Announcement: Division of Data Science and Information

Chancellor Christ and EVCP Alivisatos sent the following message on November 1, 2018:

Dear campus community,

Data science is transforming society and the academy at an ever-accelerating pace. These transformations demand a response, for which Berkeley is uniquely suited as a university with extraordinary depth and excellence across a wide array of disciplines, and a public institution whose mission combines research, education, and service, in support of the greater good.

Consequently, today we announce the creation of a new interdisciplinary division which we are provisionally referring to as 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 to better 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.

Over the course of the last three years, faculty from across the campus, including those from computer science, engineering, statistics, the professional schools, the humanities, the social sciences, and the natural and physical sciences, have come together to develop ideas and proposals that will enable Berkeley to do what it does best: apply the depth and breadth of our comprehensive excellence to tackle not just the research opportunities arising from data science, but also data science’s human, societal, and economic impacts as well. The scope of this movement is remarkable: for example, this academic year, one fifth of all faculty searches at Berkeley are strongly tied to data science, and the new undergraduate data science major is the fastest growing major in the history of Berkeley already attracting more than 1,000 pre-declarations due to its offerings of innovative approaches to data science education and learning.

The new division will collaborate with and integrate, in novel ways, existing departments, schools, colleges, and organized research units. The Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences and the Department of Statistics, whose faculty have done so much to lay the foundations of the data science revolution, will be key elements of the division. The departments will retain their historic and close ties to the College of Engineering and the Division of Mathematical and Physical Sciences, respectively, in recognition of the broad sweep of their academic reach and the opportunity to draw the colleges together. The School of Information (I School), with its focus on the human aspects of information technology, will now be wholly housed in the new division and thus a key part of creating greater collaboration among our professional schools and colleges. The Berkeley Institute for Data Science (BIDS), which was founded in 2013 with generous support from the Moore and Sloan foundations, has facilitated and nurtured data-intensive research, helped establish the conditions for today’s announcement, and will continue to play an important leading role bridging the inherently interdisciplinary research of the new division.

A signature of the new division will be a unique Data Science Commons, a new structure for Berkeley that will empower groups of faculty and students from across the University - with common interests in diverse aspects of the foundations, applications, and implications, of data science - to establish new cross-cutting academic programs. Faculty joining the Data Science Commons will devote a significant portion of their teaching, research, and service to addressing important scientific and societal issues collaboratively, creating exciting new research and instructional programs in an agile and flexible institutional setting.

The new division will increase the availability and accessibility of data science courses, will lead to an expansion of data science degree programs, will enhance advising for students and ensure that our undergraduate, graduate, and professional education opportunities in data science are at the cutting edge, will support and catalyze a variety of multi- and cross-disciplinary teaching and research initiatives, and will impact the allocation of financial and human resources.

To bring about innovative changes in our structure, culture, and spirit of inquiry, we need to bring forward innovation in leadership as well. We will immediately commence an open search for a new Associate Provost for the Division of Data Science and Information and Dean of the I School, a position we aim to have in place by July 2019. The new associate provost and dean will take over from the inaugural and interim dean, Professor David Culler, whose hard work and exemplary leadership laid the groundwork for today’s announcement. The associate provost and dean will also take over from I School Dean, Anno Saxenian, who is stepping down after 15 years of playing a central role in the life of the I School for much of its 24-year history, transforming a nascent program into one of the world’s leading information schools.

There is much more to say and know, and to that end we invite you to read this story on the campus website and review this FAQ that seeks to address anticipated queries from faculty and students.

Berkeley is fortunate to have an abundance of the resources that matter most: talented faculty and students who strive to surpass the status quo and are committed to serving the public interest. They are eager to define and use new tools and concepts of data science and to use them to produce new discoveries and benefit society. Above all, with today’s announcement, we invite alumni and friends of Berkeley and the broad data science community outside the academy to join with us in the planning and implementation for this new division, and to help us develop this ambitious plan.  


Carol Christ

A. Paul Alivisatos
Executive Vice Chancellor & Provost