Chancellor-designate Dirks discusses vision for UC Berkeley

Derek Remsburg/Senior Staff

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Following his confirmation by the UC Board of Regents Tuesday, UC Berkeley Chancellor-designate Nicholas Dirks sat down with The Daily Californian Wednesday to talk about his vision for the campus, his experience with student protest and his view on private funding.

Dirks, who previously served as the executive vice president and dean of the faculty of arts and sciences at Columbia University, will assume office next June.

Read an excerpted set of Dirks’ answers to the Daily Cal’s questions below.

Sarah Burns, The Daily Californian: What is your vision for UC Berkeley?

Nicholas Dirks: (UC Berkeley) has a world-class reputation for work that is done in every field that is represented here; it has achieved excellence at the same time that it has not only had a public mission that is part of its charter but also committed itself to the greatest access possible to students. It has committed itself, through both the new Middle Class Access (Plan) and also a variety of other things that it’s done, to achieve extraordinary diversity — and diversity not just of racial, ethnic and other kinds of personal identity but also of socioeconomic backgrounds and first-generation college students and things that matter a great deal to me.

DC: UC Berkeley has a history of student activism. What has been your past experience with student protests?

ND: We’ve had a couple of major hunger strikes around questions concerning ethnic studies at Columbia … In 2006, when I was the EVP for the arts and sciences in my current role, I worked very closely with my colleagues and the senior administration and was one of the major participants in a nightly series of discussions with representatives of the hunger strikers.  We actually were able to come up with a signed memorandum of understanding at the end that was mutually satisfactory to all the parties involved.

DC: In an age of ever-dwindling state support, what role do you think that private funding has in maintaining UC Berkeley’s accessibility and excellence, and how should we make that envisioned role a reality?

ND: Given the diminishment of state funding … it’s going to be more important than ever to reach out to new potential donors and engage, to the extent possible, as much participation in and support for the things that go on here and understand the need to have that become a major part of the revenue funding scheme for the university. I don’t think we’re ever going to go back to the 30 percent (state) funding days, as much as I would like to believe that is possible.

DC: Why do you think that is?

ND: It is unlikely that we’re going to turn the corner and go back to where the great Master Plan started and the kind of funding schemes that were envisioned as fundamental to the success of that Master Plan. It’s a different reality, and we know now that a lot of other things are possible that weren’t even thinkable in those day — from the use of digital technology, online education, to the role that private support will necessarily play in the great public universities. This is certainly something that is not happening only at the University of California … Unless I’m reading the tea leaves wrong, I think we’ll be very happy if we can maintain the level of state support, at least the level of percentage of revenue that we currently have.

DC: How do you balance the advantages of private funding with some of the problems that critics point out?

ND: Well, we have that same set of challenges in private universities too. We don’t take funding for things that we don’t accord great priority to, that we don’t actually give credence to as part of an academic planning process. So when we go out and engage in a campaign, we map opportunities for fundraising right onto a strategic academic plan that has already been formulated as something that is an organic outgrowth of a whole variety of constituents on campus who have been part of that process … There are all sorts of safeguards, all sorts of protocols that we’ve used in private universities and that are used here to ensure that undue influence from donors doesn’t in fact change the academic mission of the university.

Sarah Burns is the university news editor. Contact her at [email protected].