Reagan Foundation threatens to remove late president's name from fellowship program at CLU

Mike Harris
Ventura County Star
The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute is threatening to remove the late president's name from use in a fellowship program at California Lutheran University. In this file photo, an image of the former president hangs in Air Force One at the museum in Simi Valley.

The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute is threatening to remove the late president's name from use in a fellowship program at California Lutheran University if the school doesn't reverse decisions that led former Congressman Elton Gallegly to sue it last month.

John Heubusch, executive director of the foundation, the nonprofit that raises funds to support the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, sent a letter Nov. 23 to the university's president, Lori Varlotta, who is named in the lawsuit.

The letter concerns the Reagan-Gallegly Fellowship program that is associated with the Elton and Janice Gallegly Center for Public Service and Civic Engagement at the university's Thousand Oaks campus.

"I'm writing because of our concern over recent actions apparently taken by CLU that we believe will adversely impact the Gallegly Center, and thereby the fellowship program with which we are affiliated," Heubusch wrote.

More:Former Rep. Gallegly sues CLU, alleges public center in his name never fully established

Heubusch didn't cite any of the actions he was referring to, but the university plans to remove a replica of Gallegly's former Washington, D.C. office that has been in the center for the last three and a half years. The school says it's to make room for Gallegly's archives.

"We urge the university to reverse these decisions as they are clearly contrary to the mission, goals and vision of the Gallegly Center's founder, Congressman Elton Gallegly," the letter states. "Otherwise, the Reagan Foundation & Institute will have no choice but to prohibit further use of President Reagan's name by the university for purpose of the Reagan-Gallegly Fellowship program in the future."

The program launched in 2013 as the Gallegly Fellowship Program. It was renamed the Reagan-Gallegly Fellowship Program this year in an educational partnership between the university and the Reagan foundation, university spokeswoman Karin Grennan said.

"The Reagan Foundation graciously allowed the use of the Reagan name for the fellowship program, (but) does not provide any funding to it," Grennan said.

The fellowship funds tuition scholarships for students entering CLU's Master of Public Policy and Administration program, according to the university. 

The foundation also agreed to offer internships to fellows at the foundation and allow fellows and other graduate students in the program to participate in events at the library/foundation when feasible, Grennan said. The foundation also agreed to include information about the fellows program in mailers, announcements and on social media and website when appropriate, she said.

Gallegly sues CLU for breach of contract

Gallegly, a Simi Valley Republican who was a congressman from 1987 through 2103, sued the university last month in Ventura County Superior Court, alleging the school breached its contract to fully establish the center named after him located in the school's Pearson Library.

According to the suit, the university in 2013 authorized raising donations for elements of the Gallegly center, including a distinguished speaker forum and the center's archive and collection project for the management of his papers.

But CLU has not developed the Gallegly Center programs and has not moved forward with the archiving, the suit alleges.

The suit also alleges that the university has refused to account for funds Gallegly and his wife Janice raised for the center. 

The lawsuit does not state how much money was raised. But one of Gallegly's lawyers, Charles Slyngstad, said the former congressman maintains it was more than $1 million.

University president 'surprised' at ultimatum

In a lengthy statement Friday, Varlotta said she was surprised to receive Heubusch's letter before having a chance to meet him "and clarify some of the misperceptions surrounding the center."

She said that upon receiving the letter, she called Heubusch to request a meeting. He called her back Friday and said he is willing to meet within a week, Grennan said.

Varlotta said the university believes that Gallegly's lawsuit is based largely on the school's plans to place his archives – 500 boxes of papers, letters, documents and other materials –  in the alcove of the center where the replica office is located and thus, will have to be taken down.

"The archives need to be housed in an easily accessible space that is conducive to scholarly examination and study," she said.

"Although we will no longer be able to display the office replica, the university will certainly meet its commitment in our agreement with former Rep. Gallegly to hold the furniture in storage in the library," she said. "We have also offered to return the furniture to him at our expense."

Varlotta refuted the lawsuit's allegations.

More:New $34 million science center dedicated at Cal Lutheran in Thousand Oaks

She said the school has hired an archive company that is researching, organizing and cataloging Gallegly's archives, which are expected to be available to students, faculty and other scholars by appointment early next year.

She said the university will be revamping the center's speaker series and has coordinated several fundraising initiatives to support the center and its programs.

And she stressed that CLU "objects to any unfounded claim that calls into question our management of funds raised for this project.

"The university is required to undergo audits by an outside independent audit firm each fiscal year," including a review of donor funds, she said. "Cal Lutheran has received a clean audit for each year it has been in partnership with the former congressman."

Varlotta said the university is "disappointed that Rep. Gallegly has decided to pursue legal action. Cal Lutheran leaders had been consulting with him and his representatives through early 2021 before the lawsuit was threatened."

She said the university is hopeful that it can work with Gallegly to resolve the issues.

"We believe that ongoing discussion around the center’s programs, funding and facility are far preferable to a lawsuit that will consume valuable financial and human resources," she said.

The school remains committed to the center "because it strengthens the university's commitment to making historical information accessible, developing future public service leaders and exploring vital societal issues," Varlotta said.

'Rare lending of President Reagan's name'

Heubusch said in his letter that the Reagan library has "enjoyed an important and productive relationship with Rep. Gallegly for many years.

As the congressman who represented Simi Valley when Reagan was considering potential locations for his library, Gallegly was closely involved in the decision to locate it in Simi Valley, just a few miles from CLU, Heubusch said. 

Reagan was president from 1981-89. The library opened in 1991 and celebrated its 30th anniversary throughout November. Reagan died in 2004 at age 93 and is buried at the library alongside his wife, former First Lady Nancy Reagan, who died in 2016 at age 94.

Gallegly "capably represented both the library and the foundation until his retirement as a congressman," Heubusch wrote.

After Gallegly left office, the foundation felt that he "warranted tremendous praise," Heubusch said.

"As such, we stepped forward to offer the rare lending of President Reagan's name in support of the educational initiative at the Gallegly Center that has become the Reagan-Gallegly Fellowship program," he said. 

"You can imagine our surprise to learn of the recent, apparently unilateral decisions made by that university that contradict the letter and spirit of the agreement between the university and the Galleglys, outstanding citizens who have worked so diligently in support of the students affiliated with the Gallegly Center," Heubusch wrote.

Gallegly Friday declined to comment on Heubusch's letter.

Mike Harris covers the East County cities of Moorpark, Simi Valley and Thousand Oaks, as well as transportation countywide. You can contact him at or 805-437-0323.

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