A Pathfinding Dean

Innovation Is the Key as Varian Takes Over at the School of Information Management and Systems

by Jacqueline Frost

In what is expected to be a model for the nation, internationally recognized economist Hal Varian is developing a graduate program to train a new profession of "information managers."

His goal: To create a program where social science meets computer science.

"Fortunately, the previous school (the School of Library and Information Studies) did quite a bit of advance planning," said Varian, who assumed the job of dean of the new School of Information Management and Systems in September.

"They did a lot of thinking about what knowledge and skills will be necessary for the information managers of the future."

Varian said these new professionals must master the skills of computer scientists, librarians, publishers and database experts and learn to manage people as well.

"Our program is inherently interdisciplinary," said Varian.

"The advent of new technologies has created the need for research that isn't met at the university."

He plans to develop a specialized niche not found in existing programs. "There are many ways that we can go," he said.

"We will have a basic grounding in the research mission, and our faculty will ultimately decide our direction," he said.

He said they are presently interviewing candidates for a dozen faculty appointments. Varian said he will also use adjunct professors from Silicon Valley corporations.

"There is no reason not to tap into the wealth of resources nearby," said Varian, who is also a professor in the Haas School of Business, a professor in the economics department and holds the Class of 1944 Chair.

While some classes will be offered in the fall of 1996, Varian doesn't expect to enroll graduate majors until the following year.

The new programs will focus on manipulating, disseminating, filtering and presenting information.

Students will address such issues as standards, intellectual-property protection and pricing on the Internet.

In addition to a core of what Varian calls knowledge classes, he plans to offer a range of short professional retraining courses and workshops. These continuing education courses will be available to professionals outside the campus or by Berkeley students.

He envisions a school that--like technology itself--can easily adapt to rapid changes.

The school's faculty and students will work closely with faculties in other disciplines, particularly business, computer science, cognitive science, law, library/information studies and communications.

"We intend to create joint programs and joint appointments in these areas," Varian said.

For instance, Varian said the school will work closely with the Center for Information Technology Management at the Haas School of Business.

The school will offer a two-year master of information management degree and a PhD. Masters students will take a core curriculum with courses in database design, security, law, management and human/computer interface, among others.

During the second year, students will choose from electives and select a specialization.

Doctoral candidates will work with Berkeley faculty on research projects involving social science, information technology and computer science.

Varian earned his undergraduate degree from MIT and his doctorate in economics from Berkeley. He has taught at MIT, Stanford, Oxford, Michigan and several other universities around the world.

A professor at the University of Michigan for nearly two decades, Varian has been the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and of a Fulbright award for distinguished lectures in Siena, Italy.

He is the author of best-selling graduate and undergraduate textbooks on microeconomics and is on the editorial boards of eight professional journals, including the American Economic Review.

Varian's most recent research has been on the economics of information technology.

Varian can be reached online at http://www.sims.berkeley.edu/~hal.


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