As the spring semester begins, the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University is delighted to officially welcome Professor of Law at the University of St. Gallen Dr. Urs Gasser into his new role as Berkman’s Executive Director.
We are thrilled with Urs’ arrival and confident that his vision and dedication ensure that Berkman's research agenda and platform will continue to thrive and evolve. Beyond his many scholarly achievements, Urs’ combination of familiar and fresh perspectives gives him the ideal blend to both comprehend what we do now, and to develop insights into where we go next as a University-wide research center.
When we first met Urs back in 2002, he was an LLM student at the Harvard Law School and already an accomplished scholar, having earned a JD and an SJD in Switzerland and having published extensively in information law and policy, including an award-winning book on the responsibility for information as a legal problem. He spent the next two years as a Research Fellow at Berkman, doing wonderful (and voluminous) work primarily on the Digital Media Project. During his tenure, Urs launched the Harvard-Yale-Cyberscholar Working Group and also co-taught Berkman's Internet & Society course at the Harvard Extension School with John Palfrey. We were supportive but sorry for Urs’ departure when he returned to the University of St. Gallen, where he was appointed as Swiss National Science Foundation Professor and launched the Research Center for Information Law. We resolved to leverage the new situation for increased transatlantic research and collaboration.
Once our most productive Research Fellow, Urs quickly became our most valued Faculty Fellow, who, during one extended period, averaged more than one trip per month to Cambridge. We labored jointly on a range of topics from digital institutions to interoperability to youth and technology, including the creation of the annual “Learning a Foreign Language” seminar, with Urs and John Palfrey's authorship of Born Digital being the most recent product. In addition to an aggressive research agenda and teaching responsibilities, Urs led the development and teaching of an innovative interdisciplinary Master’s program at his alma mater, established a close collaboration between St. Gallen and Fudan University, and was deeply involved in a strategic reorientation of the University of St. Gallen. This range of activities is indicative of Urs’ talents and embodies Berkman’s commitment to rigorous scholarship with impact, innovative and effective teaching and learning in a globalized world, and active and meaningful participation in the university community.
It was essential that we identify for the Executive Director role a colleague with Urs’ powerful mix of attributes in part because of the precedent set by John Palfrey during his six years as Executive Director. Last year, John was appointed Vice Dean, Library and Information Resources, at Harvard Law School. He remains a Berkman faculty co-director. (Managing Director Colin Maclay has carried the torch between John's departure and Urs' arrival.) The Berkman Center is deeply indebted to John for his invaluable leadership and service. He is largely responsible for the shape and prominence of the Center today.
Urs is a worthy successor. In his vision, experience, and extraordinary dedication, he is quite similar to John. All of us are confident of Urs' ability to guide us through these tumultuous financial times and to sustain our research and activism for years to come.