Dirks’ work far from done

CAMPUS ISSUES: Chancellor Nicholas Dirks must use his remaining months in office to improve the campus and address ongoing problems at UC Berkeley.

At the outset of what would devolve into a turbulent tenure, Dirks remarked on his appreciation for the University of California’s transparency: “I’ve never had transparency like this in my life,” he told The Daily Californian in 2013.

Three long years later, Dirks announced in an Aug. 16 campuswide email that he would step down once his successor was selected, rather than turn the position over to somebody in the interim. The UC Office of the President has announced plans to select a replacement by March 15, 2017, though some on campus have expressed that the date seems unrealistic.

But the problems that plague this campus, including a $150 million budget deficit and a recent series of high-profile sexual harassment cases, cannot be put on the backburner until the conclusion of a “global search.” An embattled chancellor who has lost the respect of many on his faculty and his students might not be best situated to address these issues.

The recent resignation of Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Claude Steele was immediate and prompted the interim appointment of Carol Christ. She has the institutional knowledge and experience to productively hold that office through a time of upheaval. Finding a similar short-term replacement for Dirks would have helped the campus begin to recover from a tenure less transparent than Dirks had idealized in 2013.

By staying on, he risks falling into the easy trap of shirking responsibility and putting problems off — even ones he inherited and didn’t necessarily create. If he truly cares about the campus and the public mission, it is imperative that he create a framework for the next chancellor to tackle this campus’s most serious and immediate problems, making use of his remaining time in office.

The collapse of the Office of Strategic Initiatives last semester, the office Dirks set up to tackle the budget deficit, forebodes a bleak future for UC Berkeley’s finances without pragmatic, proactive leadership. Dirks has the opportunity to finally start fresh in laying the groundwork for budgetary solutions that include significant faculty, staff and student input — something the campus community has persistently requested.

Additionally, Dirks should prioritize greater transparency in the campus’s handling of sexual harassment scandals. Recently, the campus announced it was investing $2.5 million in its work to combat a culture of sexual harassment. Yet the details — where exactly the money is going and why the project should make the community feel safer — have been scant.

More than anybody, Dirks should understand the difficulties of taking over a campus from an unpopular, ineffective predecessor. And while his fundraising legacy is impressive, a chancellor can’t fundraise his way back to a good reputation. His remaining months at his post should be spent ensuring that whoever takes the position after him is set up for success in all aspects of the chancellor’s job.

Read more opinion coverage on Dirks’ resignation here.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the Senior Editorial Board as written by the opinion editor.

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