Dirks to resign after tumultuous tenure as chancellor

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

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Derek Remsburg/File

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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.

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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].