March 21, 2023
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Springs Fire throws another challenge at CSU Channel Islands



It could be the understatement of the decade to say that nothing has come easily for CSU Channel Islands.

The university, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, was created out of a former mental hospital after years of wrangling by area leaders over a suitable location. It emerged from the shadow of its start-up period only to see an ambitious growth schedule stalled by the state’s budget crisis.

Just recently CSUCI got the green light to start growing again. But as it was on the precipice of taking another big step forward, another barrier stood in its way.

In early May, CSUCI found itself literally in the line of fire as the Springs blaze moved swiftly across the hillsides north and east of the campus.

But just as very little has come easy for CSUCI, the university has proved itself to be a plucky survivor. Thanks to quick thinking and fast reactions by staff, the campus was evacuated without incident.

Under President Dick Rush, the university has forged close relationships with local public safety officials, including collaborations on the use of new technology for bomb detection and firefighting.

And so when the Springs Fire loomed over the campus, Ventura County fire chiefs already were well aware of the need to make sure that CSUCI remained untouched. Among other things it hosts a huge archive ranging from recordings of farm workers to the public papers of former Congressman Bob Lagomarsino.

And after a harrowing weekend, students began piling back to their dorms on Sunday May 5 and things were pretty much back to normal when classes resumed the next day.

As a member of the CSU CI Foundation Board and a co-founder of the CSUCI Business & Technology Partnership, I’ve come to realize that the Camarillo campus plays a special role in the CSU system.

In a big departure from commuter-oriented campuses such as  CSU LA, it has been designed to be a largely residential university and one that draws students from a fairly wide geographic area. It also came with its own ability to develop housing, and its University Glen projects have enabled the university to offer a unique package of housing and employment to faculty.

Both the residential nature of the campus and the University Glen project were heavily at risk as the Springs fire gathered force in its first days. But heroic work by the firefighters and that calmness in the face of adversity that has become the hallmark of the CI staff clearly carried the day.

Having been near enough to several large California fires to see dramatic flames, feel the heat and watch flakes of ash cover everything, I can attest to the stresses imposed by operating under evacuation threat.

CSUCI emerged from the Springs Fire with some burnt hillsides, a bit of smoke damage and fearful memories. But it has earned the respect of the Cal State system, parents everywhere and future faculty members by standing up to a life-threatening situation and holding its own.

CSUCI can go on and celebrate the rest of its 10th anniversary year looking forward to what lies ahead. And after the events of the past week, that’s not at all a bad place to be.

• Contact Editor Henry Dubroff at