Philip Bourne

Daily Progress file

Philip E. Bourne, now dean of the University of Virginia’s School of Data Science, speaks about the power of data on Sept. 6.

It’s official: The School of Data Science is now the University of Virginia’s 12th school.

On Tuesday, the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, which is the regulatory body for universities in the state, gave final approval for the school, eight months after UVa proposed its creation.

“I am delighted that the School of Data Science has cleared its final hurdle and can officially move forward,” UVa President Jim Ryan said in a news release.

The school, founded via a $120 million donation from hedge fund manager and philanthropist Jaffray Woodriff, aims to train students and researchers how to gather, analyze and communicate vast amounts of data in more efficient and responsible ways. The school’s creators also have said they aim to organize the school to be interdisciplinary and to promote collaboration across Grounds and in the community.

The school’s first students already are enrolled. The Data Science Institute, the precursor to the school, already offered an online and in-person master of science in data science degree, as well as a dual degree program with the Darden School of Business. The 50 students in the current cohort of the 11-month master’s program will graduate in May.

“We are really the only school of data science in the country,” said Bradley Katcher, a master’s student who said employers at a recent career fair reacted positively when he said he was studying data science. “We have the backing of the university. It’s not just a few courses thrown together; it’s a real program and a real school.”

Katcher already has an undergraduate degree in economics and a master’s degree in public policy from UVa; he said he returned for another degree because he believes technical and quantitative skills in data science will benefit his planned career in public policy.

In the future, the school plans to add certificates and undergraduate, doctoral and professional degrees.

Provost Liz Magill appointed professor and Data Science Institute Director Philip E. Bourne as dean of the new school immediately after Tuesday’s vote.

“Phil has been a tireless advocate for data science as a key element of a healthy academic ecosystem,” Magill said in the release.

After initial announcements about the school’s creation, some faculty at UVa expressed concerns about its potential impact on other disciplines. The university’s Faculty Senate worked to quell concerns and iron out the school’s eventual format; a committee within the senate asked for a commitment that the school will include tenure and tenure-track appointments and worked to make sure various disciplines had been able to ask questions throughout the process.

In coming years, the school plans to expand its teaching roster with a variety of faculty and staff appointments, including a number of joint appointments across disciplines. A multi-year initiative — which includes hiring 10 endowed chairs, an associate dean, research and teaching faculty and staff, as well as construction of a building that will serve as a cornerstone of the planned Emmet-Ivy Corridor — will begin immediately, according to the school.

Bourne has described the future school as “a school without walls” and has said he plans to rely on faculty and researchers with expertise in various fields, such as engineering, education, environmental science, policy and business.

Building upon the Data Science Institute’s existing Center for Data Ethics and Justice, the school also will focus on the practice of responsible data science and research into the ethical implications of machine learning, artificial intelligence and other evolving applications of data science principles, according to the release.

The school also will continue to manage and expand international partnerships with the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, the Charité Universitätsmedizin in Berlin, the University of Manchester and the University of Zurich, according to the release.

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