Robert Jacobsen named College of Letters and Science dean of undergraduate studies

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After serving as interim dean since May 2014, campus physics professor Robert Jacobsen was appointed dean of undergraduate studies at the College of Letters and Science earlier this week, according to a campus press release Wednesday.

Jacobsen, who has served on the UC Berkeley faculty since 1995, will begin his five-year term as the permanent dean on July 1. He expressed excitement about the opportunity to continue collaborating with the campus community.

“I get to work with the most amazing people, students, staff and faculty,” Jacobsen said.

Carol Christ, campus interim executive vice chancellor and provost, said Jacobsen’s experience with the position made him well-suited to fill the role. Though Jacobsen’s term as interim dean was supposed to end in June 2017, Christ said removing his interim tag would result in more accountability.

“He has been in the interim role for a number of years, so he has already been doing this work,” Christ said. “He is very deeply committed to undergraduate education and has been doing very creative work. … He’s perfect for this job.”

On Jacobsen’s goals for his tenure, Christ spoke of his plans to improve advising for students, as well as his plan to enhance the experiences of freshmen and sophomores in general education courses.

While on campus, Jacobsen has taught classes ranging from freshman seminars to Physics for Future Presidents to upper-division classes. He served as vice chair of the UC Berkeley division of the Academic Senate in the 2010-11 academic year and as its chair in 2011-12.

“In (the) short term, there are a large number of students arriving in the fall that we need to be prepared for,” Jacobsen said. “In the long term, (I hope to address) the quality of undergraduate education, advising, courses and understanding how courses go together.”

As interim dean, Jacobsen partnered with the vice chancellor of undergraduate education to advance the Chancellor’s Undergraduate Initiative, according to the campus press release.

Campus professor James Demmel — who said he is slated to be named the head of UC Berkeley’s computer science department — said he hopes Jacobsen will focus on interdepartmental collaboration as permanent dean.

“We are about to receive a huge influx of students,” Demmel said. “I hope we can have a good collaboration with the dean and other departments to build the (computer science) program up.”

Jacobsen said the importance of focusing on undergraduate education was a key factor in his decision to accept the appointment, though he added that the permanent tag entailed its own set of challenges.

“A little bit of fear, a little ‘what a great opportunity this is’ and a little bit of ‘there’s a lot to do,’” Jacobsen said about his reaction to receiving the appointment. “It is a big job.”

Contact Simmone Shah at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @simmoneshah.