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Last of 3 Finalists Visits CSUCI

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Richard Rush, a candidate for the presidency of Cal State Channel Islands, said Thursday that he would rely on his fund-raising and community-outreach skills if chosen to run Ventura County’s first four-year public university.

During a busy day of meetings and tours around the campus and county, Rush, president of Minnesota State University at Mankato, told reporters that he has used creative ideas to expand his underfunded Midwestern campus.

Rush, who arrived at Mankato in 1992, signed agreements with telecommunications companies to turn the university into a wireless campus. The 12,000 students there will soon be provided with hand-held devices that have telephone, Internet and e-mail capabilities.

IBM and AT&T; lease office space on his campus, he said. Those arrangements closely match what founders envision for the Channel Islands campus as it grows.

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As part of its effort to raise operating funds, Channel Islands is developing a 150-acre community of homes, parks and schools for faculty and staff. Plans also call for high-tech companies to lease office space on the campus, which Cal State Northridge currently uses for extension courses. If the school reaches enrollment goals, Cal State Channel Islands is scheduled to open in fall 2002.

Rush was the last of the three finalists for president to meet with administrators and faculty representatives in a series of campus visits this week.

He and the other finalists--Vicky Carwein, chancellor and dean of the University of Washington at Tacoma, and Michael Ortiz, provost and vice president for academic affairs at Cal State Fresno--will be interviewed by the Cal State Board of Trustees early next month. The new administrator is expected to be named shortly thereafter to replace outgoing President Handel Evans.

Rush, 58, said in a brief question-and-answer session that his campus in Mankato, 75 miles south of Minneapolis and overlooking the Minnesota River Valley, endured declining state funding through much of the 1990s.

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Like plans in the works for Channel Islands, Rush said he augmented his budget with public-private partnerships and continues to do so.

“That’s the way we live on my campus,” he said. “We do it because we wouldn’t have moved ahead.”

Rush, who holds a doctorate in English Renaissance literature from UCLA, spearheaded fund-raising drives for an $18-million multipurpose arena and student center and a $3-million performing arts center. They were built entirely with contributions from alumni and members of the community, he said.

“The public-private partnerships at Channel Islands . . . fits with my philosophy about how I think higher education needs to be in the 21st century,” Rush said. “The campus will grow insofar as it brings money into it.”

He apparently is popular on the Mankato campus. The student-run newspaper, the Reporter, has dubbed him a “president of the people,” due in large part to his tradition of bunking in the dormitories for a week each year to better connect with students.

Rush said he stays up late talking about students’ hopes and goals. By the end of the week, the students often pull pranks, taping or jamming his door with a penny--but it’s all in good fun.

He first considered leaving Minnesota about a year ago for personal reasons. His wife had died of cancer, and Rush thought that moving might help alleviate his grief.

“It’s time for me to look for a different place in the world,” said Rush, who has two grown daughters who live in Southern California.

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He became one of three finalists for chancellor of Nevada’s higher education system last year, but withdrew from consideration, he said, because “it was not the right fit.”

But Channel Islands, he said, so far feels right.

If Rush is chosen, he would be returning to the Cal State system. Prior to his tenure at Mankato, he served as executive vice president of Cal State San Marcos, assisting with the development of the then-fledgling campus in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He was also a dean and director of a San Diego State University satellite center that was discontinued when the San Marcos campus was opened.

“I believe I know what the challenges are here because of my experience in San Diego,” he said.

Rush said he knows community support for a new campus is essential to its success. The new Channel Islands president, he said, will look toward the continued support of those who have championed its development.

Carolyn Leavens, who sits on a citizens advisory committees guiding the creation of Channel Islands, said the university’s boosters are eager to see who trustees will choose among the three finalists.

“All three will come to us with very different skills,” Leavens said. “We need someone special who can keep the ball rolling.”


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