Division of Data Science and Information Announcement: Frequently Asked Questions

On November 1, 2018, Chancellor Carol Christ and EVCP Paul Alivisatos announced Berkeley's new interdisciplinary division, provisionally named the Division of Data Science and Information. This new division will be the centerpiece of a novel, dynamic, and adaptable organizational structure that will enable Berkeley faculty and students to work together across boundaries and to explore the foundations, applications, and implications of data science, information, and computation in a way that serves the interests of the public, the campus, and its academic community through a new teaching and discovery environment.

Below are a set of questions and answers about the new division:


In what ways does the new Division of Data Science & Information improve on the current organization?

  • In terms of structure, this new division has no exact analog at Berkeley; although it has some features common to existing colleges, it also connects and is interwoven with other schools and colleges in areas spanning the foundations, applications, and implications of data science. It is by its nature interdisciplinary, designed to be inclusive of all departments or schools that are interested in data science. It is also designed to be an entity that evolves both with the field and with Berkeley’s needs around the field. Here is a visual of the proposed organizational structure

  • The division will be led by an Associate Provost for Data Science and Dean of the School of Information. S/he will play a key role in coordinating campus activities in the areas of data science and information, both within the division and across the campus. For example, the associate provost will have a role in the allocation of faculty lines related to data science. (As an aside, this year, roughly more than 20% of newly allocated faculty searches have a clear connection to data science.) Like the deans of existing colleges and schools, the new associate provost will submit requests for new faculty positions that will reside in the division. (Most of these will be joint positions, see below.) Further, the associate provost will be asked to provide an analysis of all data-science-related faculty hiring proposals from outside the division.

  • The associate provost will be tasked with developing a campus-wide plan for appropriate infrastructure for data science. (Also see the answer below on buildings.)

  • The associate provost will advance new degree programs in data science, information, and computation across the campus; promote and coordinate enhanced advising for students; and expand discovery experiences in data science.

  • We anticipate that the wide range of programs, centers, and institutes that will reside within the division will be substantial, and the data science community beyond the formal boundaries of the division will be well coordinated with it, so that the sum will be greater than the individual parts. When considering the full range of substantial faculty engagement, it is a new model for how to empower faculty and students to work across boundaries, while retaining an anchor in specific disciplines.

What are some of the programs that will be housed in the new division?

  • The new division will encompass the existing division that was set up, inter alia, to help oversee and launch the new Data Science majors. It will also include—as detailed below—the School of Information (I School), the Berkeley Institute for Data Science (BIDS), and the Data Science Commons. The Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences (EECS) in the College of Engineering and the Department of Statistics in the College of Letters and Science’s Division of Mathematical and Physical Sciences (MPS) will have a unique relation to the new division, in which some roles and activities ordinarily played by the Deans of the College of Engineer and MPS, respectively, will be shared with the Associate Provost.

  • BIDS, founded in 2013 with a groundbreaking $12.5M gift from the Moore and Sloan Foundations, has been a critical incubator for data science research activities across the Berkeley campus. Bringing together faculty, postdocs, graduate students, and a core of data science researchers and scholars drawn from the full range of fields, BIDS has created a shared culture in this university hub. Today, newcomers and experts in data science immediately find a constructive home for their work in BIDS’ collaborative environment. BIDS has also earned international recognition for its contributions to open source software, including those that provide the infrastructure for Data 8 and other courses in Berkeley’s data science degree programs. In these ways, from its central position in the main library building, BIDS has reached out to every corner of the campus and has played a vital role in establishing the favorable conditions for today’s announcement.  BIDS will continue to play an important leading role in bridging the inherently interdisciplinary research of the new division, and will report to the new associate provost.

  • The faculty from other existing programs, institutes, and centers from around the campus, such as Computational Biology or Cognitive Science, or new ones that may emerge, such as the Human Contexts and Ethics of Technology, may propose to come under the division umbrella. They would do so in something called the Data Science Commons (see below). The structure is adaptable and we expect it to grow (quickly!) and evolve in a way that reflects a spirit of experimentation as well as the changing needs and interests of students and faculty.

What is this new Data Science Commons and what programs will be inside it? How will it work?

  • The new Data Science Commons is an innovative and highly adaptable structure that can serve as a home for many interdisciplinary programs tied to foundational aspects, applications, or implications of data science. Faculty from any part of the campus with a common interdisciplinary interest tied to data science can propose the creation of a program in the Commons. Upon approval by the Academic Senate and the administration, the new program would be part of the research, teaching, and service activities of the participating faculty. They could arrange for shared appointments for a term of significant duration, during which up to half of their teaching and service duties would be shared between the division and their existing department or school. For students, these programs will provide additional learning and research opportunities, including various forms of certification and even, possibly, degrees.

What if one of these programs outgrows the Data Science Commons? Will it become a new department? Will the division eventually become a traditional college?

  • The intent of creating the Commons is to foster interaction across a broad range of disciplines, interactions that are envisioned to change and evolve over time. In contrast, departments tend to invite a degree of siloing. Consequently, by design, the intent is not to create new permanent academic units (but see next bullet). At launch, the Data Science Commons will share faculty appointments, but no full-time appointments will be made; faculty in the Commons will retain an anchor in their home discipline (department or school). Consequently, the Commons will house programs, institutes, and centers, but not departments.

  • At the same time, it is recognized that a possible evolutionary path, one that best meets the academic needs of faculty and students, is that some entities in the Commons evolve to become formally new departments over the next decade. In such a situation, the new department would most likely be within the division and the division would correspondingly become more like a traditional stand-alone college—although, it is worth noting, new departments (if any) incubated with the Commons might have an alternative home in an existing school or college. Because we recognize that no one can fully anticipate what may develop, we anticipate a review of the structure of the Commons and the division as a whole in three years. As is consistent with our tradition of shared governance, such a review will invite input from involved faculty, the Academic Senate, and leadership.

I'm in the School of Information. How will this change the way we are managed and the relationship with the other units in the division?

  • The UC Berkeley School of Information (I School) will remain a separate school, and be part of the portfolio of the new associate provost, who will also serve as the Dean of the I School. The associate provost and dean will will lead the I School and ensure that activities within the school are complementary to and coordinated with all the other programs and activities on campus.

  • The I School’s online Masters of Information and Data Science (MIDS) is thriving with over 600 students currently enrolled and over 400 alumni; it will remain an important part of the overall data science landscape at Berkeley, along with the 5th Year MIDS option for UC Berkeley undergraduates, launching in Fall 2019. At the same time, degree programs outside of the I School, such as the undergraduate majors, will remain outside of the I School. New and existing entities that wish to affiliate with the division will also be outside of the I School (unless both faculty request something different that we do not envision today).

  • The I School’s other established degree programs, the Master of Information Management and Systems (MIMS), the Master of Information and Cybersecurity (MICS), and the academic Ph.D. program in Information Management & Systems, will likewise continue to be exceptional cornerstone programs within the School of Information. The school will maintain its distinction as an information school dedicated to advancing knowledge and practice wherever people interact with information and technology.   


I am a student with a strong interest in data science. How will this change improve my experience? 

  • These changes will expand opportunities for students, both undergraduate and graduate. The associate provost will foster and coordinate the emerging set of majors and minors for undergraduates from across the campus; help us expand enrollment and enhance advising for students in data science; and ensure that our graduate and professional education opportunities in data science are at the cutting edge. In recent years faculty throughout campus, with the help of dedicated teams of students, have innovated in piloting new connector courses, advanced data science courses, modules in existing courses, and revising established programs of study. The new division will be able to support, coordinate, and sustain such innovation, enabling our faculty and students to continue to raise their sights.

  • Last semester, the Academic Senate approved an undergraduate data science major in  the College of Letters and Science. To date, there are 1,070 “pre-declarations” for the new data science major and the major. It is on track to become one of the University’s largest in a couple years. The current data science offerings have been built from the ground up in a way that includes a network of mentorship opportunities. These will be expanded in the future. The oversight of the curriculum and requirements of the major will remain with the new division, although the administration of the major may remain with the College of Letters and Science (this is the current arrangement).

  • Proposals are now being moved forward for minor and undergraduate certificate options available to students in all colleges. The College of Engineering presently is considering how best to further incorporate data science into its degree program offerings. See the section on the School of Information above for Master’s programs in data science and information.  

  • The University is already searching for 11 new faculty members, across a variety of disciplines, whose research and teaching interests connect with data science. Additional searches are anticipated in coming years, further enabling an expansion in the number of courses offered and a reduction in bottlenecks for impacted courses, and growing the research opportunities in data science for undergraduates and graduate students alike. The new associate provost will be tasked with developing campus-wide proposals for more new faculty, in close cooperation with the deans and faculty of the schools and colleges.

How will this help to open the door to this important area for diverse and underrepresented minority communities?

  • Part of Berkeley’s educational and public service missions entails playing a leadership role in opening the door of the technology revolution to all. We are also committed to equity of experience—the notion that each student has access to and is able to take full advantage of the distinctive opportunities that Berkeley offers. Our data science programs have been infused with this spirit from the start, from our no-barriers, no-prerequisites foundational course to our Data Scholars program for underrepresented and non-traditional students. By integrating aspects of data science more broadly in the curricula of many majors and programs, Berkeley will be poised to provide educational opportunities related to data science to a far broader, and more diverse range of students and faculty than many other universities do.

  • When it comes to faculty recruitment, the new associate provost will help ensure that our searches will draw from experienced, talented and highly diverse talent pools, with applicants from the broadest possible range of  backgrounds.


I’m a faculty member in EECS (alternatively, Statistics). What are the exact arrangements for how my department will be governed, given the overlapping ties to the College of Engineering (alternatively, the Division of Math & Physical Sciences) and the new Division of Data Science? 

  • During academic year 2018–19, the EVCP will consult with the deans of the College of Engineering (CoE) and the Division of Mathematical and Physical Sciences (MPS), as well as with the Interim Dean of Data Science, on moving forward with specific arrangements between their colleges and the new division. Issues on the table will be coordination on FTE requests; development and management of joint educational programs, such as the data science majors; and other matters arising from the fact that, while the Departments of EECS and Statistics will remain, respectively, in the College of Engineering and the Division of Mathematical & Physical Sciences, they will also be an integral part of the new division. Based on that consultation, the EVCP will appoint one or more task forces, as appropriate, to advise him. The EVCP will solicit nominations for such task forces from the aforementioned deans, the chairs of EECS and Statistics, those departments' executive committees, and the Academic Senate. Individual faculty can also supply nominations. This process is expected to culminate with proposals, draft memoranda of understanding, etc., to be submitted by the associate provost to the Academic Senate for comment by the end of the 2019 fall term; this timing is intended to provide an opportunity for the new associate provost to participate in this process.

If I, as a faculty member, move part of my appointment to an entity within the new division, how does that affect my academic personnel reviews (i.e. promotion and merit cases)?

  • The campus already has procedures in place to govern split or shared appointments. Your home department or school would continue to be the originator of personnel actions. Your entity within the division and the associate provost (or designee) will likely also provide input. As with all split and shared appointments on campus, it is essential that a clear memorandum of understanding (MOU) be in place that delineates responsibilities and expectations, criteria for review, and how reviews will be conducted. Such MOUs are already used currently for many faculty with split or shared appointments.

Shared Governance:

This is a very diverse division. How will shared governance work within it?

  • The Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost is appointing an interim academic advisory planning committee  for the division, with balanced representation from EECS, Statistics, the I School, BIDS, and the Data Science Commons. When the associate provost is appointed, the faculty of the division will work together with the associate provost to develop governance structures, including a permanent executive committee.

What is the past, current, and future involvement of the Academic Senate in this plan?

  • The structure featured in this announcement was submitted to the Academic Senate for comment, and their comments are reflected in how the administration seeks to nurture and advance this exciting field on campus. As the administration has considered these changes, we have benefited from the fact that data science has been a topic of widespread discussion and debate among the faculty for some years now. Indeed, several in-depth reports have been written by a variety of interested parties that represent constituencies as broadly representative as multiple colleges and schools, and as discrete as individual departments. The Academic Senate has participated in these discussions by reviewing and commenting formally on data science reports and curricula that have come before it, as well as hosting numerous discussions with data science leadership. Going forward, the Academic Senate will continue to review all of the critical steps as the division develops, including review of the management plans for EECS and Statistics, new degree programs, faculty appointments, and full or partial FTE transfers, proposals for new academic entities, and proposed rearrangements of graduate programs. The administration is committed to working in consultation with the Senate as the division evolves.


What investments is the campus making in the new division?

  • The Berkeley Institute for Data Sciences was founded in 2013 with a $12.5M gift from the Moore and Sloan Foundations. BIDS has helped set the stage for today’s announcement.

  • For fiscal year 2017-18, the campus invested $500,000 of funding for data science operations plus $654,000 in Temporary Academic Support (TAS). For fiscal year 2018–19, the campus invested an additional half million dollars for operations and an additional $1.5 million for TAS. The campus is also funding a senior fundraiser within University Development and Alumni Relations (UDAR) dedicated to data science, a position which is currently being recruited.

  • There has also been early fundraising success for data science resulting in gifts totalling over $3.3 million to the Data Science Division since 2016. Over the same period of time, BIDS raised $2.8 million above the founding gift, and the I School raised over $4 million. We have good reason to believe that the establishment of the new division, and the significant campus commitment it represents, will facilitate and attract much greater philanthropic support. Providing a unified vision for data science at UC Berkeley for those who would like to support us philanthropically is an essential step for this.

  • We invite alumni and friends of Berkeley, as well as key stakeholders of the data science community to join with us and help support the launch of the new division.

Will the division do its own fundraising? Will the campus prioritize data science in its development efforts?

  • As noted above, there is already a dedicated fundraising position based in University Development and Alumni Relations (UDAR). The dedicated fundraiser, currently being recruited, will work closely with the new associate provost. S/he will prioritize working collaboratively with colleges and units across the university to develop a comprehensive campaign plan for data sciences that is inclusive and well coordinated.

  • Data science plays an integral role in nearly every facet of the campus’s new strategic plan developed last Spring (strategicplan.berkeley.edu). Undergraduate discovery experiences and more interdisciplinary majors and minors for undergraduates, four-plus-one degrees, and graduate fellowships are a few examples of core activities where the role of data science is clear. Signature initiatives will likely figure prominently in faculty growth plans, and consideration of capital projects in our campaign plans. The campus will seek to enhance support for data science in each and every one of these categories in close collaboration with the associate provost and the deans from related disciplines.

As a researcher and teacher, how will this division help to provide me the resources, including consulting, that I need for my research and teaching? Will it hire, for example, data engineers to help me with my projects?

  • Developing, coordinating, and acquiring funding for resources is among the associate provost’s most critical roles. Working with faculty across the campus, s/he will identify the resources already available, ensure faculty are aware of existing resources, determine areas of need, and work to see that such needs are addressed. Exactly what personnel might be hired to address needs is something for the new associate provost to determine.


Will there be a new building for data science?

  • In coordination with the priority setting of the Campaign Planning Committee, we intend to seek support for a building for data science that will be flexible and meet the needs of many units on campus, while fulfilling our collective mission of teaching and research. The associate provost will be tasked with working with the data science community to develop a campus-wide plan for data science space.

Where will the associate provost be physically located?

  • This is to be determined in concert with the new associate provost. Many options will be considered, at least on a temporary basis, including Hearst Field Annex (now allocated to the Data Science Division), South Hall (home of the I School), Evans Hall, and the BIDS site in the University library, among others.


Who is leading the search for the associate provost, and how can I have input into the process? Will the search be focused only on the Berkeley campus?

  • The executive vice chancellor and provost (EVCP) is chairing the search committee. The search process will include a stakeholder engagement phase to elicit input from the campus community about the opportunities and challenges for the new associate provost, and the professional and personal characteristics necessary for that person to be successful in the role.

  • The search will be global in scope and is supported by Witt Kieffer, an external search firm. Berkeley faculty will, of course, be eligible to apply. As with all searches, outreach will be done to ensure a broad, diverse, and inclusive pool of candidates.

What will be happening to the existing data science activities/division this year while the search for the associate provost is underway? How are existing units already contributing to this effort?

  • The existing data science activities will continue their great work throughout the 2018-19 academic year so that there is a strong foundation on which the associate provost can build data science at Berkeley into the future. In addition to current activities, we will be counting on assistance in the onboarding of the new associate provost and the transition of activities into the new division.

  • Existing units have been, and will continue to be, consulting and advising us as we make this important organizational transition.

For more information about the division, please contact evcp@berkeley.edu.