Division of Computing, Data Science, and Society at Berkeley Moves Closer to Becoming a College

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This fall, UC Berkeley’s Division of Computing, Data Science, and Society moved one step closer to becoming a college. The University of California’s Office of the President reviewed the division’s pre-proposal, clearing the way for CDSS to revise and seek review of a final proposal laying out its detailed vision and plan for the school. If that is approved, CDSS would be the first new college at Berkeley in more than 50 years.

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December 13, 2021

This fall, UC Berkeley’s Division of Computing, Data Science, and Society moved one step closer to becoming a college.

The University of California’s Office of the President reviewed the division’s pre-proposal, clearing the way for CDSS to revise and seek review of a final proposal laying out its detailed vision and plan for the school. If that is approved, CDSS would be the first new college at Berkeley in more than 50 years.

"This college will have a crucial voice in shaping the future of our campus," said Catherine Koshland, UC Berkeley's interim executive vice chancellor and provost. "We look forward to working with the Division of Computing, Data Science, and Society and colleagues across campus and the UC system to successfully transform CDSS into a visionary college that continues to lead in research and education in this complex interdisciplinary field, demonstrates the value of our public mission, and meets the growing interests of our diverse students."

Becoming a college would further formalize and grow a nexus that’s burgeoned among Berkeley faculty, students and staff for years. The new college would house and enhance already groundbreaking, inclusive programs that teach computing and data science and how to use them ethically. And it would provide a convening place for scientific and human-centered disciplines to collaborate in solving society’s greatest challenges with data science and computing methods, whether executing targeted research or creating entirely new fields.

“The world is faced with many urgent problems including climate change, human health and social justice,” said Jennifer Chayes, associate provost for CDSS and dean of the School of Information. “Solutions are being built on computing platforms, which can either help distribute resources more effectively and equitably or can lead to unintentional bias or even intentional harm.”

“We need to convene the full suite of experts and expertise, so that what we build reflects our human values and so that it mitigates, rather than exacerbates, inequality,” she said.

How We Got Here

Today, the division includes the Data Science Undergraduate Studies program, the School of Information, the Department of Statistics, the Berkeley Institute for Data Science and the Center for Computational Biology. It also shares the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences with the College of Engineering and D-Lab with the Social Sciences Division.

CDSS has launched a model undergraduate data science curriculum used by high schools, community colleges and universities around the world. It’s recently announced a joint initiative in computational precision health with the Bakar Computational Health Sciences Institute at UC San Francisco that aims to advance a nascent field and improve healthcare quality and equity.

Before there was a division, faculty, students and staff from across campus were already transforming research and education in data science and computing fields.

University faculty led a national shift towards analyzing big data at least as early as 2010. By 2013, the data science field was growing across campus through workshops and the launch of trailblazing communities, programs and organizations like the School of Information’s data science master’s program and the Berkeley Institute for Data Science.

Berkeley scholars made intentional choices to grow this work in a collaborative, inclusive and ethical way.

Faculty and students created new models and communities like D-Lab to ensure these methods served social science scholars and helped solve human-centered problems. As student demand for data science education surged, task forces like the Data Sciences Education Rapid Action Team and the Data Science Planning Initiative Faculty Advisory Board ensured these efforts developed in ways aligned with Berkeley’s values.

These committees and other efforts were led by individuals from fields ranging from the statistics to history departments. Ultimately, faculty urged university leadership to create one unit centered on computing, data science and society to help existing programs excel and foster interdisciplinary collaboration.

“Berkeley has substantial strengths in data science, starting from a world-leading collection of faculty along the axis from statistics to computing, situated in exceptionally strong programs that are conspicuously collaborative between themselves and across their boundaries to application domains,” stated the Data Science Planning Initiative Faculty Advisory Board led by Cathryn Carson, now chair of the Department of History, in a 2016 report summary.

“Berkeley has strength across many fields in which faculty use large-scale data collection and analytic methodologies to rigorously address research questions, from the social sciences and humanities to engineering and the sciences and across the professional schools,” the advisory board said.

By the end of 2018, there was a new data science major and a new division. By 2020, university and division leadership decided to begin the process of becoming a college.

Becoming a college would give CDSS more control over its curriculum, admissions and enrollments for its undergraduate data science program, said Oliver O’Reilly, Berkeley’s interim vice provost for undergraduate education. It also makes it easier to form partnerships with other departments and universities, which are core to CDSS's mission, and will create fundraising opportunities for these significant education and research efforts, he said.

“It’s vitally important to the economy of California that we train data scientists who are aware of the social implications of their work and who can contribute to the economy,” O’Reilly said. “It's important that we have the resources available to educate them, and some of those resources will have to come from philanthropy. Forming a college provides a focal point for philanthropy and generates opportunities in terms of faculty positions, undergraduate programs, buildings -- naming opportunities that are really unique and will be helpful.”

The university is more than 80 percent of the way to its $6 billion Light the Way Campaign fundraising goal, part of which includes the construction of the Gateway. The Gateway building will be the home of the proposed college.

Pathway to Becoming a College

That 2020 decision led the division into the two-step college approval process it is navigating today.

University and CDSS leaders worked together starting in the fall of 2020 to develop a “pre-proposal,” building on years of effort and feedback from faculty, students and staff. The document laid out a cohesive vision for the college, its academic merits, its financial viability, its need, and how it fits within the UC system. Berkeley Academic Senate committees and University of California systemwide Academic Senate committees reviewed the pre-proposal document and provided comments to Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ and CDSS.

In coming months, Berkeley and CDSS leadership will draft the final proposal. That proposal will go into more details about how the university plans to logistically carry out CDSS's mission and vision as a college and will respond to reviewers’ comments and perspectives from a variety of campus stakeholders.

Even now, university and CDSS administrators are seeking input from leaders across campus for the proposal.

This fall, Koshland and CDSS leaders met with each dean on campus to receive feedback about the logistics of the college’s creation and opportunities for collaboration. Koshland is also leading the CDSS College Formation Advisory Committee. The committee will advise Christ on issues including financial planning for the proposed college and the vision for the Data Science Commons, a new collaborative center that will foster interdisciplinary, innovative work and resources for faculty and students across campus.

The proposal is expected to be drafted by next spring. Christ and the advisory committee will review before submission into the formal proposal review process. The formal process includes a campus administrative and Academic Senate review before moving to a systemwide administrative and Senate review. If both campus and systemwide groups approve the proposal, it will be forwarded to the UC Board of Regents for final approval.

In the meantime, CDSS will continue working towards its mission of tackling society’s greatest challenges through data science and computing. The division is forming new research partnerships and identifying the best ways to teach the next generation of diverse and ethical leaders in data science. These are challenges that Chayes says Berkeley is uniquely situated to address because of its excellence across quantitative and qualitative fields.

“This is something fundamentally new,” Chayes said of CDSS's efforts. “Berkeley has the scale and access to a cross-section of society. We’re really exceptional in all of these areas. We are the ideal university to bring together human-centered disciplines and science, technology, engineering and math fields in a way that fully incorporates computing and data science.”