While UC Berkeley’s new chancellor Nicholas Dirks has not had much time to publicly address all of the challenges facing the campus community, his emphasis on accessibility and seemingly genuine interest in student issues is a refreshing change of pace from the previous administration.
Chatting for about an hour with The Daily Californian’s Senior Editorial Board on Saturday, Dirks spoke frankly about a wide variety of topics, ranging from the campus’s policy toward student protests to the reasons behind firing former Cal football coach Jeff Tedford.
On the subject of the violent tactics used by UCPD to subdue peaceful protesters during fall 2011’s Occupy Cal demonstrations, Dirks expressed optimism about the campus’ response protocols made in early 2012. He also stressed that he recognizes that protests “come out of deep concerns students have.” Drawing on his experiences studying civil disobedience in colonial India, he went on to acknowledge that protesting students “are desirous of combating injustice where it exists and calling out hypocrisy.”
While recognizing the actions of nonviolent student protesters as legitimate marks a step forward from the previous chancellor’s unwarranted suspicions, the chancellor should act quickly to assure students that no violence will be used against nonviolent demonstrators in the event of another protest. Even with new policies in place, a more concrete strategy would go a long way to build the bridges with students that Dirks appears willing to construct.
When pressed on the firing of Tedford, the winningest coach in Cal history, Dirks said it was not only because of Tedford’s failures on the football field (the Golden Bears went 3-9 in Tedford’s last year), but also the low overall GPA of the football squad. In addressing this issue, Dirks said he seeks to recalibrate Cal football so that “the student-athlete experience (is) predicated on that the student comes first, and the athlete comes second.”
It is evident that Dirks is thinking big, and his promises to be more visible on campus and in student life are a marked shift from the previous administration’s distance from the student body. Still, because Dirks is barely two months into his term, we don’t have much of a record to grade him on thus far.
Additionally, with a state-of-the-art stadium that has yet to be paid for and no promise of an increase in public funds for the campus, the real tests for the new administration have yet to come. Dirks seems like he has what it takes to keep the campus afloat in a time of uncertainty, but for now we’ll just have to wait and see.