Berkovitz, Gao, McCallum Appointed Distinguished Professors

Jay Berkovitz
Jay Berkovitz
Lixin Gao
Lixin Gao
Andrew McCallum
Andrew McCallum

Jay Berkovitz, professor and chair of Judaic and Near Eastern studies; Lixin Gao, electrical and computer engineering; and Andrew McCallum, computer science, were appointed Distinguished Professors following approval by the Board of Trustees at its June 20 meeting.

The title Distinguished Professor is conferred on select, highly accomplished faculty who have already achieved the rank of professor and who meet a demanding set of qualifications.

Jay Berkovitz

In their letter of nomination, Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy and Provost John McCarthy

wrote, “Professor Berkovitz is a scholar of Jewish history, with a particular focus on 18th and 19th century France. External reviewers describe him as ‘a world class scholar’ and ‘a scholar of quality and genuine stature,’ who enjoys ‘pre-eminence in his field of study’ and whose work is ‘profoundly interesting and of the highest scholarly quality.’

“Highly prolific, he has six monographs published or forthcoming, including the magisterial two-volume work ‘Protocols of Justice: The Pinkas of the Metz Rabbinic Court, 1771-1789.’ This study, which won the coveted Jordan Schnitzer Book Award in Modern Jewish History from the Association for Jewish Studies, is described by external reviewers as ‘extraordinary,’ ‘a monumental publication,’ ‘remarkable,’ and creating ‘an entirely new field of inquiry.’” 

Berkovitz joined UMass Amherst in 1982 and has spent his entire academic career here. He received his bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate in Near Eastern and Judaic studies from Brandeis University.  

Berkovitz has three books in press: “Courting Change: Jewish Law, Authority, and Community in Early Modern Metz”; Jewish Law in Early Modern Europe: Community, Religion, and the Dynamics of Social Change”; and the French translation of “Protocols of Justice.” Moreover, he is working on another monograph, a biography of Salomon Ulmann, who was elected chief rabbi of France in 1853. 

“As for his teaching, Professor Berkovitz embodies the values of a public, land grant research university: as a scholar-teacher, he brings to UMass Amherst undergraduates his vast learning and his compassionate pedagogy,” Subbaswamy and McCarthy wrote.

Although Judaic and Near Eastern studies does not have a graduate program, he contributes to graduate education and advising in other departments, and “he is particularly notable for his mentoring of junior scholars in his field as a whole,” they wrote.

“He has been active in recruiting students from Jewish high schools, he interacts successfully with major donors, and he participates in Jewish adult education programs in greater Boston, where he makes his home. Particularly notable is his work as editor-in-chief of Jewish History since 2012.”

Lixin Gao

Subbaswamy and McCarthy wrote, “Professor Gao’s accolades for her research contributions are extensive. Most notably, she has been elected fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and fellow of the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM), both highly selective achievements that are reserved for a small number of the most outstanding researchers.

“Her publications have received several best paper awards and, more impressively, a test-of-time award that highlights the lasting impact of her work.”

 She has published more than 180 journal and conference publications, which have been cited in total more than 14,000 times, giving her an h-index of 50. (An h-index of 50 means that she has published 50 articles that have each been cited at least 50 times.) Her research has been supported through numerous external research grants from the National Science Foundation and industry. She has received the National Science Foundation CAREER award and an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation award. 

Gao earned her Ph.D. in computer science at UMass Amherst and joined the faculty in 2000 as associate professor after four years as assistant professor at Smith College. She was promoted to professor in 2007. Her research focuses on data communication networks, multimedia computing and data-intensive computing. 

External reviewers cite her extraordinary contributions to and impact on networking. One reviewer states, “A distinguishing characteristic of her work is that it is very much grounded in the problems of real network systems and so her work has had impact on both the research community and the networking industry at large.”

Her preeminence as a scholar in the research community was noted by all external reviewers, one of whom stated, “Professor Gao has made seminal contributions in the fields of Internet routing and video‐on-demand. She is considered to be a leading researcher in the field of computer networks.”

Subbaswamy and McCarthy wrote, “Professor Gao has taught extensively at the undergraduate and graduate level. The goals of her instruction are to engage students and bring examples from her research experience into the classroom. She has implemented peer-learning opportunities for her students in her sophomore data structures course. She has also been a mentor to numerous doctoral and master’s students who have launched successful careers after graduating.”

“Especially worth noting is Professor Gao’s extensive professional service on conference and review committees. She has served on the editorial board of several prestigious journals and as chair of one of the main networking conferences. She has also served on the technical program committees of numerous major ACM and IEEE conferences. She has also provided valuable service to the university,” they wrote.

Andrew McCallum

Subbaswamy and McCarthy wrote, “Professor McCallum is a world-renowned data scientist, specializing in machine learning, natural language processing, information extraction, and knowledge-base construction. His work in developing algorithms that allow computers to ‘read’ and categorize text using ‘Conditional Random Fields’ (CRF) has had a foundational impact on these areas. His fundamental 2001 paper on CRF won the ICML Test of Time award in 2011 for the most significant paper published in the ten preceding years; it has been cited more than 11,000 times. Professor McCallum’s profile on Google Scholar shows a total of more than 57,000 citations including almost 25,000 in the past five years. His h-index of 90 is another measure of his importance in the field: 90 of his publications have been cited 90 or more times, placing him among the leading scholars in his field worldwide.

“Since joining UMass Amherst, he has attracted an impressive $60M in funding from government, industry, and philanthropy.”

McCallum is a fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery, a fellow of the American Association for Artificial Intelligence, and a Kavli Fellow of the National Academy of Sciences. He has received an Outstanding Paper Award from the premier conference in computational linguistics, a Yahoo Big Thinkers Award, and multiple IBM Faculty Partnership Awards.

At UMass Amherst, he has garnered a Conti Fellowship, the Chancellor’s Award for Outstanding Accomplishments in Research and Creative Activity, the UMass President’s Science and Technology Award, the College of Natural Science and Mathematics Distinguished Research Award, and a Lilly Teaching Fellowship. His software has taken first place in two major competitions: the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s international competition in author disambiguation, and the Stanford Knowledge Base Population leaderboard. 

He received his Ph.D. from the University of Rochester in 1995. Following a postdoctoral position at Carnegie Mellon, he served as vice president of research and development at WhizBang Labs in Pittsburgh. He joined UMass Amherst in 2002 as a research associate professor as he transitioned from industry to academia, then quickly became a tenured associate professor. He was promoted to professor in 2009.

External reviewers cite his extraordinary contributions to and impact on data science, describing him as “one of the world’s most important and influential researchers in artificial intelligence,” “a real academic superstar and “a world-leading scientist and pre-eminent scholar who has made pioneering contributions and is held in the highest regard in the computer science community.” 

Subbaswamy and McCarthy wrote, “Professor McCallum is a talented and engaging teacher who exemplifies the role of professor as a facilitator for connecting students with cutting-edge techniques and developments in the field.”

He is currently advising 12 Ph.D. students, five master’s students, two postdocs and several undergraduates. He has previously graduated 15 Ph.D. students, many of whom are now prominent researchers themselves in academia or industry.

Letter writers highlight McCallum’s impressive service contributions to the machine learning community, including his work as president of the International Machine Learning Society and a leader of the Northeast Big Data Innovation Hub. One describes him as “the leading thinker and doer regarding new models of journal reviewing and publication.”

At the campus level, he was the founding director of the Computational Social Science Initiative (now Institute), which has been highly successful at building cross-campus ties, and he conceived of and is founding director for the Center for Data Science, for which he has raised more than $25 million since 2015. 

Qualifications for the title of Distinguished Professor include outstanding research, teaching and/or public service contributions that are widely recognized; an extraordinary level of productivity and impact in his/her field of study; a level of productivity and impact that has been demonstrated for an extended time; pre-eminence in his/her field; recognition by professional organizations for outstanding contributions; being a person who would be a major loss to the university if he/she were to leave; and being a role model for faculty and students.