CLU’s Leadership Opinion Poll Results

Alijah Hernandez, Editor in Chief

Infographic by Serena Zuniga – Digital & Multimedia Editor/Managing Editor

Editor’s note: The statements quoted in the article reflect the opinions of those who participated in this poll, and are not a reflection of The Echo. While many respondents shared concerns and feedback, some open-ended responses made allegations that warranted verification, which could not be completed in a timely manner, and they are not included in this article. 

On March 1, 2022 The Echo released an opinion poll in its weekly newsletter asking students, faculty, staff, and alumni to rate the effectiveness of leadership on California Lutheran University’s campus. 

The poll was posted on The Echo’s social media accounts within the three days it was open and closed on Friday, March 4 at midnight. 

The poll was open to anyone who wanted to take it and does not reflect the opinions of those who did not participate. This poll was not conducted on behalf of the university and the results of this poll are not to be generalized. 

A total of 432 individuals responded to the poll: 189 identified as undergraduate students, 101 identified as alumni, 74 identified as staff, 51 identified themselves as faculty, and 17 identified as graduate students. Eight respondents identified as not being affiliated with CLU and are excluded from this report.  

The poll consisted of one question measured on a very well to very poorly scale, followed by a free response box to explain their answer and four statements measured on a strongly agree to strongly disagree scale. The results of this poll are provided below. 

297 individuals responded to the statement “I believe California Lutheran University has strong leadership guiding the university toward academic excellence.” 6.73% selected they “strongly agree,” 23.57% selected they “somewhat agree,” 23.91% selected they “neither agree nor disagree,” 33.67% selected they “disagree,” and 12.12% selected they “strongly disagree.”

296 individuals responded to the statement “I believe California Lutheran University has strong leadership guiding the university toward financial success,” and “I believe California Lutheran University has strong leadership guiding the university toward a more inclusive and safe campus for students, faculty, and staff.” 

In response to “I believe California Lutheran University has strong leadership guiding the university toward financial success,” 10.81% selected they “strongly agree,” 20.27% selected they “somewhat agree,” 30.07% selected they “neither agree nor disagree,” 26.69% selected they “disagree,” and 12.16% selected they “strongly disagree.”

In response to the statement “I believe California Lutheran University has strong leadership guiding the university toward a more inclusive and safe campus for students, faculty and staff,” 8.78% selected they “strongly agree,” 14.86% selected they “somewhat agree,” 13.18% selected “neither agree nor disagree,” 30.07% selected they “disagree,” and 33.11% selected they “strongly disagree.”

295 individuals responded to the statement “I believe California Lutheran University’s leadership is trustworthy to handle students’ future needs.” 6.44% selected they “strongly agree,” 11.86% selected they “somewhat agree,” 20.34% selected “neither agree nor disagree,” 32.54% selected they “disagree,” and 28.81% selected they “strongly disagree.”

337 individuals responded to the question “How do you think Dr. Lori Varlotta is doing as President of California Lutheran University?” 4.79% selected the option “very well,” 6.89% selected “well,” 25.45% selected “neutral,” 33.83% selected “poorly,” and 29.04% selected “very poorly.” 

Of the 337 individuals who responded to that question, 165 respondents participated in the free response section that said, “Please explain your response.”

Among the responses, people commented on multiple topics that share some common themes including Varlotta’s involvement with Cal Lutheran’s community, faculty and staff turnover, lack of understanding, graduation, and issues pertaining to racism, diversity, equity and inclusion, and Title IX.

Select responses representative of each theme are quoted verbatim below. 

Involvement on campus

Respondents generally shared more of a concern than appreciation for Varlotta’s involvement on campus. Some said they appreciate the way she is leading the campus through difficult times. 

“I think she’s doing the best she can with the state of the university (considering she came in during a pandemic and while we were/are processing racial issues on campus.),” a staff member said. 

“She is making necessary changes to move CLU forward and address issues that have been festering for years. This type of change is never easy but is necessary,” an alumni said. 

Some respondents said she is able to work through these difficult times with grace and tenacity while bringing her best talents to benefit the university. 

“I have experienced Dr. Varlotta as open to hearing critique, questions and creative ideas. I have seen her working in the trenches on CLU economic and legal stability with positive results. She is willing to debate and compromise and prefers to work with input from a variety of voices,” a faculty member said. 

“I think she has brough so many things to campus. Handles business so efficently. She is humble and open to everyone. Also extremely accesible,” an undergraduate student said. 

Some respondents said they believe Varlotta is out of touch with the Cal Lutheran community and can be more personable with students, faculty and staff. 

“I see President Varlotta attempting to make a lot of changes at the university that I agree with, however, she does not present herself as approachable to staff. She often strikes up conversation at events, but never seems to ask about names, departments, jobs, etc. and it gives the impression of checking a box for socializing. Despite multiple attempts to set up meetings with the president and our department since she began, all attempts have gone unanswered,” a staff member said.

“I only ever see her on campus if she has an appearance to make. President Kimball was on campus and showed how much he cared about the school, faculty, and especially the students,” an undergraduate student said.

Multiple respondents said there is a clear disconnect between the leadership on campus and the student body and said Varlotta doesn’t present herself as welcoming. A few respondents said she does not greet students as they walk by her on campus, while one respondent described her caring for students as more performative than genuine. 

“I am no longer a student, so I can only speak to what I’ve heard from friends still working at the university and my own experience returning as an alum. I returned to CLU recently to give a talk on my undergrad work, and ended up sitting next to president Varlotta during the event. Throughout all the presentations she wa a texting on her iPad and later her phone. It was incredibly disrespectful to the presenters, and distracting to anyone sitting near her. Quiet frankly I was shocked- I had heard negative things about her and wanted to form my own opinions, but unfortunately that interaction with her left a bad impression for me. Again, my response is just a small snippet of her actual work as a president, but just from the small interaction I had, I felt she was not doing her job well at least in the context of that event,” an alumni said. 

Other respondents said they do not know or have not interacted with her enough to assess what she has done. 

One respondent who identified as a staff member said it’s hard to assess Varlotta’s role when impacts can be influenced by other factors outside of intention, especially in times of staff changes, a pandemic and enrollment challenges. This respondent said they see an effort being made to adapt to difficult times and said that as a person of color, they are most curious to see how DEI plays out. 

Lack of understanding 

Multiple respondents said there is a clear lack of respect, understanding, and feeling heard from President Varlotta. 

“A lot of money was spent on the inaugural events that could have better served students needs. There have also been some past instances where the President did not show much understanding or compassion regarding certain issues,” a faculty member said.

A few faculty members said there is a disregard for shared governance amongst faculty and staff. One faculty member said it reduces the impact faculty and staff have in university-wide discussion. Another faculty member said that Varlotta communicates with faculty, staff and students in a disrespectful way that does not show understanding of campus culture. 

“She has not treated campus constituencies with respect and has thus eroded trust and motivation across the university,” a faculty member said. 

“No visibility on and off campus, no transparency, faculty and staff feel sidelined and undervalued,” a faculty member said. 

“She has consistently disregarded the community’s concerns and refuses to listen,” a graduate student said.

Multiple undergraduate students said they feel ignored by Varlotta, one undergraduate student said they feel she ignores the needs and complaints of students and disregards the safety and well-being of Cal Lutheran students and staff. 

Turnover rate

A common theme respondents shared was an overall concern of how President Varlotta is handling the turnover rate. 

“She does not seem to have a great sense of urgency while there is an exodus of employees leaving! I want to take over, and I’m not even the president. For the enormous salary she receives, you would think that would be enough incentive to do something, but no. Other companies that would see the boat sinking would work day and night to fix it. Half of the people I know are thinking of leaving. We don’t make a living wage, but work hard. She makes way above living wage, but we never see her in action.Who is going to be left here when a plan is put in place? We need higher wages, stability, permanence and ways to move up the ladder,” a staff member said. 

A staff member said they believe it is a sign of poor leadership to title all the staff leaving as the great resignation and are concerned about how they will replace the mass exodus of faculty and staff that stood for equity and inclusion. 

“From the recent hiring choices and lack of institutional messaging, it’s clear she doesn’t have a strong or clear vision for improving the recruitment and retention of Q/T/BIPOC faculty, staff, and students. Considering that improvement is key for our WASC review, I’m concerned,” an alumni said.


Some respondents said they feel President Varlotta is being unfair by holding her in-person inauguration on campus while seniors are set to graduate off-campus originally due to COVID-19 guidelines. 

“She seems to just brush off issues. She had her inauguration ceremony on campus but won’t consider moving the class of 2022 graduation on campus even though the Ventura county mask mandate is gone,” an undergraduate student said. 

Respondents said her ethics seem questionable and do not align with what’s best for students. 

“She was able to have her inaguration on campus but will not allow our seniors to have their graduation on campus OUTSIDE on the football field/in the stadium. This seems very hypocritical. It also seems like she does not really ask for student opinion, she just takes action based on her own ideas, thoughts, and wants. It feels like she is not taking our input or opinions into consideration,” an undergraduate student said. 

Racism, Title IX, and DEI 

Multiple respondents said they feel Varlotta has not properly addressed issues of Title IX, racism, and discrimination reported by students, faculty, and staff in a way that is meaningful to people of color and other marginalized groups. 

“She is not sensitive to the needs of racially diverse faculty and staff,” a faculty member said.

“There is so much work Cal Lutheran needs to do: actually addressing issues instead of sweeping them under the rug or making excuses for them would be a great place to start, as well as addressing the underlying systematic racism rampant throughout faculty, staff, students, alumni, board members,” an alumni said.  

A respondent said Varlotta entered as an outsider to the culture of the university and there has been little effort to understand the community’s values. 

“The amount of racial issues against POC I have heard in one week is upsetting. What’s worse is the fact it’s taking students speaking up and they’re still not choosing to address these issues,” an undergraduate student said.

One respondent said addressing these issues in an email is not enough. 

“There were a lot of efforts being done by staff and faculty to push for more systemic change at CLU in regards to racism and the years of damage done. There has yet to be anything of substance to address the specific issues that have arisen these past few years at CLU and have gone by the way side. Things remain to be the status quo,” an alumni said.

Multiple respondents said the amount of Black, Indigenous and people of color who have left the institution is a clear indicator that Varlotta has poorly addressed issues of DEI. Respondents said there needs to be an overall understanding for the population she is leading. 

“She does not listen to victims or POC on campus. As president, she should not dismiss what her students have to say,” an undergraduate student said.

Digital & Multimedia Editor/Managing Editor Serena Zuniga contributed to this report.