President Lori E. Varlotta shares her thoughts on her first 90 days at Cal Lutheran University.
By Lori E. Varlotta
As many of you know, I physically arrived at the beautiful Thousand Oaks campus three months ago. Knowing how important the first 90 days are in any executive’s tenure, I wanted to write a short column in this issue of the magazine to give you a personal update on what that critical period has looked like at Cal Lu.
I assumed the California Lutheran University presidency with 3 1/2 decades in higher leadership under my belt. That experience, coupled with my three degrees in philosophy-oriented fields, has compelled me to seek and serve mission-driven universities like this one. Indeed, Cal Lutheran’s mission to educate leaders for a global society who are strong in character and judgment, confident in their identity and vocation, and committed to service and justice resonated loudly with me during the search process.
That mission is guiding much of the work my team and I have undertaken so far. Below are a few highlights:
- Unlike many other universities in the state of California, we are moving away from our virtual environment that became prevalent during this pandemic. Slowly, surely and as safely as possible, we are bringing students, staff and faculty back to campus. Since I arrived in September, we have carefully and methodically brought students and staff back to the Thousand Oaks campus and Oxnard Center in ways that align with state and local guidelines. Starting in January, we expect (pending Ventura County’s ability to stay in the “red tier” or better) to teach the majority of our traditional undergraduate courses in outdoor classrooms or large indoor spaces with physically distanced chairs and tables.
- At the same time we are repopulating the campus, the leadership team and I are identifying the strategic initiatives and characteristics that differentiate Cal Lutheran from our peers. It is my expectation that this work will help us elevate Cal Lutheran to the next level of excellence.
- We also are working to align our existing and emerging diversity and inclusion efforts with the Cal Lutheran mission. Cal Lu’s diversity and inclusion plans need not look like UC Berkeley’s, USC’s or Occidental’s. Ours should enforce and expand our unique mission as a midsize, private, progressive, Lutheran university. Toward this end, we want Cal Lutheran to be a place where students, staff, and faculty from various backgrounds and ethnicities and with divergent perspectives and ideologies can engage in deep, authentic and challenging conversations and programs.
When taken together, these three early projects reinforce one of the fundamental assumptions that undergirds my philosophy of education. It is this: Universities like Cal Lu should not design their educational program or the overall student experience in ways that are meant to ensure comfort. Rather, education and experience at schools like ours should prompt students — in fact, prompt all of us — to broaden our perspectives and open our hearts in an ongoing search for truth and justice. Often, such work is anything but comfortable.
My Cal Lutheran journey has just begun, and we are off to a good start. There is no doubt that Cal Lu is a university on the move. And, as alumni and friends, you will play a critical role in fueling our forward momentum. Together, we will accomplish great things for this great university, bumps and all.