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Urs Gasser to embark on new role across the Atlantic

Urs Gasser to embark on new role across the Atlantic

Urs Gasser will step down as BKC Executive Director after 12 years of transformative service; will assume role as professor of public policy, governance, and innovative technology at the Technical University of Munich

The Berkman Klein Center is pleased to announce that Urs Gasser will be named this fall to an inaugural professorship of public policy, governance, and innovative technology at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), where he will help build a school of social science and technology. This is bittersweet news, as with this new position Gasser will step down as Executive Director this summer, after twelve years of service. 

“Serving BKC over so many years in different roles – starting as a teaching assistant to John Palfrey back in 2002, later as a fellow, and now as executive director – has been a great honor and lifetime gift,” Gasser said. “I have had the privilege of working with a world-class team of staff members who have supported me to become a better leader. I have learned so much from our diverse community of brilliant scholars, creators, shakers, and movers. I have experienced some of the finest mentorship one can possibly wish for. And I have cherished interacting with generous supporters and collaborators across the globe. I’m so grateful for what we have been able to build together across disciplines, institutions, and geographies.” 

During Gasser’s tenure, BKC grew significantly and made considerable contributions around the world. It has cultivated a global network of internet and society research centers, now numbering over a hundred, through which novel problems and ideas have been identified by a center in one area of the world and then shared globally. BKC has nurtured new organizations like the Digital Public Library of America and HLS’s own Library Innovation Lab. BKC community members have engaged both constructively and skeptically with private and public policymakers, from the recording and social media industries, to formal and informal standards-setting organizations, to the U.S. intelligence and national security communities, to ICANN, to the United Nations. 

“Urs has helped forge a space for our individual community members – whether staff, faculty, fellows, affiliates, or friends – to get to meaningfully know one another and to improve our work and broaden our necessarily limited individual outlooks,” said BKC Co-founder and Faculty Director Jonathan Zittrain. 

BKC Managing Director Lis Sylvan remarked, “I count myself very lucky that I am one of the many who has benefited from Urs's guidance, wisdom, and true joy in the work. He is an extraordinary leader, scholar, and educator, as well as a generous mentor and advisor to so many scholars, policymakers, and students. I can't wait to see what he creates at TUM and together to build bridges between his new efforts and our shared ones at BKC.”

In the coming weeks, Gasser will work closely with the BKC board of directors, leadership, and staff to ensure a smooth and thoughtful transition, and the board will initiate a search for Gasser’s successor. 

Gasser will remain affiliated with the Berkman Klein Center and will further foster transatlantic collaborations in the upcoming year and beyond.  

A few BKC staff reflect on Gasser’s tenure: 

“The amount of energy Urs has directed into the betterment of BKC has been inspiring. He worked tirelessly toward the goal of supporting BKC and the lives and research of its community. The building of the Network of Centers – just the amount of travel time is daunting – is an effort that evinces the community fabric he has brocaded during his tenure at BKC,” said Director of Technology Sebastian Diaz. 

“Urs has nurtured every step of my growth at BKC, and he’s likewise worked to uplift and create space for so many others who also wouldn’t have otherwise traditionally found themselves a home at an academic research center,” said Director of Community Rebecca Tabasky. “This extension of generosity to the teams he has helped build, not as a matter of course but out of a true desire to work toward multi-directional dialogue and understanding, was inexhaustible.”

Members of the Board reflect on Gasser’s tenure: 

Gasser has also played a leading role on the BKC Board of Directors, with whom he worked closely on key decisions and steered the direction of the Center.  

“Throughout his time at BKC, Urs has ensured that all involved in the Center’s research and programming recognize the international dimensions and global impacts of their work. He’s a consummate problem-solver, he’s empowered the Center’s staff and members of the broader community, and he’s been a thoughtful and creative collaborator, leader, colleague, and friend. I look forward to many more opportunities to work together in the future,” said Christopher Bavitz. 

“Urs has been a fantastic intellectual leader and scholar at BKC. His influential work on youth and digital media, as well as diverse other areas including interoperability and information quality, provided a model for blending rich social science and deep legal knowledge and insight, and no less so, a model for effective research team building. I am thrilled for him that he now has the opportunity to bring his considerable skills back to Europe, to work on a new canvas, and congratulate TUM on appointing a remarkable scholar and deeply decent and thoughtful human being,” said Yochai Benkler. 

“The remarkable combination of knowledge, wisdom, global vision, and understatement with which Urs had led the Berkman Klein Center for the past 12 years has enabled it to flourish in troubled times. I look forward to continued collaboration with him as he joins a similar initiative in Germany,” said Terry Fisher. 

“In my short time on the Board thus far, I have immensely enjoyed working with Urs. BKC was lucky to have his unique combination of strategic vision, research acumen, and kindness to others. I wish him the best,” said James Mickens. 

“Generating great ideas bridging theory and practice, implementing them, and illuminating what is emerging are particular talents of Urs Gasser – resulting in maps of potential forms of internet governance, the global network of internet research centers, and research on interoperability and on youth experiences on social media. Urs has shared enduring vision, problem-solving, collaborative spirit, modesty, and generosity to Harvard. As he starts a new exciting chapter, he will always be a vital contributor and friend,” said Martha Minow. 

“I have found Urs to be a steady presence, a gentle soul, a person who listens with empathy and reacts with care and kindness. His personal qualities will make him very hard to replace, and I for one will miss his presence very much,” said BKC Founder Charles Nesson.

“Urs’s leadership was distinguished by an indefatigable commitment to position the Center to promote the common good. Through his tireless efforts and insights, the Center’s influence extended well beyond the usual corridors of power. He meaningfully engaged spaces in which the promise and risks of digital technologies for development and human welfare in the Global South could be sustainably addressed. Under his leadership, the Center was active in promoting research and analyses of global challenges while also shepherding initiatives and programs attendant to the critical problems we face nationally. He leaves a legacy of perceptive and tireless pragmatism in moving forward laws and policies necessary to advance justice in the digital age – a legacy which the Center will carefully steward,” said Ruth Okediji.

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