Oakes College Provost House name change honors visionary

The Oakes Provost House will be renamed after its founding provost, J. Herman Blake

Emeritus Professor and founding Oakes College Provost J. Herman Blake 
J. Herman Blake started working at UC Santa Cruz during the turbulent mid-1960s. This vintage photo shows him in the early years of the campus.

Emeritus Professor and founding Oakes College Provost J. Herman Blake gets emotional when he thinks of the Oakes Provost House, “the place where we built it all.”

He was referring to the legacy he and his supporters built at Oakes, an “experimental” community that continues to thrive, 46 years after its inception in 1972.

“The provost house was a place for students to set aside worries, cares, and turmoil, and have dinner with my family and me,” Blake recalled. “It was the center of the community.”

Now, Blake’s many admirers on campus have moved to rededicate the provost house in Blake’s honor, in a renaming ceremony at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 30. Emeritus biology professor William T. Doyle, a UC Santa Cruz faculty member when campus opened in 1965, suggested the name change and is funding all related expenses.

Blake said he was “overwhelmed” to hear about this honor. “In the provost house, we saw it all. It reflected the extraordinary natural setting of UC Santa Cruz—the redwoods, the view of the bay, and all of nature—human nature, intellectual nature, and the social bond. All these things came together there.”

The provost house also brings up memories of working with staff and faculty who helped him implement a strong vision for Oakes. “At UC Santa Cruz, I encountered some of the most sensitive, passionate supporters,’’ he said, mentioning UC Santa Cruz’s founding Chancellor Dean McHenry, founding Vice Chancellor for Business and Finance Hal Hyde, and Doyle.

“Bill communicated key issues and ideas with me, even before we founded Oakes,” Blake recalled.

Blake started at UC Santa Cruz in 1966 when he accepted an offer to join as a professor of sociology. He was selected to serve as the founding provost for Oakes, which he did until 1984, when he left to become president of Tougaloo College.

Oakes provost Regina Langhout said the Oakes community is delighted to have the name changed to honor Blake. “His vision for Oakes was clear, and we continue to do our best to pursue this vision on a daily basis,” she said.

Langhout said the renaming does more than just honor a legacy. “It helps us to stay focused on our mission: to understand human diversity as an exceptional strength from which to engage in intellectual, academic, and personal inquiry to effect positive social and political change.”

UC Santa Cruz Chancellor George Blumenthal, a distinguished astrophysicist as well as a founding Oakes faculty member who worked closely with Blake, said the name change could not be more timely.

“In times of social inequality and economic divisions, the message and the mission of Oakes College is just as vital and relevant as ever, and the college, in the best sense of the word, bears the imprint of its founding provost, J. Herman Blake,” Blumenthal said.

Blumenthal noted that Oakes, in its early days, was often described as an “experiment,” but while most experiments are fleeting, Oakes is a thriving community to this day.  Renaming the Oakes Provost House “is more than just a fitting tribute to a pioneering leader and educator. It will also help sustain the name, and the legacy, of J. Herman Blake to future scholars living and learning at Oakes.”