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Head of New Ventura County CSU Is Stepping Down

Education: President Handel Evans, considered the driving force behind creation of the Cal State school, will stay until successor is picked.


The driving force behind the sometimes rocky birth of Ventura County's first public university announced Friday he will step down next year as its top administrator, setting in motion a nationwide search for his replacement.

In an emotional announcement that left members of the university's steering committee and advisory board dabbing their eyes, Cal State Channel Islands President Handel Evans said his mission was to get the campus off the ground, and with that job complete it's time to hand the reins to someone else.

As the university's founding president, Evans, 62, cajoled Rotary Club members, wheedled money from politicians and generally twisted arms in his four-year campaign to whip up public and financial support for the new campus.

"He was a gift to us," said Laura McAvoy, an Oxnard lawyer who serves on the university's steering committee and fund-raising foundation. "The day I met him, I knew he was a guy who was going to move us forward and he has exceeded all of my expectations."

With the university's foundation now firmly in place, Cal State officials hope to install a permanent president by next spring at the latest. That would give the new administrator time to hire faculty and get to know the campus and the community before the university opens in fall 2002.

Evans will continue as president until his successor takes up residence at the Channel Islands campus.

Beyond that, however, Evans hasn't decided whether he will take another job within the Cal State system or strike out on his own.

All he knows for sure is that he and his wife, Carol, do not intend to leave the area, having grown attached to the community and the people who helped him turn the dream of a college campus into a reality.

"This has been an incredible adventure," Evans told the crowd of university boosters and staff members.

"My role in starting this university has come to an end. Now the intention and the desire is to bring in a president who will stay with the campus for the next decade," he said. "It's sad for me obviously. But I'm very proud of what we have done here."

What Evans has done, supporters say, is sell a project long stalled by setbacks and plagued by opposition.

Proposals to build a Cal State campus in Ventura County have been on the drawing board for more than three decades, but opposition from residents and other snags have torpedoed one plan after another.

By the time Evans arrived in early 1996, the plan was to build the university on a 266-acre lemon orchard near Camarillo. Then Camarillo State Hospital was ordered shut down the next year, and Cal State trustees put Evans in charge of drawing up a blueprint for converting the facility into a four-year college campus.

With only a small staff to lean on, he persuaded lawmakers to funnel millions of dollars toward the conversion. He persuaded county and city leaders to earmark more than $30 million to assist the university in road improvements and transportation projects.

He oversaw creation of a master plan to guide a range of income-generating ventures designed to expand the campus over the next 25 years. And he stirred a wave of gift-giving to the university, drawing more than $11 million in donations for a campus that has yet to open its doors.

The only shame is that he won't be president when it comes time to cut the ribbon during opening ceremonies, Ventura rancher and business leader Carolyn Leavens said.

"He's the man who made it happen," said Leavens, who has worked for years to bring a Cal State campus to Ventura County and was among those choking back emotions on Friday.

"I can't believe how he was able to pull everybody together and for that reason he was just the right man for the job," she said. "I understand we're at a transition stage now, but it's very bittersweet."

Added Supervisor Frank Schillo, who serves on the university's site authority board with Evans: "I consider him a real miracle worker. He did a magnificent job of bringing the university from zero to where it is now. People with his talents are very rare, and the person who replaces him is going to have to bring some unique skills."

Cal State trustees are set Sept. 20 to authorize creation of a search committee to hunt for Evans' replacement. Officials hope to have a new president on campus by the end of the 2000-01 academic year.

University supporters said Friday they are confident there will be plenty of applicants for the top slot.

But they said it's also essential to continue building on the momentum that has been generated so far and to let Cal State officials know the community supports the local campus more than ever.

"This university is going to go forward, they are going to meet the timetable they set out and they are going to keep the promises they made us," McAvoy said. "We need to keep our eyes wide open and watch what happens, and not let any momentum be lost."

For his part, Evans said he always knew this day would come.

He was hired four years ago with the specific mission of laying the groundwork for the university. And he knew eventually he would have to hand the baton to someone else.

But Evans said he didn't know it would be this soon. He said the timetable was pushed forward by the range of successes he had in creating the Channel Islands campus. But Evans cautioned university advisors Friday that it would be wrong for anyone to allow his departure to slow the progress.

"This has been a terrific culmination of 30 some years in the CSU," said Evans, a trained architect who has served as president of San Jose State and helped get two Cal State campuses--Channel Islands and Monterey Bay--off the ground.

"But what was created here is bigger than each and every one of us," he said. "This is profound stuff, profound in terms of the future of this region. I think we should clap each other on the back and say good job. Now it's time to get back to work."

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