November 20, 2023
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Opinion: Cal Lutheran has made good on its Gallegly Center commitment


By Lori E. Varlotta

In the eight years since the launch of the nonpartisan Elton and Janice Gallegly Center for Public Service and Civic Engagement at California Lutheran University, the university has honored its commitment to the former congressman through its unwavering support of a fellowship program and the construction of a beautiful center that opened in 2018. Focused squarely on the center’s mission to prepare students to lead lives of public service, we have prioritized, since 2013, the provision of substantial scholarships and extensive experiential learning opportunities to 11 fellows studying in our Master of Public Policy and Administration program.

In the last 15 months, during a pandemic and a leadership transition that brought me to Cal Lutheran in fall 2020, the university focused significant attention on expanding the educational assets of the center. We turned to archiving the former U.S. Rep. Gallegly’s 500 boxes of letters, documents and other materials. This summer, we hired a highly regarded archive company that is in the process of researching, organizing and cataloging the records. The collection will be available to students, faculty and other scholars by appointment in early 2022.

Lori Varlotta

We also announced that we will revamp the center’s speaker series, which was forced into a hiatus during the pandemic. That series brought former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to campus in 2018. Moving forward, we expect to use the series as one of many vehicles that expose our students to leaders with diverse viewpoints, perspectives and experiences.

Hearing from and engaging with those who expand our current thinking is a cornerstone of civic engagement and a liberal arts and science education, and we expect center speakers to help bolster that foundation. As conceived, the newly configured Program Advisory Council will recommend speakers and symposia to address urgent challenges, promising practices and policies, and viable solutions facing our world today.

The above actions communicate loudly and clearly that Cal Lutheran, indeed, has made good on its commitment. As part of our making good, the institution has, of course, used all donations to the Gallegly Center received through the years to support its functions. Cal Lutheran takes its stewardship of center funds seriously and objects to any and all claims that call into question our management of them.

Such claims are completely unfounded. The university is a highly regulated nonprofit organization required to undergo annual audits that include review of donor funds and gift agreements by an outside independent firm each year. Cal Lutheran has received a clean audit for each year it has been in partnership with the former congressman.

The university cannot speak for the former congressman about why he has chosen this aggressive line of action — filing a legal suit against the university. Here is what we can say, however: We are confident that we have not only met both the letter and spirit of the official gift agreements but also gone well beyond them.

Indeed, we have strived to embody the Lutheran value of grace throughout our partnership: to graciously meet the numerous extras that the former congressman has requested, such as public relations, marketing, and event support. We have notes and pictures from him as recently as July thanking us for making significant progress and moving forward in ways that made him proud. So, what happened?

The former congressman’s threat of the lawsuit coincided with the university’s decision to place the soon-to-be-archived collection in the alcove of the center where we had chosen to display his office replica for the last three years. Aligned with academic best practices, archives of this nature need to be housed in the university library, ideally in an easily accessible space conducive to scholarly examination and study. The only such space in the Pearson Library for a collection of this size is the alcove that currently holds the replica office.

The university will continue to hold the furniture in the library while we discuss resolution with Rep. Gallegly, but it is not scheduled for display in the foreseeable future. We have also offered to return the furniture to him at our expense.

We are disappointed that former Rep. Gallegly has decided to pursue legal action, especially since Cal Lutheran leaders have been highly attentive to him and his requests. Amid all of our efforts, he has initiated a time-intensive and costly legal suit. We will now commit to defending ourselves.

Cal Lutheran is dedicated to developing future public service leaders, exploring vital societal issues, and making historical information accessible through the Gallegly Center for years to come. The university invites anyone with questions about the Gallegly Center to be our guest and visit it in person. We would be glad to offer a tour.

   • Lori E. Varlotta, Ph.D., is the president of California Lutheran University.