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Barbara Liskov named Institute Professor


Barbara H. Liskov, the Associate Provost for Faculty Equity and Ford Professor of Engineering, was today named an Institute Professor, the highest honor awarded by MIT’s faculty and administration.

Liskov, who also heads the Programming Methodology Group in the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, has been an MIT faculty member since 1972.

“Barbara is revered in the MIT community for her role as scholar, mentor and leader,” said President Susan Hockfield. “Her pioneering research has made her one of the world’s leading authorities on computer language and system design. In addition to her seminal scholarly contributions, Barbara has served MIT with great wisdom and judgment in several administrative roles, most recently as Associate Provost for Faculty Equity.”

Institute Professorships are reserved for those few individuals who have “demonstrated exceptional distinction by a combination of leadership, accomplishment and service in the scholarly, educational and general intellectual life of the Institute or wider academic community,” according to MIT’s Policies and Procedures manual. With Liskov’s appointment, there are now 13 current Institute Professors. Including Institute Professors Emeriti, there are 23 faculty members holding this distinction.

“Barbara’s appointment as Institute Professor recognizes her central role as both an esteemed researcher and a leading citizen in the MIT community,” said Provost L. Rafael Reif. “We all respect her ability to find elegant solutions to the most complex problems, whether in the classroom, in the lab or in her committee work. Her quick mind and penetrating questions always point the discussion in the right direction.”

Reif also described Liskov’s legacy in educating and inspiring students: “Barbara has taught countless undergraduates and graduate students who have gone on to help lead top universities, research labs and IT companies. As a computer scientist, she has made a tremendous impact not only through her groundbreaking research, but through the legions of those she has taught along the way.”

Liskov’s research interests lie in programming methodology, programming languages and systems and distributed computing. Her current research focuses on Byzantine-fault-tolerant storage systems, peer-to-peer computing and support for automatic deployment of software upgrades in large-scale distributed systems.

As Associate Provost for Faculty Equity, Liskov has focused on faculty diversity and gender issues across the Institute, including the recruitment, retention, promotion and career development of minority and women faculty.

“Barbara is a role model for younger faculty members in the way she is able to do outstanding research, teach very important courses, and still serve the Institute through her participation in various important committees,” said Bishwapriya Sanyal, the Chair of the Faculty. “I was very impressed with the letters of support for her from across the Institute, including from all five schools. People who nominated her included faculty from all levels, deans, past presidents, department heads and lab directors just to name a few.”

Liskov is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Association for Computer Machinery (ACM). She received the Society of Women Engineers’ Achievement Award in 1996 and the IEEE John von Neumann medal in 2004. She received the ACM SIGPLAN Programming Languages Achievement Award in 2008, where she was cited for having “changed the way that a generation of engineers thought about and constructed large software systems.”

In 2002, Liskov was named by Discover magazine as one of the 50 most important women in science.

“Liskov’s work in data abstraction in the 1970s paved the way for writing far more complex and subtle computer programs,” Discover said. “She was also a key figure in the development of applications that run on distributed collections of computers connected by a network. Now she concentrates on Byzantine fault-recovery programs, which protect sensitive data from malfunction and malicious attacks.”

Liskov said at the time that, “I think a great deal of the credit for what I’ve accomplished must go to MIT because of the wonderful students and colleagues and encouragement I’ve found here.”

Liskov received her BA in mathematics at the University of California-Berkeley in 1961, and was the first American female awarded a PhD from a computer science department--which she earned in 1968 at Stanford University.

Institute Professorships
The process for selecting Institute Professors involves an ad hoc faculty committee convened by the chair of the faculty and the president. That committee evaluates each nominee, in part by soliciting opinions from professionals in the nominee’s field. The committee’s recommendations are reviewed by the Academic Council and approved by the Executive Committee of the Corporation.

In addition to the prestige associated with the title, an Institute Professor has a distinct measure of freedom to define the scope and nature of his or her responsibilities. Reporting directly to the provost, an Institute Professor does not have regular departmental or school responsibilities. As a result, the appointment provides a special opportunity to work across departmental boundaries.

The 12 other current Institute Professors are Emilio Bizzi, brain and cognitive sciences; John M. Deutch, chemistry; Peter A. Diamond, economics; John H. Harbison, music and theater arts; Robert S. Langer, chemical engineering, biological engineering, mechanical engineering; John D.C. Little, management; Thomas Magnanti, management and electrical engineering and computer science (EECS); Joel Moses, EECS and the Engineering Systems Division (ESD); Phillip A. Sharp, biology; Isadore M. Singer, mathematics; Daniel I.C. Wang,chemical engineering; and Sheila E. Widnall, aeronautics and astronautics and ESD.

The 10 Institute Professors Emeriti are Noam Chomsky, Mildred S. Dresselhaus, Jerome I. Friedman, Morris Halle, Chia-Chiao Lin, Mario Molina, Paul A. Samuelson, Nevin S. Scrimshaw, Robert M. Solow and John S. Waugh.


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