2012-08-30 / Schools

Cal State Channel Islands celebrates 10-year anniversary

By Stephanie Guzman


LANDMARK—California State University Channel Islands, founded in 2002, has seen its growth stymied by cuts to public education. 
Courtesy of Michael Urbanek/ArchitecturalShots.com LANDMARK—California State University Channel Islands, founded in 2002, has seen its growth stymied by cuts to public education. Courtesy of Michael Urbanek/ArchitecturalShots.com Sigifredo Cruz walked onto the California State University Channel Islands campus in 2002 and felt at home.

The former Oxnard resident was one of 500 students in the first class to attend the Camarillo university, which celebrated its 10th anniversary this month.

Cruz transferred from Cal State Northridge, a large campus with more than 30,000 students, to earn his undergraduate degree in mathematics at what was the smallest university in the California State University system.

“I felt good going there,” said the 37-year-old alum. “I liked the weather because it wasn’t as hot as Northridge, and I liked my department because it was small and we all knew each other.”

Cruz also liked the shorter commute from his Oxnard home. He said he knew about the university when he attended Oxnard College, but the campus wasn’t open when he was ready to transfer.

Even though Cruz had one year left at Northridge, he jumped at the opportunity to attend Channel Islands.

“I wanted to come back and be closer to home, and (Channel Islands) was always in the back of my mind,” Cruz said.

He was one of the first three students to graduate from the university in May 2003.

“It’s changed a lot,” said Cruz, who is a math teacher in Taft, Calif. “I haven’t even been inside the library yet.”

Stars aligned

The idea for a university began in the early 1900s, but it wasn’t until 1965 that Gov. Pat Brown signed into law a senate bill drafted by state Sen. Robert J. Lagomarsino and Assemblymember Burt Hansen to bring a university to Ventura County.

Initially, plans were made to bring the campus to Taylor Ranch through eminent domain in the late 1980s. The CSU spent money on environmental studies, but the proposed university’s plans were set aside after the Ventura County Board of Supervisors unanimously opposed the proposed site in 1990.

State Sen. Jack O’Connell drummed up support to revisit the plan, and CSU chancellor Barry Munitz appointed J. Handel Evans as the planning president of the university in 1996.

“I was quite literally a oneman band,” Evans said.

Evans, who searched for possible properties, said the CSU system initially thought of building the university from scratch on farmland just south of Central Avenue, but those plans were reconsidered when the state decided to close the Camarillo Hospital in 1996.

Evans and the school system’s board of trustees eyed the state hospital and applied to remodel the space.

At that time, the state proposed opening a prison at the former hospital site—a plan opposed by Camarillo residents who rallied together to protest the maximum-security prison just outside the city’s borders.

Plans for the university won out.

“The stars just happened to align during the closing of the state hospital,” said Lagomarsino, a Ventura resident and former congressman.

“Had the hospital not closed, (the university) would not have happened.”

The university celebrated the graduation of its inaugural freshman class in 2007 and has since had 6,800 students graduate.

Richard R. Rush is the university’s founding president; he oversaw the addition of several academic programs, the John Spoor Broome Library and the university’s new entrance road.

Rush said it was a “humble and rare privilege” to be chosen as the university’s founding president.

“This anniversary is a tribute to the vision and persistence to the people of Ventura County,” Rush said. “This is their university. They made it happen.”

Moving forward

The university, originally touted as a 15,000-student campus, currently enrolls just over 4,000 students. Budget cuts to the California State University’s system hindered the school from hiring more staff and expanding enrollment.

State support for the CSU system has been cut by almost $1 billion—35 percent—over the past 18 months.

“The lack of funding because of the state’s economic situation is evident and has been terrible for years,” Rush said. “We intend to grow judiciously even in these tough times.”

The campus will welcome about 4,800 students in the fall, students attracted to Channel Islands as a public university with a “private-college feel,” according to CSUCI’s admissions brochures.

The campus will continue to expand and undergo remodeling to accommodate more students.

Rush said a new science building— called West Hall—has been approved by the state Legislature, and the school is just waiting for the state to sell bonds to finance the construction.

“So we’ll have at least another building in five years, and (the campus) will be even more beautiful than it is now,” Rush said.

The campus also continues to expand its academic programs.

The university announced an anthropology bachelor’s degree program and certificates in social business and entertainment studies this year.

It plans to open a health science program in 2013.

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