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Campus spends more than $1 million on chancellor's University House

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JUNE 29, 2016

Over the last three years, campus spent more than $1 million on University House, the official residence of Chancellor Nicholas Dirks.

The bulk of the money was approved to be spent prior to Dirks becoming chancellor in 2013. The money was used for renovations, restorations and the installation of a security fence around the house.

The initial funds of $247,000 — paid for by campus donations — were spent during the transition time before Dirks moved into the residence to accommodate his family. Approved improvements included a renovation of the upstairs kitchen, extensive painting and floor refurbishments.

“(The house) was in a state of great disrepair,” said campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof. “That spending occurred well before our financial challenges came into view.”

In February, Dirks announced that the campus would be undergoing comprehensive cost-cutting measures in light of a $150 million budget deficit — roughly 6 percent of the campus annual operating budget. He added that the campus could not sustain its current trajectory because of “substantial and growing” structural deficits.

In light of the deficit and student housing crisis, some campus students have expressed concern with the monetary investments toward University House.

“Students of all different backgrounds are struggling to find affordable housing — Dirks is lucky enough to be provided luxurious housing, free of charge,” said campus junior Sohini Desai. “I don’t want to receive another glib email from Chancellor Dirks that pretends to understand and empathize with the struggles of students.”

Mogulof stressed that none of the money spent came from state or tuition funds. The initial work was paid for by unrestricted gift funds, and the rest of the money came from investment income and other revenue sources.

UC Berkeley also provides $179,000 annually to maintain the home, according to Mogulof. The bulk of the spending, however, consisted of $700,000 toward the installation of a security fence around the house.

The fence, which began construction in August 2015, was originally only approved to cost $270,000. It was initially proposed prior to Dirks becoming chancellor because of disturbances and “increasingly violent attacks on the house,” according to Mogulof.

“Yes it was a substantial amount of money, but those costs will be recouped over time,” Mogulof said. “It’s an upfront investment that’s going to save money downstream. The fence will pay for itself in somewhere between two to three years because of the reduced need for security.”

University House serves as both the official residence of the chancellor and as a campus reception and ceremonial center for events, according to its website. About 80 events are held at the house each year for up to 1,200 guests.

“Dirks is completely out of touch with the students he presides over and the issues he’s looking to address,” Desai said. “The fact that so many questions float around the free housing he’s provided with only adds insult to the injury.”

Contact Cassie Ippaso at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @cassippaso.

JUNE 29, 2016