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Casteen Names New Provost

Gene Block, U.Va. VP for Research and Public Service and Renowned Biologist, to Become Provost Sept. 1

June 6, 2001-- Gene D. Block, University of Virginia vice president for research and public service and an internationally respected biologist known for his research on biological rhythms, today was named University vice president and provost.

Block will become the University's 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 announced last September that he planned to step down at the end of the academic year to return to teaching at the University's law school.  

University President John T. Casteen III, in making today's announcement, 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; creating University-wide strategic plans; 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 University's 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. But 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. This role took him beyond scientific research into all aspects of University research and the administration of more than $200 million in research funding each year. While he remained linked to his own research, there was no turning back from administrative duties.

"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. "Playing a role in creating large multi-institutional efforts has been particularly rewarding. The provost's position extends the canvas beyond research to the entire academic mission of the University. It allows me to more fully realize the dual missions of the University, teaching and research, both of which I have a passion for. Importantly, it allows me to grow intellectually."

Block has begun to outline his agenda for the next few years, including the challenges and opportunities ahead. His plan includes:

  • 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.

"U.Va. distinguishes itself as being an 'undergraduate-friendly' research institution," Block said. "By maintaining our excellence and commitment to undergraduate education -- at the same time expanding our capabilities as a great research institution -- we have the opportunity to be unique in offering an elite undergraduate collegiate experience while providing substantial opportunities for gifted graduate and postdoctoral scholars."

In 1998, Casteen again asked Block to expand his duties, adding the public-service mission of the University to his responsibilities and naming him vice president for research and public service. At the time, Casteen said, "Mr. Block has a two-part assignment. One part is to oversee the building up of our science programs. The other is to find ways to ensure that we deliver products of tangible value to the state, and that we do that in a way that everybody understands and identifies with the University of Virginia."

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. One important result has been Outreach Virginia, a comprehensive, online guide to public service programs at U.Va.

Karen Van Lengen, dean of the School of Architecture and chair of the provost search committee, had words of praise for her new boss.

"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," Van Lengen said. "His intimate knowledge of the College and of the medical and scientific branches of the University provides substantial background to address the many challenges facing higher education. Gene's ability to engage in intellectual discourse, his perceptive, fair-minded and interactive nature, coupled with his very positive spirit, provide a powerful framework for his new position. We expect his academic leadership will continue to shape our growth toward a cohesive and exemplary model of a public university."  

A native of Monticello, N.Y., Block received his A.B. in psychology from Stanford University in 1970, and a master's and a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Oregon. He was a postdoctoral fellow in neurobiology at Stanford from 1975 to 1978, working in the lab of Donald Kennedy, former president of Stanford, before joining the U.Va. faculty.

This fall, Block, true to his roots, 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."


U.Va. is proud of its distinguished faculty. In 1825 at Thomas Jefferson's University, eight faculty members greeted the first students. Like their predecessors, today's faculty -- numbering 1,904 full-time members -- were selected from some of the world's foremost universities.

U.Va.'s 10 schools include:

  • School of Architecture, founded in 1851, present enrollment 532 students;
  • College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, founded in 1824, present enrollment 10,573;
  • School of Law, founded in 1824, present enrollment 1,108;
  • School of Medicine, founded in 1824, present enrollment 545;
  • School of Engineering and Applied Science, founded in 1836, present enrollment 2,469;
  • Curry School of Education, founded in 1905, present enrollment 1,005;
  • McIntire School of Commerce, founded in 1952, present enrollment 787;
  • Darden Graduate School of Business Administration, founded in 1955, present enrollment 514;
  • School of Nursing, founded in 1901, present enrollment 168;
  • School of Continuing and Professional Studies, first founded as a division in 1915, with more than 30,000 citizens of the Commonwealth participating in continuing education activities each year.

In its 14th annual "America's Best Colleges" issue (Sept. 2000), U.S. News & World Report ranked the University of Virginia the nation's No. 1 public university in a tie with the University of California-Berkeley. The two universities are ranked 20th among all national universities, private and public.

Also ranked by U.S. News are the following University schools:

  • Architecture School, Graduate Programs, 6th;
  • School of Law, 7th;
  • McIntire School of Commerce, 8th;
  • Darden Graduate School of Business Administration, 15th;
  • School of Nursing, Graduate Programs, 21st;
  • School of Engineering and Applied Science, Undergraduate Programs, 27th;
  • School of Engineering and Applied Science, Graduate Programs, 35th.

Contact: Carol Wood, (434) 924-6189

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Contact the Office of University Relations at (804) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (804) 924-7550.
SOURCE: U.Va. News Services


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