Lori E. Varlotta

About Lori E. Varlotta

Lori E. VarlottaLori E. Varlotta, PhD, became California Lutheran University’s eighth president on September 1, 2020.

The first female president since Cal Lutheran was founded in 1959, Dr. Lori E. Varlotta is an established leader in higher education. She arrived to the University with broad experience in change management and curriculum reform, student success and inclusion, strategic planning and budgeting, community engagement, and fundraising.

She also brought to the post a life-long passion for translating theory to practice: words to deeds. When she speaks about her nearly four decades of experience at mission-driven colleges and universities, she describes them as more of a calling than a career. With some of this as background, it is no surprise that President Varlotta has routinely asked university members to join her in ensuring that 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”—goes well beyond rhetoric to reality.

Varlotta took the helm at Cal Lutheran when a global pandemic and racial and social inequities were dramatically impacting higher education in general and Cal Lutheran in particular. Amid these challenges, she committed to leading a campus-wide effort to make the University an even more vibrant and positive community for those who work, study, live, and learn here. As part of these early efforts, Varlotta spearheaded the development and implementation of a new and highly coordinated DEI structure. She has also mobilized the senior leadership team in launching an integrated Strategic and Master Planning process that will guide the University’s forward movement.

Before arriving at Cal Lutheran, Varlotta served as the 22nd president of Hiram College in Ohio, where she was the first female president in its 170-year history. During her six and a half years at Hiram, she worked with colleagues to design and implement nationally recognized innovations in high-impact programs, integrative learning, and mindful technology. Collectively, the changes became known as the “New Liberal Arts.” Major components of the New Liberal Arts were brought to life via the record-breaking fundraising years that she and the development staff achieved. As a champion of shared governance, Varlotta also helped the campus build structures that facilitated faculty, staff, and student input into decision-making.

Prior to joining Hiram, Varlotta spent 11 years at California State University, Sacramento, ultimately serving as senior vice president of planning, enrollment management, and student affairs. She led 31 departments, including the areas of retention, diversity, educational equity, and NCAA Division I athletics. She also held senior leadership roles at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and the University of San Francisco, and directorship positions at Miami University (OH), the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford, and other institutions. She speaks and writes extensively on issues concerning higher education today.

Varlotta earned an interdisciplinary PhD in educational leadership with a focus on philosophy and feminist studies from Miami University (OH). She has a Master of Science in Cultural Foundations of Education from Syracuse University, and a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy from the University of Notre Dame.

She tells first-generation students like herself that her university degrees have opened many doors, and for that, she is grateful. She is quick to add, however, that the life lessons she learned from her working-class family in Pittsburgh, PA have substantially shaped her personal and professional life. For this reason, she never underestimates where a student comes from and what they bring with them from home. In her words, “thriving universities are places where everyone teaches and everyone learns.”