January 22, 2018

Salk Institute augments leadership structure

Names Professor Fred “Rusty” Gage as Interim President, Elizabeth Blackburn as President Emerita, as search for permanent successor commences

Salk News


Salk Institute augments leadership structure

LA JOLLA—With Elizabeth Blackburn planning to retire at the end of this summer, the Salk Institute has augmented its operational leadership structure, naming Professor Fred “Rusty” Gage as Interim President and Blackburn as President Emerita, as the Board of Trustees begins a search for a permanent successor. In December, Blackburn announced plans to retire and engage even more broadly in issues related to science and science policy.

Gage, a highly-regarded professor in Salk’s Laboratory of Genetics, was tapped previously in 2015 by former Salk President Bill Brody to serve in an interim capacity during Brody’s medical leave. Under the new structure, he will serve as the academic and administrative head of the Institute, assuming responsibility for all affairs and oversight of day-to-day operations, faculty and administrative staff. He also will work closely with Blackburn on select projects and initiatives, including scientific endeavors currently underway and outgrowths of the SalkNext50 strategic planning process, as well as external fundraising efforts.

Fred “Rusty” Gage

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Credit: Salk Institute

“In working with Elizabeth and our trustees to formulate a forward-looking leadership plan, our shared goals have been to ensure the Institute is best positioned to recruit its next outstanding leader through a thorough search process free of timetable constraints, and to facilitate a smooth and successful transition,” said Dan Lewis, Chair of Salk’s Board of Trustees. “At the same time, we wanted to create an organizational framework that will enable Elizabeth to support the advancement of certain priority initiatives she spearheaded during her valuable tenure here and continue to champion the Institute within the scientific community at-large, while also affording her the flexibility to begin transitioning to her next life chapter of engaging in broader-based scientific issues.

“Having previously served in an interim capacity, Rusty is uniquely qualified to step into this role,” Lewis continued. “That experience, along with his long tenure at the Institute, will allow him to focus on optimizing operations during this important transition period, so that the president who succeeds Rusty will be able to hit the ground running.”

“While leading the Salk has been an immense honor, this is the right time to identify a new leader who can build on our numerous accomplishments and continue to execute on the vision that grew out of our institute-wide strategic planning process,” said Blackburn, the 2009 recipient of Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, who became Salk’s President in 2016. “As we look ahead, the Board and I share a critical common objective – a process that minimizes disruption, assures stability, helps continue to attract world-class candidates and paves the way for the Institute to benefit from a seamless transition once a new president is identified.

“The Salk is an extraordinary place, where the world’s most remarkable scientific talent comes to produce life-changing scientific work,” Blackburn added. “As stewards of this bold mission, we must ensure that’s always the case. I remain committed to working with Rusty, Dan and our Board of Trustees to help advance our strategic priorities and ensure a successful transition.”

“Elizabeth is among the great scientific luminaries of our time and under her leadership the Salk has made significant strides,” said Gage, who will not seek a permanent role. “The pace of groundbreaking research coming out of this Institute has been truly amazing. This is a tribute to Elizabeth’s lifelong passion for discovery, to our successful recruitment strategies and to the commitment of our faculty and staff, who continuously raise the bar for excellence. It is also illustrative of the fact that the Salk, by its very nature, embraces challenges and looks to the future with optimism.

“Through our strategic planning process and ongoing operational reviews, we have made important progress toward ensuring the Institute is structured to best support our scientific work and optimally use our resources,” Gage added. “My near-term focus will be to see that organizational improvements continue to be implemented, so our faculty continue to thrive and the Institute is positioned structurally for long-term success.”

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