Dirks to resign after tumultuous tenure as chancellor

Dirks arrived on campus in 2013 and has since faced several high-profile controversies

Derek Remsburg/File

Related Posts

UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks will resign once his successor is selected, he announced in a campuswide email Tuesday.

Dirks began his tenure in 2013 and has since faced several high-profile controversies, including reactions to his handling of recent campus sexual misconduct cases and the campus’s cost-cutting efforts in light of its persistent budget deficit. He currently is under investigation by the University of California for alleged misuse of funds and athletic services.

“Over the summer I have come to the personal decision that the time is right for me to step aside and allow someone else to take up the financial and institutional challenges ahead of us,” Dirks said in the email.

UC President Janet Napolitano accepted Dirks’ resignation Tuesday, saying in a press release that she did so “with deep appreciation for Chancellor Dirks’s efforts on behalf of this great institution.” She also announced the forthcoming development of a committee to conduct a global search for his successor.

“We seek nothing less than an individual of the highest caliber to lead Berkeley,” Napolitano said in the press release.

Dirks, calling his time as chancellor “the opportunity of a lifetime,” said in his email that he intends to remain at UC Berkeley as a full-time faculty member. He also intends to work on a task force ensuring a positive financial future for Cal Athletics in light of budget concerns, the email said.

The resignation, first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, is not the first high-profile departure of a UC Berkeley official. Former executive vice chancellor and provost Claude Steele stepped down in April after he was lambasted for his punishment of then-dean of the UC Berkeley School of Law Sujit Choudhry after a campus investigation found Choudhry violated UC sexual harassment policy.

Additionally, amid the campus’s approximately $150 million annual structural deficit, former vice provost of strategic academic and facilities planning Andrew Szeri stepped down in June, and former vice chancellor for administration and finance John Wilton stepped down in February.

“Our most critical task now is to ensure a sustainable financial foundation for our university at a time of significantly diminished support from the state,” Dirks said in the email.

Dirks is not the only UC chancellor to announce a resignation this year. Former UC Davis chancellor Linda Katehi resigned earlier this month amid allegations that she misused campus funds and criticism over her position on for-profit boards.

ColorEdited_DirksTimeline_GoldiaKiteckSeniorStaff-01 (1)

Dirks arrived at UC Berkeley three years ago after serving as executive vice president and dean of the faculty for arts and sciences at Columbia University.

When he first became chancellor, he cast himself as a man of the students. In a 2013 interview with The Daily Californian, he stressed the importance of the campus’s public mission and aimed to create a more intimate student experience through programs such as “fireside chats.”

But in recent months, many have complained about a perceived increasing divide between students and the administration. A nearly $700,000 fence was built around his residence on campus in May, and a $9,000 emergency exit was constructed near the chancellor’s office last month as a security measure against potential protesters.

At Columbia, he helped drive an administrative restructuring of the faculty of arts and sciences that drew criticism from student and administrators. A then-elected student representative at Columbia University, Jared Odessky, said back in 2013 that at his previous school, Dirks was sometimes seen as a figure that “centralized power,” decreasing the autonomy of smaller individual schools under a larger umbrella.

In his administration’s leadership of the Office of Strategic Initiatives, or OSI — a body created in the spring to tackle the campus’s $150 million structural deficit this year through large-scale academic restructuring Dirks received similar concerns from students and faculty, who felt shut out of the process.

Then, in May, he announced the dissolution of the OSI, acknowledging a need to rethink the current model of Campus Shared Services, a program to increase administrative efficiency and monetary savings across UC Berkeley.

“We need fresh approaches and new ideas as Berkeley forges a path to maintain its excellence along with its full commitment to a public mission in the current funding environment,” Dirks said in his campuswide email.

Contact the news desk at [email protected].

Please keep our community civil. Comments should remain on topic and be respectful.
Read our full comment policy
  • Nicholas Dirks the author of the Hollow Crown should have realized more than anyone else that the power he held was contingent and temporary. Long ago he drew our attention to structural aspects of political power and its legitimation. I wonder how he fell from grace so soon and abruptly. He promoted post colonialism in a big way and like Arjun Appadurai fell from the academic heights he had once scaled.

  • I’ll be honest, I will miss Dirks

  • Paul Anderson

    Additional ethical issue, related to Chancellor Katehi’s image buying scandal, should UC employ (pay) people who buy social media space for themselves? Namely, Robert Reich’s sponsored Facebook page. To me, it looks way too much like padding a resume while already employed. Despite my affinity for Robert’s viewpoints (which I criticize anyway) I would ask him and all other UC employees to report all of the self paid or other party sponsored promotion. It don’t look good because it ain’t good.

  • Nunya Beeswax

    I’m not endorsing Napolitano in the least, but she at least had the sense to know what to do about a sexual harassment problem.

    • thompson_richard

      She was a lobbyist in Washington DC for police labs on campus. I think the labs on campus should be basic science labs. Most undergraduates are women. I attended both the Pac-12 rowing championships and the national collegiate championships on Lake Natoma — both won by Cal women this year. I didn’t have any thought that those women and/or the Olympic gold medalists would need campus rape labs. One or several may in fact have already been raped. I hope that their assailants (and any future assailants) were caught (or will be caught) and convicted in a court of law.
      On last Bastille Day a judge in San Diego released a male UCSD undergraduate from a charge of rape as alleged by that branch politically correct (read: kangaroo) campus court.
      Title IX is not what the UC President thinks it is.
      She may consider it the Equal Rights Amendment — which has yet to become law. My fervent financial support and campaigning for Hillary may lead to a situation of rule by executive order (as is happening today under President Obama) but I don’t think such rule can long be sustained.
      President Napolitano isn’t Patsy Mink (whom I knew).

    • still trying

      No she doesn’t. Janet has covered up more in her short tenure than Dirks ever did. Dirks just couldn’t make a good decision if his life depended on it.

    • still trying

      Janet left Home Land Security under a cloud of scandal. She was facing a Senate hearing on her reports and how she covered up and re-wrote crime reports that were false. Instead of responding to questions regarding her lying and cover ups, she resigned and took the job of UC president. Janet was accused of lying and falsifying government crime reports instead of responding and defending herself, she quit. If she refused to defend yourself, so she must have been lying and knew she would be exposed..

      • thompson_richard

        She sought asylum on the Left Coast — while Snowden sought asylum in Russia.
        Putin got the better deal.

  • Jay Davis

    I don’t think his salary is outrageous at all given the responsibility and task at hand. While Berkeley is a public school, if you look at the salaries of his private school peers, he is getting paid peanuts.

    • thompson_richard

      Not if you count a $700,000 fence.

      • Pat Hunter

        I wasn’t aware that the $700,000 fence is part of his yearly earnings. It makes sense to build a fence around the on-campus residence after angry Berkeley protestors damaged the residence and graffitied the exterior.

        • thompson_richard

          Back in the heyday of campus protests marijuana was grown on the lawn.
          Angry? Security cameras backed by campus police would have let the Berkeley (???) protestors cool their heels in jail. A substitute for fencing would have been the thick tree cover protecting the creek and Haviland Hall.
          Blake House may not be the most desirable place for a UC president to live. Former UC president Charles Hitch called the building the “biggest three-bedroom house in the world,” because despite its ample square footage, only the second story is designed as living space.
          The house is in Kensington (just North of the campus).
          The only condition the Blake family gave when it donated the estate eons ago was that the surrounding garden be used by what is now UC Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design. Since the mansion was originally donated, the upkeep fund alone has been kept in an interest-bearing account (the Regents keep the interest). The fund now stands at $166 million.
          What is now the Chancellor’s residence could be used for other purposes, maybe a student USA armed forces transition center.

  • Pixilicious

    It’s about damned time. At first it seemed to me a tragedy that he is apparently being allowed to walk the campus. On second thought, though, let him walk among us; without his escape hatch, security fence, chauffeurs and mansion.

    Let him feel our wrath. I give this coward a month before he turns and runs.

  • Paul Anderson

    Dear new Chancellor,

    Get rid of the Cal1 card.

    A California driver license or ID is enough identification. Stop running the university like a cheap hype factory and you will get more education, more research, more access, etc.

  • Ed

    It turns out that a man from Columbia, another from Stanford, and yet a third from NYU almost sunk Berkeley with hubris, sexual harassment, and profligacy. Next set of Berkeley leaders should understand the public mission of Berkeley, the public scrutiny that comes from a flagship public campus, and the fact that Janet Napolitano is a no non-sense BOSS who is not afraid to fire people who suffer from delusions of grandeur.

    • still trying

      He was not fired but pushed out by Janet. He will get over a half million dollars plus benefits to do nothing for a year. He will then teach 1 class for a semester and get another half million dollars. How is this being fired. Janet is just another administrators that is not pro active, but responds after it is too late and makes the front page news. Some leader.

      • Pat Hunter

        Please post a link to where you received this information about his compensation and teaching responsibilities.

  • Becky Newsom

    And the “global search” begins… because, evidently, UC, let alone California, can’t produce an individual qualified to run it’s university. How better to rationalize these outsized administrator salaries but to create an artificial scarcity? Meanwhile, elsewhere at the University, the labor marketplace is in full swing. Part-time and temp positions have become common, adjunct faculty and graduate students are treated as slave labor, and unions are forever under attack for protecting the diminishing number of positions that still have benefits (forget about “competitive” salaries). For his part, Dirks “intends to remain at UC Berkeley as a full-time faculty member.” Will he be applying for that position? God forbid he actually quits the university before he gets vested! “He also intends to work on a task force ensuring a positive financial future for Cal Athletics in light of budget concerns” …because, pray-tell, we need to continue to grease that wheels of that alumni-dependent, “public-private” partnership at the heart of corporate higher education. Never mind that student fees are breaking the bank back home and eroding America’s middle class and competitive future.

    • Giam Nguyen

      You use the word “it’s” incorrectly. You meant “its.”

      • Becky Newsom

        I stand corrected. ;-)

      • Gene Nelson

        You are using two different tenses, Giam. It should be “use” and “mean”, or “used” and “meant”.

    • hdub

      Dirks was appointed as a faculty member in the Department of History at the time of his UCB appointment but has been on leave while serving as Chancellor. This is customary when Chancellors from outside UC Berkeley are appointed.

      • Becky Newsom

        Since the position was created in 1952, 5 of the 11 Chancellors have been external hires, including the last 3. It seems that institutional knowledge has fallen out of favor.

        • hdub

          Technically, Dirks is counted as the 10th Chancellor. There was an acting Chancellor appointed in 1965. But point taken.

  • John

    The next chancellor will be a conservative Christian Republican.

  • Pat Hunter

    This is disheartening news. Dirks was excellent for UC Berkeley and was not personally responsible for the mishandling of the sexual harassment cases. Fundraising was at an all-time high under his leadership, he led the charge to make the campus feel more secure by introducing the campus climate survey, and is at heart a genuinely caring person.

    The fact that his salary was $500K doesn’t shock me AT ALL. It makes logical sense. He is leading the number one public university in the world. The critics claiming he is overpaid don’t understand that to recruit and maintain excellent faculty, the UC has to simply pay a competitive salary.

    Berkeley is full of students who are quick to draw erroneous conclusions based on what ostensibly seems politically correct to them. After Birgeneau and Dirks leaving, it will be difficult to hire an enthusiastic chancellor. Berkeley students will find fault at whoever will be tapped next as chancellor. Whoever it may be, I pray that they will stay despite student backlash.

    • still trying

      Dirks was just a continuation of really bad leadership at Cal. Being in charge of Cal is considerably more than fund raising. He should have tried being a true leader instead of being a source of embarrassment. The absent minded professor only goes so far.

      • Gene Nelson

        Do you have any videos to support your contention?

    • Nunya Beeswax

      Eh. It signals a certain level of ineffectiveness when your boss has to reach over you to remove a sexual harasser from his position as academic dean.

      Dirks’ plan for Berkeley’s recovery was entirely cosmetic, and marred even further by his indecisive faffing about. The failure of CSS to save any money (and indeed to incur much higher expenses than it was budgeted for), the whole OSI debacle, all the various reorganizations going on around campus (rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, anyone?)–these are not signs of effective leadership.

      And yes, it’s arguable whether all those things were personally his fault. But they were his responsibility; where do you think the buck ought to stop, if not at the Chancellor?

    • Resident

      “The critics claiming he is overpaid don’t understand that to recruit and maintain excellent faculty, the UC has to simply pay a competitive salary.” All this sort of logic has achieved is padding the bank
      accounts and resumes of careerist incompetents. Where is the evidence that excessive pay allows UC to recruit better administrators? Would you also cite Linda Katehi’s resignation as chancellor of UC Davis as an example?

      • Nunya Beeswax

        But we need to pay that much in order to attract the Top Talent!

        (…that sticks around for 3 years before throwing in the towel)

  • Dan Spitzer

    At UC B, it’s political correctness uber ales…

  • Rich Sestili

    So much for free college