Nicholas Dirks of Columbia University selected as next UC Berkeley chancellor

Nicholas Dirks has been selected as UC Berkeley’s 10th chancellor, UC President Mark Yudof announced Thursday.

Dirks, an anthropologist and historian by training, is expected to come to UC Berkeley after serving as the executive vice president and dean of the faculty for Arts and Sciences at Columbia University. At Columbia, he led a diversity initiative for Arts and Sciences, expanded programs in international, ethnic, African American and gender studies and  helped rebuild various academic programs, according to a UC Berkeley press release announcing the appointment. His appointment awaits confirmation by the UC Board of Regents in a late November special meeting next week. If confirmed, he will take office June 1, 2013.

“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.”

Outgoing Chancellor Robert Birgeneau announced in March that he would step down at the end of December after more than eight years in the position but has agreed to serve until May 2013. An advisory committee of UC Berkeley students, staff, UC faculty and regents was appointed in April to recommend candidates to Yudof. The committee submitted final recommendations in early October.

“I am fully confident that (Dirks) will uphold Berkeley’s deeply held values of access and excellence,” Birgeneau said in the statement. “I congratulate the search committee for its outstanding work in identifying such a fine candidate.”

Before going to Columbia as chair of the anthropology department in 1997, Dirks taught history and anthropology at the University of Michigan. He taught Asian history at the California Institute of Technology for nine years before moving to Michigan. His late father, J. Edward Dirks, served as the vice chancellor and dean for humanities at UC Santa Cruz in the 1970s, according to the press release.

“This is an opportunity I embrace with both excitement and humility,” Dirks said in the release. “I have immense respect for the countless accomplishments of faculty, students and staff at what I consider to be the premier public research university in the world.”

During Birgeneau’s term, the University of California fell victim to staggering budget cuts from the state, prompting the chancellor to oversee the development and implementation of a campuswide cost-cutting initiative that aims to reorganize the campus’s administrative programs, a large-scale fundraising campaign to raise $3 billion and a new financial aid program for undergraduate students from middle-income families. He also was a strong advocate for the passage of the California DREAM Act last year, which, among other provisions, allows the campus to provide financial aid to undocumented students.

Also under Birgeneau’s tenure, campus officials began efforts to increase the proportion of nonresident students to 20 percent of the total campus undergraduate student body. Reaching this target would generate $60 million in additional revenue per year for the campus, according to a fall 2010 interview with Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost George Breslauer. Nonresident students pay close to $23,000 more in tuition and other fees than in-state students. Some measures taken by administrators to mitigate the effects of budget cuts resulted in large-scale campuswide protests.

In an open letter, Columbia President Lee Bollinger called the chancellor position “ a major role in American higher education, especially at this moment.”

“(Dirks)was centrally important to sustaining and improving our academic excellence … all the while being a friend of us all,” said Bollinger in an open letter to members of the Columbia community. “While we will miss Nick deeply and are extremely grateful for all he has done for Columbia, we also take great pride in his appointment.”

Amruta Trivedi is the assistant university news editor. Contact her [email protected].