How the CSU’s 23rd Campus Came to Be

CSU Channel Islands’ 10-year anniversary celebrates the realization of a century-long journey and the dreams, dedication and contributions of countless individuals.

The seeds for CI were first planted in 1911 when Ventura rancher Nancy Ann Donohoo Taylor stipulated in her will that a portion of her assets be used to start a university in Ventura County. Though her wishes were successfully contested, momentum for a public university continued to grow over the following decades.

Robert and Norma Lagomarsino

Robert J. Lagomarsino took up the charge as a State Senator in 1965, when he and Assemblyman Burt Hansen introduced Senate Bill 288, calling for the establishment of a four-year college in Ventura County. Later that year, Governor Pat Brown signed a bill authorizing a study.

Over the next two decades, CSU studied the region’s educational needs and potential sites, opened a Ventura Learning Center, and purchased a 266- acre lemon orchard near Camarillo.“Clearly, there was a need. We were the largest county in the state without a four-year public university,” Lagomarsino recalled. “There was no organized support – that came much later. But there was interest on the part of a lot of people.”

In 1996, the CSU Chancellor appointed J. Handel Evans, a 35-year veteran CSU administrator who had led the conversion of an old Army base into Cal State Monterey Bay, to lay the groundwork for founding the system’s 23rd campus in Ventura County. Evans faced the monumental task of starting a university with no money, no campus, no employees, no students, and no name. He immediately set out to build public and political support and donations.

J. Handel Evans

Evans soon discovered he had the one most crucial thing on his side: the community.

“I had lunch in every Rotary Club, Optimists Club and public venue I could get into,” Evans recalled. “It was an uphill mission, but it helped create a bunch of supporters that were adamant that we build a university. We raised over $12.5 million on pure trust, without a student on the campus. I’m grateful to those people that took my word for it that this was going to happen and supported it.”

It was no walk in the park and sometimes Evans thought it would never happen. But CSU Channel Islands stands today as a testament to the people in Ventura County who helped make it possible.

“I’m incredibly proud to see how it’s fulfilling its destiny,” said Evans, who retired as CI’s Planning President in 2001 and now works as a higher education consultant. “I still have people stop me in the street to thank me personally for starting the University. It’s a good feeling.”

In addition to finding public and financial support, Evans points to two critical events that led to CI’s establishment: Giving the university a name and the closing and transfer of the Camarillo State Hospital in 1997 to CSU.

Jack O'Connell

Then-State Senator Jack O’Connell wrote Senate Bill 623, transferring the site to CSU.

After its official establishment as CSU Channel Islands, state funding and private support flowed in, allowing planning, hiring and construction to begin transformation of the campus for students.“It’s the only bill number I can remember in 28 years as an elected official,” O’Connell joked. “Six because there were 6,000 graduating seniors in Ventura County that year. Twenty-three because it was the CSU’s 23rd campus.”

Evans announced his retirement in 2000. In 2001, after a nationwide search, the CSU Board of Trustees appointed President Richard R. Rush, a 20-year faculty member and administrator in the CSU system who led Minnesota State University at Mankato for nearly a decade before coming to CI.

“It immediately struck me that this was an absolutely beautiful campus with unlimited potential,” Rush recalled. “In the early days, it was an interesting kind of pioneer effort on the part of everyone.”

Rush quickly set to work, hiring the first faculty, preparing the campus to open its doors to students in fall 2002, and laying down the vision, mission and strategy that guides CI today.

“I’m grateful to the people who took a risk in leaving successful careers elsewhere to start this University,” Rush said. “It was an exciting time of creation and vision and they did a magnificent job of opening the doors.”

Original 13 faculty

As CI celebrates 10 years of existence, Lagomarsino, Evans and O’Connell say it’s already exceeded their expectations as a model for higher education.

“It’s the crown jewel of the system,” said Lagomarsino. “It’s creating opportunities in Ventura County for people that might not otherwise have them. The 10th anniversary is a milestone on the way to bigger and better things.”

“It’s no longer the best-kept secret in the CSU system,” O’Connell said. “People know this is a campus that’s thriving and providing a quality educational opportunity in an environmentally friendly situation. There’s no doubt in my mind in the next decade that the secret will be out that it’s a preeminent campus.”