$20.5 million in gifts support expansion of initiatives in computer science

Neubauer and Liew families enhance UChicago’s ambitious approach to data-driven discovery

Steve Koppes
Associate News DirectorUniversity Communications

Two gifts totaling $20.5 million will help initiate an ambitious effort to expand research and education in UChicago’s Department of Computer Science and its connections to other areas of the University’s work, with support for faculty, graduate students and undergraduates.

Joseph Neubauer, MBA’65, chairman of the University’s Board of Trustees, and his wife, Jeanette Lerman-Neubauer have made a $10.5 million commitment. John Liew, AB’89, MBA’94, PhD’95, and a member of the Board of Trustees, and his wife Serena Liew, Lab’85, AB’89, are donating $10 million toward the initiative.

The gifts will expand resources for faculty and students in the Department of Computer Science, and will aid the development of major initiatives in data science that will connect to disciplines across the University. As part of this initiative, earlier this year the University announced the appointment of prominent data science scholar Michael Franklin as chair of computer science and senior adviser to the provost on computation and data science. Franklin will lead efforts to expand the activities and scope of the department and to catalyze data-intensive research and education in numerous fields.

“The University is committed to creating opportunities for our faculty and students to provide leadership in computer science and in the emerging discipline of data science, which are of fundamental importance for approaching a growing number of problems relevant to disciplines across the University,” said President Robert J. Zimmer. “We are grateful to the Neubauer and Liew families for their longstanding and staunch support of the University, and for providing resources to enable work in data and computer science with the greatest possible reach and impact.”

The Neubauer gift will establish three Neubauer Professorships in Computer Science. The professorships will go to senior scholars who have attained distinction in computer science.

“The University of Chicago, long known for its analytical, fact-based approach, must have outstanding leadership in computation and data sciences,” said Joseph Neubauer. “Jeanette and I are pleased to enable the University to recruit additional world-class senior faculty members to join the Department of Computer Science.” 

Half of the Liews’ $10 million gift will endow the Liew Family Chair of Computer Science, and provide the chair with a fund for faculty recruitment and retention, faculty research, student fellowships, instructorships, as well as program and curriculum development.

Another $3 million of the Liews’ gift will support graduate students in computer science, who will be known as Liew Family Graduate Fellows. The remaining $2 million will provide support for 25 to 30 annual research opportunities for undergraduates in the College to work with University faculty members as Liew Family College Research Fellows.

“Serena and I are delighted to have a data scientist of Michael Franklin’s caliber become the first scholar to hold the Liew Family Chair of Computer Science,” said John Liew. “As alumni of the College, it gives us great satisfaction to enable undergraduates to conduct research with members of the University’s outstanding faculty.”

Franklin said the expansion of computer science resources will tap into the momentum he sees on campus for more avenues to pursue computation-oriented work.

“The University of Chicago is known for its tradition of rigorous inquiry and its focus on evidence-based conclusions. In our increasingly online and connected world, this translates into an imperative for data-driven discovery and science, and the need to more deeply integrate analytics and computation in our inquiry and scholarship,” Franklin said. “The demand and enthusiasm for data science is spread across the entire campus. These gifts provide a powerful catalyst for our plans.”

The opportunity to pursue cutting-edge research under faculty mentorship is a crucial component of undergraduate education, said John W. Boyer, dean of the College and the Martin A. Ryerson Distinguished Service Professor in History and the College.

“An increasingly important part of the undergraduate experience is to gain expertise in computation and working with data and analytics, which can serve our students well in many pursuits after graduation,” Boyer said. “We thank the Liews for supporting our students in this fashion.”

The University is committed to developing one of the nation’s foremost comprehensive computer science programs, said Edward “Rocky” Kolb, dean of the Physical Sciences Division.

“To do that we’ll need to expand the size of our computer science faculty and add to the breadth of its expertise—an effort that is already in progress,” Kolb said. “These gifts will help ensure that we can attract and reward the world’s best scholars, sustain a computational culture across the University and carry out the challenging projects we’ve placed on our agenda.”

The gifts from the Neubauers and Liews are part of the University of Chicago Campaign: Inquiry and Impact, the most ambitious fundraising campaign in University history, which will raise $4.5 billion and engage 125,000 alumni by 2019.