Nicholas Dirks inaugurated as UC Berkeley’s 10th chancellor

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Kore Chan/Senior Staff

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Editor’s note: This is part of our wider coverage of the inauguration of Nicholas Dirks as UC Berkeley’s 10th chancellor on Nov. 8, 2013. Click here to see our page documenting the day.

Nicholas Dirks was inaugurated as UC Berkeley’s 10th chancellor Friday in a ceremony that focused on his plans to reinvigorate the campus’s pursuit of its public mission.

Invoking a “utopian” vision of the campus, Dirks, who took office as chancellor in June, addressed a full auditorium at Zellerbach Hall about his goals for UC Berkeley. In his inaugural address, he announced plans to bolster support for undergraduate academic services, enhance the campus’s global connections and expand research opportunities for students across disciplines. He promised to seek greater support for these endeavors and others despite limited state funding.

“Berkeley is positioned not just to counter skepticism but to rebuild public faith in the value of education,” Dirks said. “As we confront the most complex and daunting global challenges, we have the opportunity to re-envision the American research university as a public enterprise. It is imperative that we marshal all of our resources and address all of our constituencies, in government and outside, to reinvigorate the ties that bind us to the public we serve.”

The new chancellor specifically emphasized the importance of freshman and sophomore seminars, independent research opportunities and mentorships for undergraduates, and he said he will focus on expanding these programs during his tenure.

But he said many of these issues are dependent on greater financial aid and individual support for students.

“We should not tire of celebrating the fact that we educate as many Pell Grant recipients as the entire Ivy League combined,” he said. “And yet we must support and expand this diversity through more financial aid, better advising and more capacious student services.”

Among these student services, he noted a renewed dedication to the liberal arts for undergraduates, calling a focus on literature and arts “more important than ever” in an academic world increasingly focused on science and technology. For these reasons, he announced the creation of a campuswide committee focused on the arts at Berkeley. He also said he will be chairing a new task force focused on the undergraduate curriculum, campus diversity and student life.

Watch highlights of the inauguration ceremony here. 

Dirks’ speech came after an elaborate ceremony featuring a lengthy procession of UC Berkeley faculty, alumni, staff and visiting scholars, as well as a series of speeches.

But to the average Sproul Plaza passer-by Friday afternoon, UC President Janet Napolitano was the star of Dirks’ inauguration — although she upstaged him by no design of her own.

About 130 students and activists gathered outside the inauguration to oppose Napolitano’s appointment as president, demanding in an open letter that Dirks dissociate himself from Napolitano and other UC leadership. Protesters claimed Napolitano is unfit to lead the university due to her involvement in the deportation of undocumented immigrants during her tenure as U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security.

“Napolitano is the wrong choice to be the University of California president,” said Ronald Cruz, an organizer and attorney with BAMN, an affirmative action and immigrants’ rights advocacy group. “Her main qualification is being the nation’s No. 1 immigration cop.”

Watch protesters on UC Berkeley’s Sproul Plaza protest the leadership of newly instated U.C. President Janet Napolitano on the day of Chancellor Nicholas Dirks’ inauguration.

Protesters also briefly interrupted the ceremony when Napolitano first took the stage. She silently waited at the podium until the group of shouting protesters left the auditorium before proceeding with her planned speech. She later awarded Dirks the Chancellor’s Medal.

UC Board of Regents chair Bruce Varner, who helped select Dirks, also gave his remarks.

“I am confident we found the perfect match,” Varner said. “He understands the importance of preserving the public nature of this university.”

Dirks’ speech focused on this public mission. He championed UC Berkeley’s global influence and research capabilities in his address, pledging to find new forms of support to continue innovative research despite budget cuts and a lack of state funding.

“The current funding environment may ironically deter the very innovation, risk-taking and collaboration that have been so much a feature of this institution,” Dirks said.

Lee Bollinger, the president of Columbia University, praised Dirks, who was a member of the Columbia faculty before taking the role of UC Berkeley chancellor in June.

“We are in an era when the greatest challenge we have is to figure out what knowledge we should be seeking,” Bollinger said. “This is not a time for maintenance and general upkeep — it is a time for focusing on academic work.”

Dirks concluded his speech by pledging his dedication to expanding campus access and excellence.

“To preserve democracy, to maintain the ideal of the public good, to elevate and sustain the intellectual and moral compass that must guide our future — these are our utopian goals,” Dirks said. “Together, here, now, we are all utopians.”

Staff writer Jeff Landa contributed to this report.

Libby Rainey is the lead higher education reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @rainey_l.