Cal State Picks Acting President for New School


Moving dramatically to demonstrate their commitment to a Cal State University campus in Ventura County, state officials Thursday appointed the man who successfully turned an Army base into Cal State Monterey Bay to be acting president of the still-to-be-built college.

In addition to the appointment of J. Handel Evans, a 30-year veteran in the Cal State system and former president of San Jose State, Chancellor Barry Munitz also immediately committed up to $300,000 to the proposed campus and earmarked nearly $1 million for Ventura County in a statewide bond measure coming before voters March 26.

The move brings one step closer the day when Cal State officials plan to cease operations of the Cal State Northridge Ventura satellite campus, switching it over to a Cal State Ventura County campus before ultimately building on a 260-acre lemon grove west of Camarillo.


The decision to give Evans the title of acting president along with the job of launching the Ventura County campus shows a significant step up in the level of importance placed on developing the system’s 23rd campus, officials said.

“It reflects the commitment of the chancellor to send a senior executive to establish a university in Ventura County,” Evans, 57, said in an interview from his San Jose home. “My order of the day is to go to Ventura and set up a university. That’s the same thing the chancellor said to me at Monterey Bay.”

Reached at the chancellor’s office in Long Beach, Munitz said the appointment is illustrative of a “higher level” of commitment.

“This should finally put to rest the giant question mark that has been hanging over the campus,” he said.

Munitz said it was his desire to provide a “strong leader” to the county and its legislators, who lent bipartisan support, that prompted him to appoint a man of Evans’ experience and name him acting president.

“He’s the biggest gun we’ve got,” Munitz said. “Well, short of me moving there myself, and I already have a job.”


Munitz, who refused to speculate about what would happen to the campus if the $3-billion bond measure is rejected, said he still hopes to have a Cal State University operating in Ventura County by the turn of the century.

Munitz will introduce Evans to the community at a press conference Feb. 12 at the CSUN satellite campus in Ventura.

Joyce Kennedy, director of the satellite campus, called Evans’ appointment a godsend.

“For the first time in several years, I really feel it’s a distinct possibility that we’ll have a university here before the turn of the century,” she said.

Evans, who has spent the past year as vice chancellor for the Cal State system, will move into his new office at the off-campus center on Alessandro Drive in west Ventura next week.


Carolyn Leavens, a community leader and member of the Ventura campus advisory board, praised the appointment.

“This is a man who knows how to get things done,” she said.

Evans’ tenure will last only until the new campus is ready to open. At that time, a full-blown search for a new president will get underway.


Among Evans’ top priorities, Munitz said, will be rallying support for the March bond measure.

“He’ll be talking to Rotary clubs, Chambers of Commerce and any three people gathered together on the street,” he said.

Initially, there was no money in the bond measure specifically earmarked for Ventura County. But Munitz inserted $936,000 for infrastructure planning, guaranteeing Ventura County a chunk of the proceeds if the measure passes.

Even with the money from the bond measure, $1 million is hardly enough to build a full campus, estimated to ultimately cost $700 million, Evans said.

“But it unlocks a door that sends us to the next stage of development,” he said. “It draws the plans for sewers and infrastructure. And once you start the ball rolling, it’s much easier to keep it going.”

The appointment caps months of controversy and speculation after David Leveille, the university’s point man in Ventura County, took another position in state education.



Leveille, some members of the community had complained, was a divisive force, setting up his own advisory board and operating completely independently of the existing satellite campus. However, he is also credited with overseeing the purchase and lengthy legal proceedings that led to Cal State’s acquisition of the Camarillo-area land.

But Evans plans a different tact during his tenure.

Instead of working separately from the CSUN satellite campus in Ventura, Evans plans to use it as the incubator for the Cal State Ventura County campus, he said.

“We have already decided that one of the ways we will build this campus is by increasing the [CSUN] off-campus center, increasing its number of students, its class offerings, expanding the role of the off-campus center in the community,” he said. “We will use the off-campus center as a catalyst. Eventually, we will have a campus within a campus in Ventura.”

Even without the physical buildings on the new campus at the Camarillo site, which may still be several years away, officials will be able to start up an independent university, using available classrooms in the community, technology, and other innovative and nontraditional methods.


Some of those operations could be at the existing CSUN satellite site in Ventura. Others could be at community colleges or other locations. And at some point before actually moving everything to a campus in Camarillo, Evans said officials would simply be able to launch a Ventura County campus by using the CSUN satellite site and changing its name.

“We’ll reach a level where we can just swap them over, exactly as we did at Monterey Bay,” he said. “It’s very exciting.”


But Evans cautioned that there are really very few similarities between the Monterey Bay campus’s move onto the former Fort Ord Army base and the proposed Cal State campus in Ventura County.

“At Monterey Bay, we had no university planned, but we had a billion dollars worth of land and buildings with a federal commitment of another $100 million,” he said. “In Ventura, we have 260 acres of land and no money. It’s a big difference.”