September 4, 2020 – Education-focused executive recruiter Academic Search has placed Lori E. Varlotta as the first woman president of California Lutheran University. Last fall, Chris Kimball, who held the job for 12 years, announced that he would be stepping down at the end of the academic year. Jay Lemons, president and senior consultant; Stuart Dorsey, senior consultant; and Jennifer Kooken, associate consultant, led the assignment.
“With a distinguished career and a passion for excellence in all aspects of higher education, Dr. Varlotta is uniquely qualified to lead Cal Lutheran,” said Susie Lundeen-Smuck, chair of the board of regents. “She stood out from the beginning of the search process as an energetic, creative and inspirational president, and we are thrilled that she will be steering this university into its next era.”
Ms. Varlotta is an established leader with broad experience in academic affairs, enrollment management, budget and planning, student affairs and fundraising. She is a routine contributor to national conversations on academic issues and has published extensively on topics ranging from diversity and inclusion to service and leadership to assessment and accountability. More recently, her research has focused on leading inclusive processes aimed at bringing systemic change to higher education.
Ms. Varlotta comes to Cal Lutheran having served as president at Hiram College since 2014. During her six years there, she worked with colleagues across campus to design and implement changes that benefit the institution as a whole and the students it serves.
Before Hiram, she spent 11 years at Sacramento State, ultimately serving as senior vice president of planning, enrollment management and student affairs. She led 31 departments that included the areas of retention, educational equity and NCAA Division I athletics. She also held leadership roles at University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and University of San Francisco. Ms. Varlotta has had significant successes in increasing diversity among students, faculty and staff.
A 20-member committee that included regents, faculty, staff, students and alumni conducted the presidential search over the last seven months. More than 50 additional members of the Cal Lutheran community participated in the final round of interviews. The committee submitted its recommendation to the board of regents, which is the hiring authority for the president.
Cal Lutheran is an Hispanic-serving institution based in Thousand Oaks, CA, with additional locations in Woodland Hills, Westlake Village, Oxnard, Santa Maria and Berkeley. With an enrollment of about 4,300 students, Cal Lutheran offers undergraduate and graduate programs through its College of Arts and Sciences, School of Management, Graduate School of Education, Graduate School of Psychology and Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary.
For over three decades, Academic Search has been a leader in designing and implementing search processes for leaders of colleges and universities across the country. The firm has completed hundreds of executive searches for higher education institutions and related organizations, for roles ranging from presidents to provosts to deans. Academic Search is the only search firm in the nation with a formal relationship to a premier leadership development program. As the subsidiary of the American Academic Leadership Institute (AALI), the firm provides substantial financial support to a number of leadership identification, development and support programs across all sectors of public and private higher education. The firm is headquartered in Washington, D.C.
Dr. Lemons became president of Academic Search in 2017, after serving for 25 years as a college president in both public and private higher education. A recognized leader in the academy, he has been particularly devoted to supporting leadership talent by working with new college presidents on the faculty of the new presidents’ programs of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities and the Council of Independent Colleges and through the professional development programs for aspiring leaders of the AALI. Dr. Lemons was president of Susquehanna University from 2001 to 2017. Prior to that, he served as chancellor of the University of Virginia’s (UVA) College at Wise, UVA’s public liberal arts college in southwestern Virginia.
Dr. Dorsey was appointed president of Texas Lutheran University in 2011. Prior to that, he was associate professor of economics at West Virginia University; professor, department chair and academic dean at Baker University; vice president for academic affairs at the University of Evansville; and president of the University of Redlands. Dr. Dorsey also served for three years as chief economist for the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance, where he supported the work of the committee on fiscal policy, tax reform and trade.
Ms. Kooken joined the firm from Merrimack College, where she was director of business school initiatives. Before that, Ms. Kooken collaborated with academic administrators and clients to develop engaging professional development programs for the Graduate Management Admission Council. She began her career in higher education as assistant director of graduate admissions for Babson College.
Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media