After about a semesterlong departure from campus, former UC Berkeley chancellor Nicholas Dirks makes his — for some, not-so-awaited — return to campus as a history professor this spring semester.
Dirks will be teaching a History 103 seminar titled, “The University: Its History and Future.” According to the course description, the seminar will touch upon the development of the “modern university” in the United States during the eighteenth to twentieth century.
“I’m very pleased to have the former chancellor as a member of the department, teaching a course on an important subject of great relevance, the history of the modern university,” said Mark Peterson, professor and chair of the department of history, in an email.
According to Dirks, this course is new to both him and the history department. Dirks devised the curriculum based off his 15 years of research on the subject.
Thomas Laqueur, campus Fawcett professor of history, said Dirks’ knowledge as a historian and experience as a former chancellor uniquely qualifies him to teach the course.
“I think we as a department and the university … should be thrilled that we have so eminent a historian as Dirks teaching here,” Laqueur said.
Despite the positive outlook from some of the faculty, an individual in the history department, who requested to remain anonymous due to contention in the department, disclosed dissatisfaction amongst colleagues.
According to the individual, growth in the budget deficit, Dirks’ push toward privatization and allegations of sexual misconduct from faculty members that arose during his chancellorship are what makes some uneasy about him joining the department.
With skepticism derived from Dirks’ controversial history during his time as chancellor and public statements made once he left, the individual said there are disparate views among some in the department regarding the return of the ex-chancellor.
Because of his problematic image, the person added that it would be best for Dirks not to teach the course.
“Considering the gravity of the challenges that employees of the university must confront on a daily basis, the university needs a chancellor who is willing to fight against rampant corruption and incompetence at this university,” said Francisco Martin Del Campo, a doctoral candidate in the history department, in an email.
Martin Del Campo, however, added that he is curious to see how the dynamic of the department will change with the addition of Dirks in the department.
Regardless of who is chancellor, Martin Del Campo said he expects campus administration will continue to pose obstacles for the working conditions and wages of graduate students.
“As a Cal student and individual, I strive to judge Professor Dirks’ poor legacy as a senior campus administrator separately from his unimpeachable credentials as a scholarly historian,” said Matthew Enger, campus doctoral history student, in an email.