Fred "Rusty" Gage
Fred “Rusty” Gage. Courtesy Salk Institute

The Salk Institute announced Monday that geneticist Fred “Rusty” Gage will serve as interim president as the board begins a search for a permanent successor to retiring Elizabeth Blackburn.

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.

“Having previously served in an interim capacity, Rusty is uniquely qualified to step into this role,” said Dan Lewis, chair of Salk’s board of trustees. “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.”

Blackburn, who is leaving in the summer, was named President Emerita and plans to focus on national science policy. She will have served as president for two years.

“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,” said Lewis.

Gage, who described Blackburn as “among the great scientific luminaries of our time,” said he does not seek a permanent administrative role.

“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,” Gage said.

The leadership transition comes as the Salk is embroiled in gender equality lawsuits filed by three female scientists alleging that the institute undermined and marginalized its tenured female professors.

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.