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Berkman Klein Center’s Board of Directors Warmly Welcomes James Mickens

Berkman Klein Center’s Board of Directors Warmly Welcomes James Mickens

Computer Science Professor James Mickens brings transformative ideas about security and trust, mentoring leadership, and social impact advocacy to BKC board; HBS emeritus professor John Deighton leaves board after twelve years of far-reaching service

The Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University is pleased to announce today the appointment of James Mickens, Gordon McKay Professor of Computer Science at Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, to its Board of Directors, effective immediately. Mickens’s unique strengths as a scholar, thinker, and leader heighten and sharpen the Center’s ability to lead in Internet research fields and achieve real-world impact.

“I’ve never met anyone as intellectually generous and engaging as James,” said Faculty Chair Jonathan Zittrain. “He’s staking out new ideas in digital security, conveying them with openness, grace and humor, and adapting them to thinking not just about tech but the society that it shapes.” 

The Berkman Klein Center’s work spans the broad range of intersections between technology and society, builds powerful models for innovative collaboration, research, and teaching, and develops new, interdisciplinary ways to tackle the daunting challenges and complexities of today’s world. To support this work, the Center brings together people unified by deep commitment to serve the public good. Its broad community of staff, faculty, fellows, faculty associates, affiliates, students, alumni, and partners continues to grow not only in number but in diversity of backgrounds and interests.

Mickens, who hails from Atlanta, Georgia, worked for seven years as a researcher at Microsoft in the Distributed Systems group. After serving as Martin Luther King, Jr. Visiting Professor at MIT in 2014, he started at Harvard as an Associate Professor in 2015 and was awarded tenure in 2019. Mickens’s research focuses on distributed systems, i.e., individual computers that exchange messages to accomplish a collaborative goal. One line of his research demonstrates how to provide users with proof that an online service has completely deleted sensitive user information. Mickens has also investigated performance optimizations, like how to make web pages load faster using less data. At Harvard, Mickens teaches classes on operating systems and computer security.

Often serving on the program committees for leading computer science conferences, Mickens is the co-chair for the upcoming conference on Networked Systems Design and Implementation (NSDI) 2021. Passionate about bringing more people from underrepresented groups into technology and other STEM fields, Mickens has helped organize diversity workshops at major computer science conferences and presented at venues like the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (GHC) and Underrepresented Minorities and Persons with Disabilities (URMD). He is a co-chair of the Diversity Committee for Harvard’s computer science department and is a member of the USENIX Committee for Black, African-American, and African Diaspora Inclusion.

Mickens has been a long-time member of the Berkman Klein community and a distinguished contributor to the Center. He has worked with Center staff and Fellows as an advisor to the Assembly program and is the only person who has served as a mentor since the program’s very beginning, for all five iterations.

Mickens said, “I’m grateful for the opportunity to join the Board. I’ve worked with BKC for many years, and I look forward to continuing my work with the Assembly program and similar endeavors. I’m also excited about helping the Berkman Klein Center set its broader strategic agenda for the next few years. The interactions between technology and society have become increasingly fraught as technology becomes more ubiquitous. As a Board member, one of my primary goals is to enrich how BKC engages with technology more broadly — not just from the perspective of engineering or the law, but from the perspectives of socioeconomics, gender, and race.”

When Mickens isn’t busy enlightening his CS students or writing short, but intellectually dense sentences, he may be found pursuing his mission of learning to cook the perfect steak-frites, watching Asian horror films, or playing the guitar.  

At the same time that Mickens joins, John Deighton, Harold M. Brierley Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, steps down after many years of service. Deighton will serve as an advisor to the Board as Mickens onboards.

“It is with a mix of sadness and gratitude to see John leave the Board,” said Urs Gasser, Executive Director of the Berkman Klein Center. “Both professionally and personally, it's been such a pleasure working with John and a gift to receive guidance and advice from him. I am very grateful that John will stay with us as our trusted colleague in an advisor capacity, as we continue to work to build an even better Center.”   

Since joining the Board in 2008, Deighton has played an important role in the development and success of the Center. The Board thanks him for his enormous contributions, which include advising on various aspects of the Berkman Klein Center’s strategy, including its research agenda, fundraising strategy, and key personnel and communications matters. Deighton provided expert guidance on annual budgeting and long-term financial planning and supported the review of fellowship applications. Furthermore, he actively supported Berkman Klein community members by helping them make connections with Harvard Business School faculty in areas of mutual interest, proposing speakers to the BKC Tuesday luncheon series, and inviting Berkman Klein Center faculty and staff to participate and co-teach seminars at Harvard Business School, bridging the world of law, policy, and business.  

“Since its founding, the Berkman Klein Center has done a remarkable job of finding, populating, and sometimes creating the unsettled edges of cyberspace. Over and over again the Center has opened my eyes to what the Internet is, does, and could be doing. While moving to emeritus suggests to me that it’s time to step off the Board, I shall continue to be nourished by BKC,” Deighton said.

Alan Garber, Provost of Harvard University, remarked, “We are deeply grateful to John for his contributions to BKC over the years.  With his passion, expertise, and dedication, he has contributed greatly to its success.”

The Berkman Klein Center Board of Directors shapes the Center’s vision, direction, and priorities. Furthermore, the Board determines financial, research, academic, personnel, governance, and other overarching organizational decisions. Mickens joins Directors Christopher Bavitz, Yochai Benkler, William “Terry” Fisher, Urs Gasser, Martha Minow, Charles Nesson, Felix Oberholzer-Gee, Ruth Okediji, Jeffrey Schnapp, Margo Seltzer, Stuart Shieber, Rebecca Tushnet, Mark Wu, and Jonathan Zittrain.