The Cal State faculty union, which has clashed with Reed over university policies and contract negotiations, welcomed White to the job.
"While we wish that the CSU trustees had been more transparent in making its selection, we are nevertheless eager to work with the new chancellor to rebuild the California State University," said union President Lillian Taiz, a history professor at Cal State Los Angeles.
Wednesday's CSU announcement comes a week after California Community Colleges named Brice Harris to head the 112-campus system. Harris, previously headed the Los Rios Community College District in the Sacramento area, will replace Jack Scott.
White grew up in the San Francisco Bay area suburb of Pleasant Hill, where he delivered newspapers and was an avid swimmer and water polo player. He went to Diablo Valley Community College, earned a bachelor's degree at Fresno State University, a master's degree at Cal State East Bay and a doctorate at UC Berkeley.
"The powerful lesson for me is, it's not where you start, it's where you finish," White said.
White, an expert in muscle plasticity, injury and aging, launched his academic career as a researcher at the University of Michigan. He served as a senior administrator at Oregon State University and the University of Idaho before becoming the eighth chancellor of the 21,000-student UC Riverside campus in 2008.
University of California President Mark Yudof, who heads the 10-campus UC system, called White an "excellent choice to lead the California State University system."
Yudof said he will soon appoint an interim chancellor for UC Riverside before launching a search for a permanent successor.
White has four sons with his wife Karen, who is a professor in the biomedical sciences program at UC Riverside.