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Our view: CSU Channel Islands needs continuity, diversity

By   /   Monday, November 9th, 2020  /   Comments Off on Our view: CSU Channel Islands needs continuity, diversity

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The sudden departure of CSU Channel Islands President Erika Beck came as a surprise to key stakeholders, but it also creates an unusual set of opportunities.

Beck will decamp in January to take the helm of CSU Northridge, a 40,000-student campus in need of strong leadership. Northridge is five times larger than Channel Islands. It is largely a commuter campus, and its low graduation rates are a drag on the entire CSU system.

Beck has made it clear that the CSU Chancellor’s office sought her out for the position, and her appointment comes as outgoing Chancellor Tim White is doing some housecleaning before his successor Joseph Castro takes over next year.

In the meantime, a search is ongoing for an interim CSUCI president until a permanent replacement can take over. We echo the sentiments of the CSUCI Foundation Board that an internal candidate should be a top priority, as continuity of programs and purpose at the highly successful university is essential to its future. If there is no such candidate, some community leaders would welcome the return of Founding President Richard Rush, now retired, in an interim role.

Over the long run, this is an opportunity to recruit and hire a permanent president who brings diversity to a leadership role in Ventura County. Castro is setting an example as the first Latino to lead the CSU system. For CSUCI, it would be a chance to begin the process of adding diversity to the top ranks of leadership in the county.

Already, forward-looking organizations—notably Santa Paula-based Limoneira and newly-public Mission Produce of Oxnard—have diverse boards, and that diversity has been increasing in recent years.

Finally, a couple of thoughts. First, there is a bit of irony in the fact that CSUCI was in fact incubated under the CSUN umbrella and then spun out of Northridge two decades ago, with the arrival of the aforementioned Rush and the CSU trustees’ approval of the new campus’ ability to grant its own degrees. The fact that in just two decades, CSUCI has recruited and trained a CSUN-caliber president should be applauded.

Second, with Beck moving 40 miles down Highway 101, it is very important that the team she built remain as intact as possible. This newspaper and the Foundation Board would have a highly negative view of any recruitment of key administrators that would weaken the university in a transition period.

The Central Coast has gotten used to its academic leaders sticking around. Henry Yang at UC Santa Barbara, Jeff Armstrong at Cal Poly, Gayle Beebe at Westmont College and, until recently, Chris Kimball at California Lutheran University are well established leaders. Transitions have been few and, as with the case of Kimball, typically well planned.

But what of their successors? Evidence suggests that the terms for university and college presidents are shortening, and that four or five-year stays are becoming the norm. It is possible that the next round of changes at the top of our institutions is likely to set in motion a faster-moving revolving door. On the other hand, it is easy to put down roots on the Central Coast, which makes saying goodbye that much more difficult.

Note: Editor Henry Dubroff is a member of the CSUCI Foundation Board of Directors.

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