UCLA braces for possibility of more protests amid appointment of new chancellor

The University of California Board of Regents met for a special session in Westwood Wednesday to consider the appointment of a new chancellor to oversee the campus that has been roiled in recent weeks by pro-Palestine protests.

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Current Chancellor Gene Block, who has come under fire both on campus and from as far away as Washington, D.C., over the university's response to a pro-Palestine encampment and other protests sparked by the Israel-Hamas war, is scheduled to retire at the end of July. He has been UCLA chancellor since 2007.

"As I near the end of my time as UCLA's chancellor -- a role that remains the greatest honor of my professional life -- I am filled with many emotions, but above all an overwhelming gratitude for every person who has made the UCLA community so special," Block wrote in a message to the campus community last week "So in closing, I want to simply offer you my thanks. Thank you for your dedication, creativity, resolve and commitment to excellence. Thank you for the compassion, respect and support you have shown one another. Thank you for carrying out our university's important mission, and thank you for representing the very best of public higher education.

"At UCLA, even in dark times there is still so, so much light," he wrote.

Block noted in his message that the war in Gaza has "sown division and strife here on campus," even leading to instances of "outright violence."

"The war's impact on our campus reached a crescendo in the last six weeks, and this period now looms large in UCLA's collective consciousness," according to Block. "I do not wish to downplay the anxiety people continue to feel, or the significant healing that we will need to do. I do believe, though, that it is important to remember that our university, our community and this academic year are not defined solely by our current, difficult chapter."


That strife has continued to percolate on the UCLA campus, with another day of pro-Palestinian protest on Monday culminating in another large-scale police response and more than two dozen arrests.

The new chancellor will inherit a campus filled with unrest. A massive encampment that grew in the center of campus in mid-April was attacked by a still-unidentified group of counter-protesters and sparked hours of violence. The next night, hundreds of police descended on the campus and forcefully dismantled the encampment, making 209 arrests.

That action has been followed by accusations of unfair labor practices by unionized employees, demands for amnesty for those arrested, a congressional inquiry into the campus' response to antisemitism, lawsuits accusing the university of failing to protect Jewish students and accusations by protesters of excessive force by campus police and interference with free- speech rights.

The university's commencement ceremonies begin Friday, with departmental ceremonies planned throughout the weekend. It was unclear if those events will be disrupted by additional protests, as pro-Palestine activists continue to demand that the university divest from all businesses tied to Israel.

"The final few days of spring are a period of excitement and anticipation as we prepare to send off a new class of UCLA graduates," Block wrote in his message last week. "Reaching this milestone is a significant accomplishment at any time, but it is especially meaningful for many of this year's undergraduates, whose senior year of high school was disrupted by the pandemic and who were not able to participate in their schools' typical graduation ceremonies."

After stepping down, Block will remain a member of the UCLA faculty. He intends to return to the lab and continue his research as a member of the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences within the David Geffen School of Medicine and in the Department of Integrative Biology and Physiology within the UCLA College.

When Block announced his plans last year to step down as chancellor, UCLA highlighted Block's key achievements during his tenure, including UCLA ranking as the No. 1 public university for six years running -- up from No. 4 when he joined the university.

Block increased student enrollment by 24%, while the university became the first and only UC school to guarantee housing for undergrad students and built 15 residential buildings, according to UCLA.

Block also successfully steered the university through the pandemic.

He has praised the university's research skills that delivered five Nobel Prizes in 10 years, and nearly doubled external annual research funding, according to UCLA.

Last year, the university launched UCLA South Bay on 35.5 acres on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, and UCLA Downtown, a high-rise building in downtown Los Angeles.