Dr. Branislav Vidakovic, professor and head of the Department of Statistics at Texas A&M University, has been appointed as the inaugural holder of the H.O. Hartley Chair in Statistics, effective August 15, 2020.
The $1 million chair was established in July 2019 through the Texas A&M Foundation by Texas A&M statistics graduates Dr. Ersen Arseven ’74 and Dr. William B. Smith ’60 with matching funds from the Thomas W. Powell ’62 Endowed Graduate Fellowship Fund to honor Hartley, a Texas A&M distinguished professor who served as the first director of the university’s then-newly formed Institute of Statistics from 1963 to 1977 as well as an elected fellow (1953) and former president of the American Statistical Association (1979-1980).
Vidakovic, a longtime professor at Georgia Institute of Technology, joined Texas A&M Statistics earlier this fall after completing a two-year sabbatical appointment as program director for statistics in the National Science Foundation’s Division of Mathematical and Physical Sciences. A 20-year faculty member at Georgia Tech, he was a professor in the H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering and the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering as well as a courtesy professor in the School of Biology. He also held an adjunct professor appointment in the Department of Biostatistics and Bioinformatics within the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University.
Hartley is recognized as one of the most prominent and influential statisticians of the 20th century best known for his work concerning classical and numerical analysis, statistical computing, survey sampling, estimation with incomplete data and many other areas of statistics. Through his passion for mathematics, amiable demeanor and lively energy, Hartley won the hearts of his colleagues and students, who affectionately referred to him as HOH. Widely regarded as not only a brilliant academician, but also a warm and caring human being, Hartley was deeply committed to all phases of his profession, including education, research, and delivery of knowledge and advice to users of statistics.
“The H.O. Hartley Chair in Statistics is a major step toward raising the profile of Dr. Hartley’s memory and honoring his many invaluable contributions to the fields of mathematics and statistics and to Texas A&M,” said Dr. Valen E. Johnson, dean of the Texas A&M College of Science and holder of the Richard H. Harrison III/External Advisory and Development Council Endowed Dean’s Chair in Science. “I am thrilled that we were able to recruit someone of Dr. Vidakovic’s caliber as an educator, researcher and visionary to carry on what Dr. Hartley started here nearly 60 years ago.”
Like Hartley, Vidakovic is an ASA fellow as well as an elected member of the International Statistical Institute and a member of the Institute of Mathematical Statistics, International Society for Bayesian Analysis and Institute of Industrial and System Engineers. His research interests include Bayesian statistics, statistical modeling in wavelet domains and statistical analysis of signals and image processing, along with geoscientific and biomedical statistical applications. In addition to more than 100 peer-reviewed articles in statistics and applied mathematics publications, Vidakovic has written 10 books. Equally accomplished in the classroom, he has taught more than 40 different undergraduate and graduate statistics courses while advising nearly two dozen doctoral and master’s students.
Vidakovic earned his Ph.D. in statistics from Purdue University in 1992 after receiving both bachelor’s and master’s of science degrees in mathematics from Belgrade University in Serbia. He was an assistant and associate professor of statistics at Duke University for eight years prior to joining the Georgia Tech faculty in 2000 and also held previous visiting positions at the University of North Carolina and Universidad Politecnica de Madrid.
“I am honored and humbled to be the inaugural holder of the H.O. Hartley Chair in Statistics,” Vidakovic said. “This chair is very special, because it represents a living memorial to the founder of statistics at Texas A&M — a brilliant and prolific statistician, a superb administrator and leader, and a noble human being. I am thankful to the College of Science and Texas A&M University for entrusting this chair to me and also to Drs. Ersen Arseven and William B. Smith for establishing this endowment in honor of their ‘academic father’ and his rich legacy that continues to have a profound influence on Texas A&M students and the larger statistical community.”
Hartley earned a Ph.D. in mathematics from Berlin University in 1934, a Ph.D. in mathematical statistics from the University of Cambridge in 1940 and a Doctorate of Science in mathematical statistics from University College London in 1954. He taught at both UCL and Iowa State College before coming to Texas A&M. While at University College, he met Egon Pearson, with whom he collaborated to produce the classic two-volume Biometrika Tables for Statisticians, and also developed Hartley’s F-max test used to test equality of variances. Later at Iowa State, Hartley invented the EM algorithm, which is one of today’s most widely used estimation methods.
Hartley arrived in College Station in July 1963, tasked with leading what was then known as the Graduate Institute of Statistics, which had been formed a year earlier with only a handful of faculty, two graduate students and the lofty mandate of providing statistical research, consulting and instruction for all of Texas A&M University. In the ensuing decade and a half, he built his initial faculty of four into a group of 16, directed more than 30 doctoral students and attracted significant research funding. A prolific author, Hartley published in excess of 75 papers in top-tiered journals from 1963 until his mandatory retirement in 1977. His research spanned a variety of pioneering topics, including sample survey estimation and design — for which he was famous — mathematical optimization, estimation with incomplete data, variance component estimation and the development of designed experiments to estimate safe doses of carcinogenic agents.
Hartley remained active at Texas A&M until 1979, when he accepted a full-time visiting professor position at Duke University while also serving as statistician with the National Testing Service in Durham, N.C., until his death on December 30, 1980, from complications following heart surgery.
In addition to the ASA, Hartley was an elected fellow of the Institute of Mathematical Statistics (1949) as well as an elected member of the International Statistical Institute (1954). He also served as president of the Eastern North American Region of the Biometric Society (1959), which was the first region formed in the present-day International Biometric Society. During his lifetime, Hartley earned many accolades for his contributions to mathematics and statistics, including the ASA’s 1973 Samuel S. Wilks Medal recognizing his national and international efforts in the field of statistics. His legacy at Texas A&M continues to unfold via the H.O. Hartley Award presented annually for the past 40 years to a statistics former student who best reflects Hartley’s tradition of distinguished service to the discipline and the biannual Hartley Memorial Lecture Series also named in his honor.
“We are proud that HOH came our way — or more accurately, we came his way, for it was he who attracted us,” said Smith, professor emeritus of statistics who earned both his master’s in mathematics (1960) and doctorate in statistics (1966) from Texas A&M and later succeeded Hartley as head of Texas A&M Statistics in 1977. “Hartley was an inquisitive and warm human being — witty, perceptive and thoughtful. He was a great mentor, not only to his students, but also to his colleagues. The institutions he touched are thriving, the statistical methods are ever expanding, and conferences and celebrations are still being held in his honor. Hartley is an example of how discipline, hard work and both a bit of genius and risk-taking can lead to a life that is admired and envied. He was a pleasure to know and a real challenge to keep up with.”
Next month, Vidakovic will headline a Friday, October 23 virtual event to celebrate the Hartley Chair and its namesake’s nearly 60-year legacy at Texas A&M and across disciplines. The event will be hosted by Texas A&M Statistics via Zoom and is set to feature a presentation by Vidakovic in addition to brief remarks from some of Hartley’s former students as well as past recipients of the Hartley Award.
To learn more about the event or the Texas A&M Department of Statistics, visit https://www.stat.tamu.edu/.