Newly selected UC Berkeley chancellor described as strong academic

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Nicholas Dirks, executive vice president and dean of faculty at Columbia University, has been selected to be UC Berkeley’s 10th chancellor, UC President Mark Yudof announced Thursday.

Dirks, who is expected to begin his term on campus June 1, 2013,  comes to UC Berkeley after leading a diversity initiative for Columbia Arts and Sciences, expanding programs in international, ethnic, African American and gender studies and helping rebuild multiple academic programs, according to campus press release announcing the appointment.

“Nicholas Dirks is a highly accomplished leader with the sensibilities and knowledge of a humanist, as well as extensive fundraising, academic and administrative expertise,” Yudof said in the statement. “His global perspective, leadership of diversity efforts at Columbia and experience with both public and private universities will serve him and the campus well.”

Dirks’ appointment awaits confirmation by the UC Board of Regents, which is scheduled to vote on the terms of his appointment at a special meeting Nov. 27.

His colleagues describe him as a likable person and dedicated academic.

“Nicholas Dirks is a wonderfully resourceful, wide-ranging scholar with broad experience in academic administration,” said David Hollinger, a campus professor of history who has known Dirks for nearly 30 years. “He is a good listener and is likely to be popular with faculty and students at Berkeley.”

After earning his bachelor’s degree in African and Asian studies at Wesleyan University and his doctorate in history from the University of Chicago, Dirks began his career at California Institute of Technology, where he taught Asian history for nine years until he took a position at the University of Michigan.

In 1997, Dirks became the chair of Columbia’s department of anthropology, where he researched British colonialism, the history of colonialism and cultural theory. Additionally, Dirks has authored three books on India, where he spent part of his childhood.

“It’s a positive sign that the university chose someone of a social science background,” said Terry Deacon, chair of UC Berkeley’s anthropology department. “The social sciences are becoming a more important part of the university.”

To accommodate Dirks’ moving timeline, outgoing UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau has agreed to continue serving until May 2013, even though he announced in March that he would step down at the end of December.

In April, Yudof appointed an advisory committee of UC Berkeley students, staff, alumni, foundation representatives, UC faculty and regents to recommend Birgeneau’s successor. After reviewing hundreds of nominations, the committee submitted final recommendations in early October.

“We looked for not only academic qualities but also commitment to diversity and appreciation for the importance of maintaining Berkeley’s accessibility,” said Bahar Navab, Graduate Assembly president and the graduate student representative on the selection committee.

Contact Dan Kwak at [email protected].

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  • RO

    With all things said and done , can’t Nicholas shave the middle of his eyebrows and look just a little bit more normal. Just wondering.

  • ArwenUndomniel

    The description of Dirks as a “humanist” is music to the ears of Cal students and faculty given the tenure of former chancellor Birgeneau. Bigenau’s term as chancellor brought police brutality, the violation of First Amendment rights and suppression of dissent back to campus that harkened back to the days of Mario Savio and the struggles of the Free Speech Movement.
    There is an undeniable legacy of academic and political freedom at Cal no man or woman can put asunder. Here’s hoping Nicholas Dirks is a breath of fresh air and liberty sorely needed on an an internationally recognized student body and university that has been hurting from the violent physical and spiritual attacks of the prior administration.

  • Red_Geologist

    Sit the new chancellor down and pepper spray Nicolas in the face before you describe him as “Strong”!

  • bp

    watch his impressive lecture “Scholars and Spies,” examining liberal arts education and the us approach to the indian independence movement

  • Dan Spitzer

    No wonder Bahar Navab, the Iranian woman who is president of the Graduate Assembly, likes the new choice for UC president. Dirks’ wife, an Indian Muslim, is a strident critic of Israel, a friend of Palestinian Professor Rashid Khalidi, and an unmitigated loony member of the left.

    Here’s what some Columbia students have to say about her:
    It is disturbing that Janaki Bakhle, the wife of a Columbia administrator, was part of the Committee chosen to investigate charges of intimidation and indoctrination at MEALAC. She had signed an anti-Israel petition; she is a close colleague of Massad, one of those under investigation, and her future at Columbia depends, in large part, on the goodwill of three senior professors – Khalidi, Saliba, and Dabashi, two of whom have been charged with violating standards of conduct. To make matters worse, Khalidi is a friend, colleague, and long-time supporter of Massad’s.