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University, County Pick New Leaders

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Richard Rush, an educator known for his community outreach and prolific fund-raising, was named president of Cal State Channel Islands on Tuesday.

The 58-year-old president of Minnesota State University at Mankato brings to the job extensive experience in building and expanding college campuses and an intimate knowledge of the Cal State system, where he served as a faculty member and administrator for nearly 20 years before assuming the top job at Mankato in 1992.

He will step in at a crucial time in the development of the Camarillo area campus, which is scheduled to open in the fall of 2002 if enrollment goals are met.

The academic program at the budding university is still under development, and the first faculty members have yet to be hired.

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Rush, who replaces outgoing President Handel Evans, will hire about 25 faculty members by August to help plan educational programs and course content. He is also expected to fill the university’s top administrative positions.

“I feel very honored that I have been entrusted with this project,” Rush said in a telephone interview from Minnesota. “I felt I had the background they were looking for.”

Rush, who grew up in Los Angeles and holds a doctorate in English Renaissance literature from UCLA, was one of three finalists for the position.

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--participated in a final round of interviews with the full Cal State Board of Trustees on Monday.

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Rush was chosen in a unanimous vote and offered the job later that day. The official announcement was made Tuesday.

“His experience put him over the top,” Chancellor Charles B. Reed said.

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Reed praised Rush’s fund-raising and community outreach at Mankato, where he spearheaded drives for a privately funded $18-million arena and student center, and a $3-million performing arts center.

He also said Rush could draw from his familiarity in starting up a Cal State campus. In the late 1980s and early ‘90s, Rush served as executive vice president of Cal State San Marcos, assisting with development of the then-fledgling campus. He was also a dean and director of a San Diego State University satellite center that was discontinued when the San Marcos campus opened.

“At a new start-up, you need to have somebody there who knows exactly who to call to get something done,” Reed said.

As part of its effort to provide first-rate educational offerings, Channel Islands, which Cal State Northridge now uses for extension courses, plans on extensive private fund-raising.

For example, a drive is under way to build a $35-million undergraduate and research library, said Barbara Thorpe, associate academic vice president at the campus.

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Rush will take over for Evans in June, but his start date and salary have not been determined. Evans, who was traveling outside the country and could not be reached for comment, will stay on temporarily to assist with the transition, officials said.

Rush, the only child of a father who was a lawyer and a mother with a master’s degree in psychology, said he never planned on serving as an administrator when he started out as a English literature professor at San Diego State in 1971.

But he was soon appointed to faculty leadership roles and eventually administrative positions by the university, he said.

“I thought I would be sitting in a musty library with 16th- and 17th-century books,” he said. “It never entered my mind that I would be a university president.”

After he assumed the top job at Mankato, 75 miles south of the Twin Cities, he quickly made his mark, colleagues said.

Paul J. Hustoles, chairman of the theater and dance department at Mankato, said people around campus had talked for years of building both an arena and performing arts space.

“And then he came, and it just happened,” he said.

Hustoles, who serves in a leadership role in the faculty union, said he appreciated Rush’s personnel management skills over the other two presidents he has worked under. He said Rush recognizes the talents of people and treats all staff with respect.

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Rush also pushed for growth of the 12,000-student campus, despite declining state funding.

He signed agreements with telecommunications companies to turn the university into a wireless campus. Students there will soon be provided with hand-held devices that have telephone, Internet and e-mail capabilities.

The university also leases office space to IBM and AT & T for revenue purposes.

Those arrangements closely match Channel Islands’ vision for funding its growth, from developing homes for purchase by faculty and staff to leasing office space on campus to high-tech companies.

Hustoles said the Mankato community will miss Rush.

He was dubbed a “president of the people,” due in large part to his tradition of bunking in dormitories for a week each year to better connect with students.

Rush first considered leaving Minnesota about a year ago to alleviate his grief after his wife, Janie, died of cancer. He has two grown daughters who live in Southern California.

Longtime Channel Islands booster Carolyn Leavens said she was ecstatic about the selection of Rush, calling him the perfect choice to take over where Evans leaves off.

Leavens, a Ventura rancher and businesswoman, said she first met Rush a year ago when the university’s advisory board asked him to speak about creating Cal State San Marcos from scratch.

“He was my choice from the beginning,” she said. “He knows where we’re going because he’s been there. And he recognizes the enormity of the job and knows how to go about the business of doing it right.”

Laura McAvoy, an Oxnard lawyer who served on the university’s presidential selection committee, said she sees Rush’s fund-raising and community outreach skills as key in continuing the momentum that has been generated on behalf of the campus.

“I think we have been blessed,” she said. “He has a great deal of experience; he has a very clear vision of what he wants a university to accomplish for itself and for the community around it, and he’s very capable of having everyone else understand that vision and become part of it.”

Hank Lacayo, president of an Oxnard-based Latino advocacy group and a member of a university advisory board, said he was also impressed by Rush’s qualifications.

He said he looks forward to working with the incoming president on a range of issues, including finding ways to boost Latino representation at the new campus.

Statewide, Latino students attend Cal State campuses at less than half the rate of their peers.

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And CSU officials have long cited the county’s educationally underserved Latino communities in arguing for creation of the local campus.

“I hope he understands the makeup of our area,” Lacayo said. “You can rest assured he will hear about it from us.”

Camarillo City Councilwoman Charlotte Craven, who sits on a board responsible for physical development of the campus, said she took Rush on a two-hour tour of Ventura County when he interviewed last month.

She said he asked pointed questions about the cost of housing, racial diversity and the economic makeup of the region.

And, as an elected official of the nearby city of Camarillo, she said she was particularly pleased to learn about his track record of working with surrounding communities while he helped create Cal State San Marcos.

“I think he’s going to be a good fit for our community,” Craven said.

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Cooper is a Times correspondent and Alvarez is a Times staff writer.


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