Lori E. Varlotta

A Future-Focused, Faith-Friendly University

Throughout the course of this year, you will hear me and other campus leaders talk about California Lutheran University as being a future-focused, faith-friendly university.

These descriptors have emerged from thoughtful, ongoing conversations and deliberations with university constituents over the last year or more. I invite all of us to get involved with the activities underway to help us live into what we want our future-focused, faith-friendly university to look like this year and beyond.


How and Why We are Future-Focused

A university’s success doesn’t emerge from happenstance. It is shaped by purposeful, inclusive, and transparent planning processes that bring myriad constituents together to build and strengthen the common good. That’s exactly what has been happening at Cal Lutheran over the last couple of years and what will continue to happen this year. Indeed, the 2022-23 academic year is chock full of activities that will shape the future of Cal Lutheran for many years. These include:

  • Implementing year-one initiatives of the new Strategic Plan
  • Readying our Campus Plan — focusing on facilities, the environment, and roadways and pathways — for Board of Regents approval
  • Launching Cal Lutheran’s first integrated DEIJ plan

Simultaneously working on the design and implementation of these three major plans can be daunting at times, but working on them in tandem allows each to inform and shape the other. This means the goals and action items of each plan are appropriately connected to and coordinated with the others. The end result is a cohesive integration of goals and objectives that strengthens a diverse yet connected community that shares common values and commitments.

Because a future-focused university is purposely planned by the hands, hearts, and heads of many, I invite all of you to get or stay involved in one or more of these university-wide plans. Below is a summary of each and its status at the present time.

The Strategic Plan

The Strategic Plan took a full year to design, and it was approved by the Board of Regents in May 2022. We are in year one of its implementation. The implementation process will be guided by “Initiative Owners” who are leading cross-departmental teams in bringing to life the objectives associated with the plan’s three themes. These objectives grew out of the feedback that was generated by the hundreds of campus constituents who participated in Campus Community Day, interviews, surveys, and focus groups during the 2021-22 academic year.

Theme One, Student Experience, keeps students front and center by:

  • Incorporating Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice (DEIJ) into academic and co-curricular programs
  • Bolstering our technology infrastructure
  • Adding or renovating outdoor, student-centered places and spaces
  • Ensuring our career development programs help students pave their professional and vocational paths

Theme Two, Fulfilling Work Environment, ensures that we attract and retain faculty and staff who support the university mission and embody values that help bring that mission to life. As part of this theme, we pledge to:

  • Build and cultivate a culture of trust and accountability
  • Offer professional development programs that hone the talents and gifts of our faculty and staff
  • Use appropriate data and technologies to make decisions and improve efficiencies
  • Build systems and structures that foster greater collaboration within and between departments

Theme Three, Distinctive Impact, leveragesCal Lutheran’s status as one of only two four-year universities in Ventura County, the only private four-year university in Ventura County, and the only ELCA university in California. Given this unique position, this theme prompts us to partner with corporate and non-profit businesses, community agencies, and other organizations with whom we have a mission match. Objectives related to this theme include the following:

  • Building strategic partnerships that offer students real-world learning opportunities such as internships, graduate assistantships, clinical service, student employment, guided or community-based research, service-learning, etc.
  • Promoting a spirit of philanthropy and conducting a data-driven fundraising campaign to support and actualize the Strategic Plan
  • Prioritizing purposeful communication with internal and external audiences including the implementation of a brand ambassador program
  • Ensuring brand and mission alignment by refreshing Cal Lutheran’s brand platform, identifying new academic programs, and strengthening existing ones to grow enrollment and meet the needs of today’s students

In many ways, the Strategic Plan can be thought of as the umbrella plan that canopies the other two plans. It is in its very early implementation stage, so there are plenty of opportunities to get involved. Send a query via the “submit” button on this page to learn more. Since we believe in the principle that “form follows function,” we are deliberately using our Strategic Plan’s priorities to inform the Campus Plan and the DEIJ Plan.

The Campus Plan

The Cal Lutheran “Campus Plan” is one that helps university officials build and maintain a physical, facilities, and environmental plan that supports the themes, objectives, and initiatives in the Strategic Plan. This plan will help us prioritize future construction, building renovations, and facility enhancements. It will also identify the improvements we need to make to outdoor spaces and places, our way-finding system, our natural environment, and campus entry points.

As was the case with the Strategic Plan, we have contracted with consultants from Credo Inc. to facilitate the Campus Planning process. In May 2022, Credo distributed a survey to the university community to garner feedback, and 620 faculty, staff, and students submitted responses. In addition to collecting and analyzing survey responses, the Credo Campus Planning consultants have visited the campus on several occasions, have taken many tours of our facilities and grounds, and have spoken with dozens of campus and community members. Currently, Credo is engaging us in building a 3D model of campus that showcases some of the ideas that they have been hearing throughout the discovery process.

Please visit this website to learn more about the process and to get involved in the modeling project that is scheduled for the early part of fall.

The DEIJ Plan

The third plan that will shape the future for Cal Lutheran is the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Justice (DEIJ) Plan. This plan is being spearheaded by the university’s Vice President for Talent, Culture, and Diversity (TCD) and by the Core Team. The plan is organized around six key initiatives:

  1. Establishing and communicating DEIJ baseline metrics and subsequent performance indicators
  2. Creating and maintaining an inclusive and equitable campus environment
  3. Recruiting, retaining, and developing diverse faculty, staff, and students
  4. Supporting innovative and inclusive curricula and pedagogies
  5. Pledging financial commitment to support diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice across the University
  6. Developing community partnerships with organizations, agencies, and businesses who similarly value DEIJ

Over the course of Fall 2022, the Vice President of TCD and the DEIJ Core Team will meet with divisions across campus to identify the concrete steps they have already taken or are prepared to take to bring the plan to fruition. Cal Lutheran’s Faculty Senate, Staff Senate, and Student Governments will also be invited to take charge of pieces and parts of the plan. At Cal Lutheran, we know that DEIJ is “everybody’s business and a part of everybody’s job.” Hence, all divisions and major shared governance entities will be asked to familiarize themselves with the priorities described on this page and to participate in the implementation of our first DEIJ plan.

The Strategic Plan, Campus Plan, and DEIJ Plan will substantially shape our future. Since each of them affords plenty of opportunities for your involvement, this means you can play a critical role in shaping the future, too!


How and Why we are Faith-Friendly University

Now that I have explained why the term “future -focused” is an apt one for Cal Lutheran, let me discuss why “faith-friendly” makes sense, too. Faith-friendly describes both our history of being strongly rooted in the ELCA and our commitment to being open to those who worship a different God or another Divine and to those whose faith is in nature, humanity, or a state of being that transcends our physical existence.

Cal Lutheran is not a sectarian college. Sectarian colleges typically promote or carve out a space for a specific religious perspective, giving privilege to that particular religion. Such colleges may be very nurturing for those who are a part of that religious enclave. Cal Lutheran, however, is not about building enclaves. It’s about creating a space that is rooted in Lutheran educational values but open to all. The majority of our faculty, staff, students, and other community members are non-Lutheran.

We host a weekly chapel service and give all members of our community the time off to attend the service or spend those 45 minutes in a peaceful pause or reflective mode. During this time, we expect students and colleagues to engage in some type of mindfulness, but there is no requirement or mandate to attend service at the chapel as there is at many sectarian institutions.

Cal Lutheran is not a secular institution. We are by no means an institution that wants students, faculty, and staff to check their religious or faith-based perspectives at the door. We are a place where conversations, greetings, or practices related to God, the Divine, or spirituality, are welcome. At some secular universities, there are actual prohibitions on even casual religious utterances. Saying “Happy Holidays,” for example, is acceptable but wishing someone “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Hanukkah” is not. That isn’t Cal Lutheran.

So…if we are neither secular nor sectarian, what are we? We are faith-friendly! This means we are a place where faith identities, conversations about faith, faith traditions and ceremonies are not only okay…they are strongly encouraged and celebrated.

In this sense, “faith-friendly” might be likened to other terms in American higher education. “Veteran-friendly,” for example, is used by many universities to loudly and clearly communicate that they aim to create a sense of belonging for veterans. We are a veteran-friendly university. “Gay-, bi-, and/or trans-friendly,” as a second example, is used by universities to explicitly signal they aim to build and maintain a sense of belonging for students and colleagues in the LGBTQ+ community. We are proudly an LGBTQ+-friendly university as well.

Without a doubt, those two linguistic constructions have gained recognition and prominence in the higher education arena. Therefore, we are relying on their well-established foundational concepts and assumptions as we lean into our “faith-friendly” identity. Accordingly, faith-friendly means we aim to create a sense of belonging for students and colleagues of all faith traditions and identities. Our faith-friendliness means that we think about, talk about, and practice faith in much broader ways than other church-related universities. At Cal Lutheran, faith is broadly writ. All who believe in something bigger than themselves are part of our faith-based community.


Conclusion

I believe there is a beautiful intersection where “future-focused” meets “faith-friendly.” That is the intersection where Cal Lutheran is located; this is where we live. 

California Lutheran University occupies a relatively unique space in the post-secondary “market.” There are very few colleges and universities in California that naturally embody this wonderfully blended combination of being both Future-Focused and Faith-Friendly. Let’suse this pairing to our advantage: leverage it, live into it, put your head and heart into making it real for yourself and those around you.

Sincerely,

Lori E. Varlotta, PhD
President

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