Data Science Initiative: Update & Next Steps

December 19, 2016

Dear Colleagues:

Since the Faculty Advisory Board (FAB) of the Data Science Planning Initiative submitted its report this past August, the campus has been involved in a far-ranging, discussion of this exciting opportunity for the Berkeley campus.  We first wish to thank the FAB, for its excellent work, as well as those who have provided thoughtful responses to its report.  This letter details the next steps we will pursue in light of the report and the commentary on it.

These next steps will be guided by the following principles:

  • The campus should invest in a prominent and significant way in data science.
  • The investment will involve an academic unit dedicated to data science (broadly conceived), with a dean and with dedicated faculty FTE.
  • Both teaching and research in data science should be broadly distributed across campus with appropriate foci not just on the methods of data science but also on applications across many disciplines as well as meta-issues of policy and ethics.  We imagine a broad and inclusive approach; data science should not be owned by one or two units. 

To pursue this initiative, we will immediately launch a search for an interim dean, to be chosen from among the current faculty to begin serving as close as possible to February 15, 2017; Vice Chancellor Paul Alivisatos will chair the search committee.  An announcement and request for nominations for this position will be posted shortly.

Among the Interim Dean’s responsibilities will be the following:

  • Fostering a cooperative atmosphere among the methodological and application-oriented faculties;
  • Working in close collaboration with relevant deans and vice chancellors to ensure the best outcome for the whole community;
  • Working with the administration to form an advisory board with representation of key external constituencies;
  • Recruiting a team of faculty members who will agree to develop the new initiative and teach in it once developed.  This group should be broadly distributed across campus and include people who work in application domains;
  • With the recruited faculty team, designing an undergraduate curriculum, including a major and minors or concentrations;
  • With the recruited faculty team and relevant deans, developing a faculty recruitment plan that can be considered in the current FTE allocation cycle;
  • With the recruited faculty, initiating consideration of what additional offerings might be appropriate on the graduate level and what existing graduate offerings might have a natural home in the new unit;
  • Working with the administration on searching for a dedicated development officer and on launching fund-raising efforts in concert with broader campus fund-raising objectives and in the spirit of Fundraising 2.0.

There has been considerable debate across campus about the appropriate structure for data science.  To an extent this debate continues, although it is clear that the initiative now requires a leader at the level of a dean.  At this stage, the interim Dean will head a division that, similar to the Berkeley Graduate Division, cuts across the entire campus.  What the initiative’s ultimate structure will be is yet to be determined.  Current discussions should continue in both the College of Engineering about adopting a divisional structure and in the Department of Statistics about where it wants to affiliate.  Indeed, one of the interim Dean’s most important initial challenges involves working with the administration, the relevant departments, schools, and colleges to develop the best long-term structure for the initiative. 

Nicholas Dirks, Chancellor

Carol Christ, Interim Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost

Paul Alivisatos, Vice Chancellor for Research