Deborah Goldberg

Deborah E. Goldberg has been named the Margaret B. Davis Distinguished University Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. She was one of five faculty members to receive a 2018 Distinguished University Professorship, the most prestigious such award given by the University of Michigan, established in 1947. It recognizes senior faculty with exceptional scholarly or creative achievements, national and international reputations for academic excellence and superior records of teaching, mentoring and service.

Each professorship bears a name determined by the honoree in consultation with their dean. The professorships are typically named after a U-M scholar of distinction in the awardee's general research area.

“Margaret Davis is an amazing scientist-responsible for bringing rigorous methods into paleoecology,” said Goldberg. “She is also a personal hero of mine because of her refusal to tolerate unfairness. She won a sex discrimination lawsuit against UM in 1973 over salary disparities.”  Davis worked at the U-M from 1961 to 1973.

Goldberg's award increases EEB’s DUP count to three, including Mark Hunter (2017) and John Vandermeer (2009). She is also an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and professor of ecology and evolutionary biology.

“Professor Goldberg has contributed magnificently to our university over the past 35 years as a world-class, award-winning ecologist, as a visionary educator, and as the trail-blazing founding chair of our department,” wrote Diarmaid Ó Foighil in his letter of nomination. 

Ecology is the study of biological variation in time and space and Goldberg is an internationally recognized leader in plant ecology. According to U-M EEB Professor Emeritus Earl Werner, “Deborah is an absolutely first rate and highly respected scientist. Any discussion of prominent plant ecologists internationally would not pass without mention of Deborah. Her research explores the processes that control the structure and function of ecological communities over a variety of spatial and temporal scales and how these processes are affected by environmental change. She is especially recognized for her work on separating the components of competition and thereby resolving a long-standing controversy in the plant ecology literature. Her work on the community wide consequences of competition, and her proposal of experimental methods to address these issues, is equally influential.”

Deborah is out standing in the field.

Due to her outstanding scholarship in plant ecology, Goldberg has been the recipient of multiple awards, including a 2007 Collegiate Professorship from the U-M (she was the Elzada U. Clover Collegiate Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology prior to the DUP, which supersedes these awards). In 2014, she was elected a lifetime Fellow of the Ecological Society of America (ESA), for "contributions to research, education and/or outreach in the ecological sciences." ESA is the nation’s primary organization of professional ecologists, representing  more than 10,000 scientists in the U.S. and around the world. That same year, Goldberg was elected as a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. This is the world's largest multidisciplinary scientific society and AAAS Fellows are members "whose efforts on behalf of the advancement of science or its applications are scientifically or socially distinguished."  In 2015, Goldberg was the subject of a Journal of Ecology Eminent Ecologist Virtual Issue - "In Honour of Deborah Goldberg." This is a premier international journal of ecology and the issue contained 10 of her publications as well as a summary blog post written by her and a podcast of her interview with the editor. All of these honors speak to Goldberg’s major international standing in her discipline.

Deborah Goldberg immersed in field work.

Goldberg has had a long and distinguished teaching career at the U-M and her contributions were formally recognized last year when she was awarded a prestigious Arthur F. Thurnau Professorship. She has taught many undergraduate and graduate courses at the U-M.

Goldberg excels in many other facets of teaching, including her supervision of graduate students, many of whom are now successful academics. Emily Farrer, a former graduate student who Goldberg mentored, currently an assistant professor at Tulane University, recently wrote, “Deborah is an exceptional teacher and mentor. Her research has far-ranging applicability and scope and thus attracts a diversity of graduate students who have worked in systems from tropical rainforests to deserts. She has mentored over 30 graduate students, postdocs and visiting scholars. She strikes a perfect balance between fostering independence in her students and giving them the guidance they need, which makes her truly one of the best graduate advisors. Making time for her students is a top priority, a Herculean feat considering her administrative responsibilities like being department chair for over 10 years. She is a quick and critical thinker and can immediately put her finger on any flaws in a student’s experimental design or put their ideas into a larger, more general ecological framework. For these reasons she is a much sought-after member of dissertation committees.”

Arguably, Goldberg’s most important contributions to teaching at the U-M have been strategic and programmatic. Over the past seven years, her visionary leadership led to the establishment of two prescient, transformative programs that have had outsized and growing impacts on undergraduate STEM education: M-Sci (formerly M-Bio) and Authentic Research Connection.  Read more about these efforts in the article about her Thurnau award, linked below.

Deborah Goldberg being honored with her Arthur F. Thurnau Professorship in 2017.

Goldberg is legendary for her effectiveness and diligence in performing myriad departmental, college, university and professional service functions at the highest levels of performance. She received multiple U-M service awards, including the Distinguished Diversity Leaders Team Award (2009), the Sarah Goddard Power Award (2012) and the Harold R. Johnson Diversity Service Award (2012).

“In my opinion, Professor Goldberg’s most impressive service component has been her critical leadership role in the establishment and development of the Department of Ecology and

Evolutionary Biology,” wrote Ó Foighil. “Goldberg has guided and shaped the department since its very beginning.” She stepped forward as the initial interim chair when the department was founded in 2001-2002, then stepped up when needed in 2003, serving with distinction as chair from 2003-2013. “I simply cannot imagine the EEB Department without her input and she deserves enormous credit for the vibrant and inclusive academic community it has become.” Up until recently, she continued to play a vital role as our first-ever associate chair for space and facilities. Her primary task was a once-in-a-century challenge: planning the move of our entire program from its long-term homes in the Kraus and Ruthven Buildings to the new Biological Sciences Building in six months’ time.

Ó Foighil writes that Goldberg epitomizes the collective attributes that DUPs recognize more than any other faculty colleague he knows of.  “Throughout her long, exemplary career at the U-M, she has consistently made an impact and left a lasting legacy.” The DUP Award recognizes Goldberg’s sustained brilliance and dedication as the consummate U-M Professor.

The Board of Regents approved the appointments on June 21, 2018 and they became effective Sept. 1, 2018. Recently appointed DUPs are invited to give an inaugural lecture that highlights their work at the university.

Read more in previous EEB web news: Goldberg awarded prestigious Thurnau Professorship

DUP news from the University Record

Compiled by Gail Kuhnlein