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Ventura County CSU Timetable May Be Moved Up

Education: Under proposal, planned university in Camarillo could open years earlier than anticipated.

May 05, 1999|FRED ALVAREZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a dramatic shift in strategy, backers of a four-year university in Ventura County will ask next week that the emerging Cal State Channel Islands immediately be designated the 23rd campus in the CSU system, a move that could set the stage for opening a local university years earlier than anticipated.

Under a proposal set for review Tuesday, Cal State trustees will consider formally adopting the fledgling university into the CSU family and asking state lawmakers for an annual operating budget of $13 million to hire staff and craft academic programs for the campus.

University planners say the planning shift is due to a variety of factors including a strong state economy, education-friendly Democrats in the offices of both the governor and secretary of education, and creation of a solid development plan designed to generate the hundreds of millions of dollars needed to build the university over the next 25 years.

And they note if financing goals and other criteria are met, the Channel Islands campus could open the door to its first students as early as August 2002.

"This is big: We are accelerating the timetable, no question about it," said state Sen. Jack O'Connell (D-San Luis Obispo), who suggested the idea during a breakfast meeting with CSU Chancellor Charles B. Reed a few weeks ago.

"I am very pleased with the direction the CSU system appears to be moving," O'Connell added. "I've always said I wanted to see a transition as quickly and as early as possible to a free-standing, degree-granting university."

Initially, Cal State planners had envisioned a slower evolution for the Channel Islands campus, now under development at the shuttered Camarillo State Hospital complex. It was to start as the Ventura campus of Cal State Northridge and grow--financially and in enrollment--to the point where it could stand as an autonomous institution.

Planners said they envisioned that occurring in the fall of 2004 at the earliest.

But now they are prepared to jump-start that process, saying the time is right to capitalize on the momentum generated by the emerging campus.

"What I think has happened is that a lot of pieces have fallen into place faster than we anticipated," said Handel Evans, president of the Channel Islands campus. "There's still a long way to go and a lot of planning needs to take place. But this is a significant step in the process."

Even if trustees approve the proposal, several events would have to occur before Channel Islands could become a full-fledged campus. The campus would have to secure approval from the California Postsecondary Education Commission. Also, the school would have to hire academic staff and build a curriculum for the emerging university.

And trustees would have to persuade lawmakers to squeeze an extra $13 million a year out of the state budget to permanently establish an operating fund for the campus. The proposal includes a budget request for $10 million in fiscal year 2000-01, and an additional $3 million in 2001-02.

The money cannot be funneled to Channel Islands from an existing campus, and will require legislators to find a new pot of cash to support the campus.

Toward that end, Cal State officials will look to their allies in Sacramento, especially O'Connell, who has been among the strongest supporters of the budding campus.

For his part, O'Connell said it doesn't hurt that there are now plenty of people in Sacramento--including Gov. Gray Davis and Secretary of Education Gary K. Hart--who are staunch supporters of education and higher learning.

"There's no question that the [enrollment] demand will justify the independent university status," O'Connell said. "If we can articulate the need to handle the growth in the CSU system, I think we'll enjoy some success."

The proposal will not affect the Ventura campus of Cal State Northridge, which plans to shift its operation this summer to the renovated state hospital complex and start offering courses there in August.

If the money comes through, however, the Channel Islands university in September 2000 would assume full financial and academic responsibility for CSUN's Ventura campus. With its new operating budget, the university would contract with the off-campus center to provide courses.

At the same time, that money would be used to hire many of the founding faculty, such as the provost, deans and student services staff members.

CSU's Committee on Educational Policy will consider the proposal next Tuesday. If approved, it would go the next day to the full board for ratification. Committee recommendations are rarely overturned.

"This is pretty significant," said Richard West, senior vice chancellor for business and finance for the CSU system. "To me, this says we really do accept Channel Islands into the family and we stop talking about what we can do and actually go out and start doing it."

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