President Richard Rush of the California State University Channel Islands announced Thursday that he will retire at the end of the upcoming school year, marking the end of his inaugural presidency and four decades of work in higher education.
In his convocation address, Rush said he was honored to “have held in trust — for the once and future students and the good people of Ventura County and the region — this marvelous idea of a university.” Fifteen years ago, Rush was expected to not only lead at Channel Islands but also build a recognized presence for the CSU’s newest campus among California’s existing public institutions. Nine years as president of Minnesota State University and a key role in founding CSU San Marcos had already earned him a positive reputation in this “founder” role. Before he became a high-level administrator, Rush taught english literature and served as dean of San Diego State University.
Rush hired Channel Islands’ first faculty and senior administrative team and worked on strategic, academic, fiscal, and physical master plans for the university’s future. He commissioned improvements to roadways and infrastructure and acquired adequate land for campus expansion. Perhaps most importantly, he led the university effort to achieve initial accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, as well as the school’s most recent reaccreditation.
Faced with minimal state funding, Rush worked to secure about $16 million for the Channel Islands campus in federal grants, which crucially increased accessibility for underserved students in the area. Eventually, the school was awarded more federal funding through its designation as a Hispanic Serving Institution, with at least 25 percent of the Channel Islands study body self-identifying as Latino. Under Rush’s leadership, the campus raised $49 million in contributions to support student scholarships, research grants, and academic programs.
Through numerous business and community partnerships, Rush developed hands-on opportunities for his students to gain experience in their fields of study. He partnered with Cottage Hospital to create the first bachelor’s degree program for nursing in Santa Barbara County. A collaboration with the Channel Islands National Park produced the Santa Rosa Island Research Station, which expanded undergraduate research opportunities across multiple disciplines. With Noble Peace Prize laureate Muhammad Yunus, Rush founded the California Institute for Social Business, the first academic department in the nation devoted to the study of social business, a discipline that invokes business methods and practices as the catalysts of positive social change. “It’s very rare that one gets to create a university in his or her life,” Rush said. “This was an opportunity not to be passed up.”
Rush’s unique achievements have earned him considerable recognition throughout his years of service. Twice, the California State Student Association named him President of the Year. He received President’s Awards from both the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators and the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. An Educator of the Year title from the Camarillo Chamber of Commerce is just one of many other local honors that Rush received as well.
Of all the decisions he has made over the years, Rush says he is most proud of the people he hired. He knows his faculty members are devoted to student interests and “in that, we have fulfilled the promise that we made to the people of the region and fulfilled the dreams of that region.” In coming months, the CSU Board of Trustees will begin a national search for a new campus president for Channel Islands. “The university has talented people and enormous potential,” Rush said. “My successor can take that talent and potential and run with it.”