Nine UC Berkeley faculty members, along with former first lady Michelle Obama, were recently elected to join the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Sciences for their achievements in academia, arts, business, government or public affairs.
The campus faculty members who were recognized — comparative literature professor Judith Butler, public policy professor David Kirp, electrical engineering and computer sciences, or EECS, professor Claire Tomlin, applied mathematics professor Chris Shannon, genetics, genomics and development professor Kristin Scott, physics professor Kam-Biu Luk, astronomy, earth and planetary science professor Eugene Chiang, chemistry professor Jeffrey Long and economics professor Emi Nakamura, in addition to adjunct professor Susan Hubbard — focus on a range of fields.
“It was a complete surprise,” Chiang said. “I am super excited, though, at the prospect of being in the same class as Michelle Obama.”
The elected faculty will join 417 other UC Berkeley-affiliated community members who have been previously honored by the academy. As academy members, they will develop and promote projects and publications in their respective fields and attend events, according to the academy’s website.
Originally created by several of the Founding Fathers of the United States, the academy includes a multistep recruitment process that takes place every year. Members also have the opportunity to nominate their peers.
“I mean, the fact that one of our colleagues gets elected to this audacious society also reflects on the department and the university,” said campus EECS professor and current academy member Ruzena Bajcsy in reference to Tomlin’s recognition.
She added that the acceptance of these elected faculty to the academy will not affect their current work.
Butler, a world-renowned gender theorist, expressed gratitude in an email for her election and said she was especially grateful for the academy’s recognition of “feminist, queer, and trans studies, critical and literary theory, and all those fields that help us to imagine the world with greater thoughtfulness and care.”
Butler added that she owes the honor to her entire field as well as to the authors that preceded her. Long also credited others in part for his nomination, specifically the graduate students and postdoctoral researchers he has worked with in his time on campus.
“To me, (Butler) feels very Berkeley in that, despite the fact that she is an internationally renowned thinker, she is so humble,” said campus comparative literature department chair Sophie Volpp.
She added that Butler’s honor was well deserved and that Butler has more than 20 books published in multiple languages, but “you would never know it by talking to her.”
Members will also contribute to the academy’s journal Dædalus, according to the academy’s website.
Many of the new recruits said they were excited to receive notice of their acceptances, and most recipients said the recognition was unexpected.
“The letter I received from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences mentioned that it is their long-standing tradition for newly appointed members to respond with a written letter of acceptance,” Nakamura said in an email. “I am excited to do this since I haven’t sent a paper letter for quite some number of years!”