Monti Grad To Take Top Post at UCLA
By Jeanne Sager
CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA February 27, 2007 He’s second-in-command at one of the East Coast’s premier public universities. This August, he’ll become the number one guy at the top public university on the west coast.
And listed right atop a biography touting Dr. Eugene “Gene” Block’s diverse accomplishments is his hometown: Monticello, New York.
Currently the vice president and provost at the University of Virginia (UVA) in Charlottesville, Va., Block was born and raised in Sullivan County.
His father Philip owned the Mountain Dairy, his mother, Roslyn, was a nurse at the Monticello Hospital.
And after graduating from Monticello High School in 1966, Eugene Block went off to conquer the world or at least the mystery surrounding sleep, the research topic where he’s made a name for himself in the world of science.
Block earned his bachelor’s degree at Stanford University and his doctorate at the University of Oregon.
He returned to Stanford for three years of post-doctoral studies before being recruited by UVA in 1978 to begin teaching biology in the prestigious medical school.
He’s maintained a lab on campus where he and other researchers study biological clocks, breaking down the rhythms of sleep and wakefulness to a cellular level.
Type “Gene Block” and “jet lag” into Google, and you’ll find 1,320 hits on his work with mice and eastward travel.
A report of a study made by Block and fellow UVA scientist Alec Davidson made big news late last year.
They’d found jet lag could cause death in older animals.
The study provided more conclusive evidence to a fact scientists (and travelers) have claimed for years: it’s more difficult to adjust to time zones when traveling east.
And it’s another step for Block, whose work at UVA is supported by grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research.
He’s worked his way up the college food chain since taking on his first assistant professorship at UVA.
As provost and vice president of the university for the past five years, Block has cut back to teaching every other year in his post as Alumni Council Thomas Jefferson Professor.
He’s put his focus on his job as the chief academic officer at one of the nation’s oldest secondary schools, one listed among the “public Ivies.”
The Monticello graduate has been in charge of the academics of a state-supported school that leads the nation in its production of Rhodes Scholars, a school that the 2006 edition of the US News and World Report’s well-known college guide called, “chock full of academic stars who turn down private schools like Duke, Princeton, and Cornell for, they say, a better value.”
UVA was the first university to offer coursework in architecture, astronomy, the first to separate church and state and the first to open its own school of engineering.
In his time at the helm of academics, Block’s seen improvements in the sciences, and he’s proud to note an increased diversity among the faculty including the hiring of more female professors.
Block’s tenure at UVA will come to an end in July when he and wife Carol (another Monticello native whose maiden name is Kullback) will pack up and move into the chancellor’s home on the campus of the University of California at Los Angeles.
They’ll leave behind the pavilion on campus that traditionally houses the UVA provost, a historic building erected under the direction of President Thomas Jefferson in 1825.
The Monticello native has been living in the shadows of Jefferson’s homestead Monticello in a setting he said is not unlike Sullivan County.
“It’s very rare to be at a great university in a rural setting,” Block said.
But he was able to combine the best of both worlds in Albemarle County, Va.
He and Carol raised their two children Megan, a CPA in Richmond, Va. and Ian, an engineering student at the University of Illinois in a place reminiscent of their own childhoods.
“It actually is not so different in terms of hills and scenery,” Block noted. “Sullivan County is beautiful.”
Until his parents moved to Tucson, Ariz. permanently last year, Block would visit Monticello every summer.
He has tried to attend Monticello High School reunions, and been saddened to see his hometown struggle economically.
Growing up on Lloyd Lane, Block remembers the days when it was safe to walk to school and everywhere else as a kid in Monticello.
“When I grew up, it was a wonderful place,” he recalled wistfully.
He got caught up in a thirst for knowledge in Monticello’s schools, where he remembers being a frequent participant in science fairs.
And it’s carried him through to the present.
Now Block is a distinguished scholar, the founding director of the National Science Foundation Science and Technology Center in Biological Timing, a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and was a visiting fellow of the Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science.
And come August, he’ll be the number one administrator at the largest campus of the University of California.
He and Carol will take up residence on the campus in Los Angeles, a city he ranks among the greatest in the world.
He’ll be in charge of not just academics but athletics, admissions, student life… essentially every piece of the Los Angeles campus of the California University system.
Block said he was approached by a search firm, but wasn’t expecting the call to head the school of 38,000 students.
“You never really believe you’re going to get the job when you apply,” he said with a laugh. “But if you’re going to keep progressing administrative wise… if you’re going to remain a professor, you can remain at one university your whole life… but jobs become available other place for administrators.”
A chancellor in the State of California system is similar to the position of president at UVA.
“I couldn’t become president here, we already had a president,” he said pragmatically.
That meant traveling westward.
As chancellor, Block will be in charge of the Los Angeles campus, but he’ll still answer to Robert Dynes, president of the entire California university system.
“I am very pleased that Gene has accepted this appointment, and I think he will be an excellent chancellor,” Dynes said in a university release announcing Block’s appointment. “He is an accomplished scholar and administrator, a man of integrity, and I believe he understands well our mission as a world leader and a public institution, as well as the opportunities and challenges facing UCLA.”
Now it’s time for a Monticello boy to follow the immortal words of Horace Greeley.
Gene Block is going west.