid leaders in public education, Reed's own $451,500 annual compensation package riled some.
Then, controversy erupted last year when Cal State trustees approved a $400,000 compensation package for newly named San Diego State President Elliot Hirshman and at the same meeting approved a 12 percent tuition increase.
"When you are in the national marketplace you have to pay market compensation," Reed said. "(Hirshman) raised $74 million (in donations) in his first year. You get what you pay for, and I think that was a pretty good return on our investment."
Reed said one of the biggest misconceptions is that he doesn't care about students.
"I probably care about students more than anybody who's been chancellor of the CSU," he said.
Enrollment and tuition grew, while state funding fell under Chancellor Reed's tenure.
22 percent: Enrollment growth between 1998 and 2011
39 percent: CSU budget increases from 1998 to 2012
1.7 percent: State funding for the system drops from 1998 to 2012
263 percent: Tuition jumps between 1998 and 2012
Source: California State University System