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Panel Backs CSUCI as 23rd Campus in System

Education: Move, which must be ratified by Cal State board, could speed opening of Channel Islands university to 2002.

May 12, 1999|FRED ALVAREZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LONG BEACH — Cal State University trustees voted Tuesday to designate Cal State Channel Islands the 23rd campus in the university system, a decision that would allow the hiring of key academic staff and shave at least two years off the opening of a free-standing public university near Camarillo.

The action, handed down by the Cal State educational policy committee and subject to ratification today by the full governing board, is contingent on several factors, including the ability to draw an additional $13 million a year from the state budget to operate the campus.

If those financing goals and the other criteria are met, the Channel Islands campus could open its doors as early as August 2002.

"This is a very significant step," said Handel Evans, president of the university under development at the Camarillo State Hospital complex.

"The trustees have now done everything they can to create Cal State University Channel Islands," he said. "Now, it's in the hands of the Legislature and the governor."

The committee's action is expected to be upheld by the full governing board.

And if that happens, it would represent a dramatic shift in strategy for Cal State officials, who had envisioned a slower evolution for the Ventura County campus.

Last September, Cal State trustees agreed to take possession of the old mental hospital and convert it into a college campus, to be called Cal State Channel Islands.

The university 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. Cal State officials at the time said they believed that would happen in 2004 at the earliest.

But university planners now say they are confident they can accelerate that process. They cited the strong economy, education-friendly Democrats in the offices of the governor and the secretary of education and the creation of a development plan aimed at generating the money to build the university over the next 25 years.

Although the 11-member committee voted unanimously to approve the measure, at least one trustee worried about the burden of responsibility being placed on the university system.

William Hauck, chairman of the Cal State governing board, said it will be critical to ensure that there is sufficient student demand for a four-year university, especially from people who live near the new campus.

Moreover, he said it will be important to secure a firm commitment from state lawmakers and the governor to finance operation of the university. And he said it is important for people to understand that the Channel Islands campus won't become a reality without that kind of support.

"Once we convert that site to a four-year university, we do so without the ability at this board to commit financial resources to operate it," Hauck told his colleagues. "I think this is a very important point for us to keep in mind when we sit here making decisions like this."

Even if the full governing board signs off on the plan today, several events would have to occur before Channel Islands could become a full-fledged, degree-granting institution.

The campus would have to win approval from the California Postsecondary Education Commission, which is required by law to approve all new university campuses.

A preliminary letter of intent to establish the new campus was submitted to the commission in March. Cal State officials said they hope to win that approval by the end of the year.

In addition, the university must hire academic staff and build a curriculum for the emerging university.

And trustees must convince lawmakers to earmark an extra $13 million a year to permanently establish an operating fund for the new campus. The proposal includes a budget request for $10 million in fiscal year 2000-01 and an additional $3 million in 2001-02.

"The most important thing of all is to get a commitment from the Legislature and the governor to do this," Cal State Chancellor Charles B. Reed told trustees.

The money could not be funneled to Channel Islands from an existing campus and would require legislators to find a new cash pool to support the campus.

"Today, we can still put the brakes on. We can still put the brakes on this time next year," Reed said. "But if you don't start, as Yogi Berra says, you don't know if you're going to get there or not."

Under the new proposal, CSUN's Ventura campus will still shift its operation to the renovated state hospital complex this summer and begin offering courses in the fall.

But with its $13 million annual operating budget, Channel Islands would assume full financial and academic responsibility for the CSUN off-campus center in September of 2000. Channel Islands will contract with the satellite to offer courses.

At the same time, the new campus would hire staff to plan academic programs and prepare for the opening of the new campus.

Aside from securing an operating budget, Cal State officials said the most important step will be to craft a cutting-edge curriculum for the campus, one certain to draw enough students to justify turning it into a full-blown Cal State campus.

"I'm not really worried about the demand; I truly believe the demand is there," said former Cal State trustee Jim Considine, an Ojai resident who urged board members Tuesday to adopt Channel Islands into the Cal State family.

"It really is a matter of whether or not the state is going to fund it," he added. "They've said all along they are going to commit to it. I've got to take them at their word."

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