June 8 -June 21, 2001
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Block, Ayers named to top posts

U.Va. provost : Gene Block

Carol Wood

Gene D. Block, U.Va. vice president for research and public service and an internationally respected biologist known for his research on biological
rhythms, has been named the University's vice president and provost.

Block will become the chief academic officer, responsible for oversight of U.Va.'s 10 schools, as well as the University Library, the Bayly Art Museum, and the University's three residential colleges. He will take over /Sept. 1 from Peter W. Low, provost since 1994, who will return to teaching at the Law School.  
University President John T. Casteen III praised Block for his "strong commitment to public service, his excellent judgment, his dedication to core academic values and his profound mind.

"Gene's background as a researcher and his years in the classroom give him an intimate understanding of the challenges our faculty face every day," Casteen said. "His past eight years as a University administrator add a high level of understanding of University-wide needs and opportunities."

Working closely with Casteen, his cabinet and the deans of each school, Block will be responsible for shaping academic policy; advancing the recommendations of Virginia 2020, the University's long-term planning initiative; and maintaining the continued excellence of U.Va.'s departments and schools and the ongoing strength of the University's libraries. In addition, he will serve as principal staff for the Board of Visitors' Committee on Educational Policy, which governs all of the academic programs.

Among the expectations that Casteen has laid out for Block are the "cultivation of great deans and department heads, the fostering of excellence in our faculty and the superb education of our students."

"I am honored by the selection committee's and the President's confidence in me," Block said. "Although at the moment the assignment seems daunting, I will take over a very talented and well-run office. Peter Low is a friend and mentor, and I am confident that we will have a smooth transition."

Block, who joined the University faculty in 1978 as an assistant professor, became a full professor in 1989 and founding director of the National Science Foundation's Center for Biological Timing in 1991.

That job was the beginning of what Block calls his "unplanned transition" from scientist to administrator. Science and teaching had been lifelong passions he said he never dreamed of leaving. In 1993, he was tapped to fill the newly created position of vice provost for research, becoming the University's principal research adviser and advocate.

"Academic leadership is a unique and interesting challenge requiring consensus building, identification of appropriate incentives and development of creative opportunities that engage faculty participation," Block said.
Block has begun to outline his provost's agenda for the next few years, to include:

• implementing the Virginia 2020 commission recommendations in a smart, timely and effective manner;
• developing a larger pool of women and minority academic administrators poised to take on top leadership positions;
• identifying financial resources to build new space and renovate existing facilities devoted to the academic mission;
• improving the University's attractiveness to the very best graduate students; and
• achieving an appropriate balance between building excellence within traditional academic disciplines and capitalizing on opportunities to create new interdisciplinary institutes and centers.

In 1998, Casteen added the public-service mission to Block's responsibilities. Since then, Block and his staff have worked hand-in-hand with the Virginia 2020 Public Service Planning Commission to establish the University as a leader in public service initiatives.

Karen Van Lengen, dean of the School of Architecture and chair of the provost search committee, said, "We are so pleased that Gene Block has accepted the offer to lead the academic branch of the University as its next provost. As vice president for research and public service, Gene successfully led and developed an ambitious research program for the University."

A native of Monticello, N.Y., Block received his A.B. in psychology from Stanford University in 1970, and master's and Ph.D. degrees in psychology from the University of Oregon.

This fall, Block will team-teach a lecture class on biological clocks with biology department colleagues Michael Menaker and Carla Green. "I do not plan to abandon my research program or my teaching," Block said. "I believe it is important for academic administrators to remain close to the core missions of the University, and there is no better way than by direct participation."

Arts & Science dean: Ed Ayers

Dan Heuchert

University history professor Edward L. Ayers has been named dean of the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences effective Aug. 25.
Ayers is a nationally acclaimed expert on the history of the South and a pioneer in the use of technology in humanities research and teaching.

"Ed's vision and creativity have revolutionized the study of the humanities," said U.Va. President John T. Casteen III. "I have great confidence that these traits will bring new energy and excitement to the College and will transform the way faculty and students approach teaching, learning and research."

Ayers, the Hugh P. Kelly Professor of History, succeeds Melvyn P. Leffler as the chief administrator of the liberal arts core of the University. Leffler stepped down after four years as dean to accept the visiting Harmsworth Professorship in American History at Oxford University in England.

With approximately 725 faculty members in 25 academic departments, a like number of academic and research centers and interdisciplinary programs, and more than 10,600 of U.Va.'s 18,550 undergraduate and graduate students, the College and Graduate School include approximately 20 programs ranked among the nation's strongest as well as recognized leaders in every field of learning within the liberal arts. 

"I'm honored to be given this opportunity to work on behalf of the College and Graduate School and the University. Though I've been here for 20 years, there is still much to learn about this extraordinarily complex institution," Ayers said. "This place has shaped me and sustained me throughout my career and I look forward to helping it move forward in whatever way I can."

The search committee, which began its work in October, interviewed a half-dozen candidates in late March and narrowed the field to three for on-Grounds interviews, said committee chair Gene D. Block, vice president for research and public service. Ayers stood out for his "very broad vision and passion for the academic community, undergraduate education and outstanding scholarship. He brings all of that together as well as anybody I've ever met."

Ayers praised Leffler, a strong advocate for Arts & Sciences who led the school's participation in the Campaign for U.Va., which took in $155.4 million in gifts and pledges for Arts & Sciences. Leffler also helped launch a new College Foundation.

In accepting the leadership of Arts & Sciences, Ayers said he plans to promote innovation in teaching and research. This includes the University's proposed Digital Academical Village, intended to integrate digital technology with the humanities and social sciences in ways that promise to redefine a liberal arts education in the Internet age.

"I want us to live up to Jefferson's original vision of the University as the most modern and forward-looking institution of higher education in the nation. I'm interested in all forms of innovation and ground-breaking work," he said.

"Even as we pursue those ends, however, we must always focus on our central missions: improving the quality of undergraduate life and education, strengthening our graduate programs, building our departments and keeping our superb faculty and staff."

Ayers, 48, graduated from the University of Tennessee and earned master's and doctoral degrees from Yale. He joined the U.Va. history faculty in 1980. He co-founded the Virginia Center for Digital History at U.Va. three years ago, with current center director William G. Thomas. Earlier this year, he was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. Ayers also won Presidential appointment to the 26-member National Council on the Humanities in 1999.

Ayers' acclaimed project, "Valley of the Shadow: Two Communities in the American Civil War" recently won the first E-Lincoln Prize, awarded by Gettysburg College. Its extensive Web site makes primary sources of information available to scholars and the general public.


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