UC Berkeley students, faculty, staff gather at public welcome for incoming chancellor

Jan Flatley-Feldman/Staff
Chancellor Birgeneau poses with his successor, Professor Nicholas Dirks, at a campus welcome celebration on Tuesday afternoon.

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UC Berkeley welcomed its next chancellor Tuesday afternoon in a ceremony celebrating his confirmation at the UC Regents meeting earlier that day.

Students, staff and faculty attending the ceremony, which marked the incoming chancellor’s first public appearance on campus, crowded the steps of the Doe Memorial Library for their first glimpse of Chancellor-designate Nicholas B. Dirks.

Earlier in the day, the regents approved an annual base salary of $486,800 for Dirks, a $50,000 increase from outgoing Chancellor Robert Birgeneau’s current base salary — a move opposed by Gov. Jerry Brown and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who are ex-officio regents. According to a statement from the UC Office of the President, the raise will be paid for by “private donors.”

Flanked by campus administrators, including outgoing campus Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, and ASUC officials, Dirks’ bespectacled profile was slightly flushed as he took the lectern at the celebration to address the campus for the first time. In his speech, Dirks celebrated the university and reaffirmed his commitment to the campus’s public mission.

“(Public universities) combine excellence and a commitment to access and diversity in a way that is seamless and totally complementary,” Dirks said in his speech.

The chancellor-designate attributed his reverence of the public university to his tenure at the University of Michigan. He also recognized the influence of his late father, who was previously the vice chancellor and dean for humanities at UC Santa Cruz.

Though a celebratory air permeated the atmosphere, some campus community members at the ceremony expressed cautious acceptance of Dirks’ appointment.

Throughout the festivities, Benjamin Lynch, a researcher at the Space Sciences Laboratory at UC Berkeley and a member of BAMN, held up a sign not more than a few feet away from the chancellor-designate to protest the influence of corporations on the university. He remains concerned about Dirks’ ability to protect freedom of speech during campus demonstrations.

“We need a real departure from Birgeneau’s policies,” Lynch said, referring to the use of police force against Occupy Cal last year. “If he thinks he can just be a nicer, gentler version of Birgeneau, then nothing will really change.”

While he will not assume office until June 1, 2013, Dirks attended the ceremony already sporting a Golden Bear pin. Until then, Dirks will remain a professor of anthropology and history at Columbia University, where he also serves as the executive vice president and dean of the faculty for arts and sciences.

“As much as I will confess to thinking that I’m going to miss New York City, this is one place I can come to without absolutely any regrets at all,” Dirks said in his speech. “There is no single university for which I have greater regard than the University of California, Berkeley.”

Justin Abraham cover academics and administration. Contact him at [email protected].