Campus announces search for interim dean of new Division of Data Science

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The campus has created an interim dean position to lead the development of the new Division of Data Science at UC Berkeley, as announced Dec. 19.

The initiative to create the position and division was largely fueled by faculty, according to an email from interim Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Carol Christ. Christ said in an email that a member of faculty will be appointed interim dean and that it is too early to know who the candidates are.

“The campus has been involved in a planning process in regard to data science for a number of years; a faculty advisory board submitted a report with recommendations in June,” Christ said in an email. “I hope the new dean will provide leadership in this important area; one of the goals is an undergraduate data science major and data science minor.”

The faculty advisory board of the Data Science Planning Initiative, or DSPI, submitted a report to campus leadership as a guide for how to support data science institutionally.

“Data Science (is) about bringing to bear the techniques in statistics, mathematics, computer science on the new sources of data,” said Cathryn Carson, co-chair of the faculty advisory board. “We can learn things about us. … We can learn about the natural world. We can learn about the social world.”

Carson said the appointment of an interim dean is an important initial step in advancing the research and education of data science on campus. According to DSPI co-director David Culler, the proposition provided strategies to make UC Berkeley a leader in research and education of data science across the country.

Culler said UC Berkeley has already been developing the foundations of the new field through research in computer science and statistics. Data science lies at the intersection of these two fields, according to Culler.

Culler said the purpose of the new division is not only to distinguish the field with importance but also to integrate data science with all other divisions in the school. He added that the faculty advisory board hopes to include the division in the College of Letters and Sciences as well as the College of Engineering.

“Every university is seeing this transition. Every human being is now awash in a digital world. So recognizing that — that’s the first step,” Culler said. “And then the question is, how are you most able to advance the frontiers of knowledge, to pioneer the technology? How do you compete … (and) sustain the leadership position?”

The DSPI, Culler said, was an effort to analyze the role of data science and discuss how UC Berkeley can remain at the forefront of the new field through research and education. He said the position will give data science “a seat at the table” when deans are discussing on-campus issues.

Christ stated in the announcement to campus that the search for the interim dean will begin immediately and that faculty hopes to appoint someone as close to Feb. 15 as possible. She added that because the position will be filled by a faculty member, it will not impact the search for the 14 currently vacant cabinet-level administrative positions.

Both Carson and Culler said the appointment of the interim dean is just a starting point of a larger movement across UC Berkeley.

“The next step will really come out of deep faculty discussion. There’s questions of whether we bring departments that are in separate divisions together,” Culler said. “What this (appointment) does is allows those very deep conversations to come to the fore and to determine how can we best position ourselves for the decade ahead.”

Contact Malini Ramaiyer at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @malinisramaiyer.