Nearly two decades ago, while serving as vice president and provost at the University of Virginia, I received a phone call from a search consultant inviting me to interview for a leadership position opening up out West: the role of chancellor at UCLA.
My first thought, I admit, was of the 405 at rush hour.
But my second thought was that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to join a uniquely important institution with remarkable impact, stature and promise. I overcame my anxiety about the traffic and leapt at the opportunity.
As I prepare to step down as UCLA’s chancellor next summer, I thank my stars for that phone call so many years ago. Serving as the steward of this university has been my life’s greatest honor. This position has stretched me and it has challenged me, but every aspect of the work has been personally meaningful and fulfilling beyond compare.
As for what I have been able to do for UCLA, I can only say that I inherited an outstanding university in 2007 and tried my best to make it even better. In the years since then, UCLA has become a more residential campus and put in place a housing guarantee for undergraduates, expanded its footprint and influence in Westwood and across Los Angeles, and launched critical new academic and administrative programs to respond to the needs of the moment. We have deepened our commitment to access and affordability, achieved remarkable success in research, enhanced our global stature and climbed in university rankings.
I would by no means claim full credit for these achievements. UCLA’s success reflects the hard work, dedication, resilience and ingenuity of an entire community: Inspiring students and loyal and generous alumni. Brilliant instructors, researchers and clinicians. Committed staff across the institution, whether they are advising students on which courses to take, making sure a residence hall is clean and livable, or helping an administrative unit manage its budget.
The contributions of many of these individuals may not make headlines — or get one’s face on the cover of a magazine — but they are core to UCLA’s success. The Victorian author George Eliot put this sentiment beautifully in the closing lines of her novel Middlemarch, when she wrote that “the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts.” The acts of every Bruin — historic and unhistoric — are what move this wonderful place forward.
In reflecting on my tenure, I do wish to recognize one person by name: Carol Block, my wife of 53 years. Since our arrival here, she has been one of UCLA’s greatest boosters, hosting events, bringing together staff, supporting student artists, lifting up Bruin women and celebrating the rich tapestry of the UCLA experience. More than that, she has been my confidante, my closest friend, a wise guide and a pillar of continual support.
My time as UCLA’s chancellor may be coming to a close next year, but the institution itself continues to buzz with energy and momentum. With a campus strategic plan in the works and many exciting developments ahead — including planning for UCLA’s new properties in the South Bay and downtown L.A. this coming year, the anticipated arrival of the Metro Purple Line in Westwood in 2027 and our campus hosting the Olympic Village in 2028 — I am certain that the future of the university will be even brighter than its past.
I look forward to seeing it all — though perhaps from the periphery, as Carol and I leave the Chancellor’s Residence and I return to my teaching and research as a member of the UCLA faculty. But I will cheer this amazing institution on and celebrate the impact that it will continue to have on Los Angeles, our state, our nation and our world. I love UCLA dearly and will surely miss the privilege of being its leader.
As for the traffic? If you happen to see me inching along the 405 during rush hour, be sure to give a wave.
Read more from UCLA Magazine’s Fall 2023 issue.