Blocker to serve again as music dean

The yearlong search for a new dean at the Yale School of Music has produced an unlikely successor to departed Dean Robert Blocker: Blocker himself.

In a resignation letter that was e-mailed Monday to the community of Southern Methodist University — where he has spent the past year as provost and vice president for academic affairs — Blocker announced that he will return to Yale this summer to reclaim the Music School deanship, a post he previously held from 1995 until last March.

When he announced his departure from Yale last year, Blocker had cited as a primary impetus the broader responsibilities that awaited him as chief academic officer at SMU. But in today’s letter to the SMU community, Blocker said those duties had too often conflicted with his dominant passion — music.

“I have found it increasingly more difficult to attain the expectations I have for myself both as your academic leader and as a pianist with international and recording engagements,” Blocker wrote. “For many years an abiding commitment to music has been a compass for my life. This is not a simple matter of performing at a high level, rather it is the essence of my soul.”

Most deans at Yale serve for no more than 10 years, but Yale President Richard Levin — who credited Blocker with numerous improvements and lucrative fundraising at the Music School — said the dean search committee concluded that Blocker remained the best choice for the job.

“I am happy to say that we have surpassed our own goal by welcoming him back to campus,” Levin said.

Levin said Blocker’s tenure at Yale as dean led to tremendous growth for the Music School, including his work to attract the $100 million gift that the school received this past fall — which will allow the school to waive tuition for all students beginning next year.

“He strengthened all aspects of the school [by] making outstanding appointments to the faculty, augmenting the endowment through fundraising, and overseeing a significant rise in applications and a historically high yield of students accepting admissions,” Levin said.

Levin said he plans to work with Blocker to oversee programs in the recently renovated Sprague and Leigh halls and to secure donor support for the renovation of Hendrie Hall, the remaining music building to be restored.

During Blocker’s first 10 years as dean, the Music School’s endowment increased from $29 million to $151 million, with more than $100 million acquired for facilities renovations. Considering the strength of the endowment, Blocker said he plans to integrate the school further into the community and national stage in the coming years.

“It is essential for artists to be not only creators and recreators of art, but also to be strong advocates to all publics,” Blocker said.

Community outreach is not a new platform for Blocker, who has previously worked with New Haven Public Schools administrators to supplement the music education programs of local elementary schools.

SMU President Gerald Turner said the past year has proven to him that, despite his stated musical commitments, Blocker makes time for those in need.

“He has a strong record of community outreach,” Turner said.

Blocker, who will begin his second stint as dean on July 1, will replace his former deputy dean, Thomas Duffy, who has served as acting dean for the past year.

A native of Charleston, S.C., Blocker attended Furman University as an undergraduate and obtained his doctorate from the University of North Texas. Before he left Yale for SMU, Blocker also held an adjunct appointment at the Yale School of Management. He was the founding dean of the School of Arts and Architecture at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he served from 1991 to 1995.

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