Newly selected UC Berkeley chancellor described as strong academic

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Nicholas Dirks, executive vice president and dean of faculty at Columbia University, has been selected to be UC Berkeley’s 10th chancellor, UC President Mark Yudof announced Thursday.

Dirks, who is expected to begin his term on campus June 1, 2013,  comes to UC Berkeley after leading a diversity initiative for Columbia Arts and Sciences, expanding programs in international, ethnic, African American and gender studies and helping rebuild multiple academic programs, according to campus press release announcing the appointment.

“Nicholas Dirks is a highly accomplished leader with the sensibilities and knowledge of a humanist, as well as extensive fundraising, academic and administrative expertise,” Yudof said in the statement. “His global perspective, leadership of diversity efforts at Columbia and experience with both public and private universities will serve him and the campus well.”

Dirks’ appointment awaits confirmation by the UC Board of Regents, which is scheduled to vote on the terms of his appointment at a special meeting Nov. 27.

His colleagues describe him as a likable person and dedicated academic.

“Nicholas Dirks is a wonderfully resourceful, wide-ranging scholar with broad experience in academic administration,” said David Hollinger, a campus professor of history who has known Dirks for nearly 30 years. “He is a good listener and is likely to be popular with faculty and students at Berkeley.”

After earning his bachelor’s degree in African and Asian studies at Wesleyan University and his doctorate in history from the University of Chicago, Dirks began his career at California Institute of Technology, where he taught Asian history for nine years until he took a position at the University of Michigan.

In 1997, Dirks became the chair of Columbia’s department of anthropology, where he researched British colonialism, the history of colonialism and cultural theory. Additionally, Dirks has authored three books on India, where he spent part of his childhood.

“It’s a positive sign that the university chose someone of a social science background,” said Terry Deacon, chair of UC Berkeley’s anthropology department. “The social sciences are becoming a more important part of the university.”

To accommodate Dirks’ moving timeline, outgoing UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau has agreed to continue serving until May 2013, even though he announced in March that he would step down at the end of December.

In April, Yudof appointed an advisory committee of UC Berkeley students, staff, alumni, foundation representatives, UC faculty and regents to recommend Birgeneau’s successor. After reviewing hundreds of nominations, the committee submitted final recommendations in early October.

“We looked for not only academic qualities but also commitment to diversity and appreciation for the importance of maintaining Berkeley’s accessibility,” said Bahar Navab, Graduate Assembly president and the graduate student representative on the selection committee.

Contact Dan Kwak at [email protected].