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Dirks’ back door alienates students, restricts access

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AUGUST 01, 2016

Last week, we learned of the most recent in a series of increasingly absurd missteps involving UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks. This time, the outcry was in response to the decision to install a separate exit near Dirks’ California Hall office — ostensibly to avoid protesters.

The emergency exit cost $9,000, and its installation was kept largely under wraps. In fact, when The Daily Californian reached out to campus officials and spokespeople to confirm rumors of the construction project, some denied it outright. Dirks himself was not aware of the door until construction began.

While this may seem like a non-issue to some, the security measure and the secrecy with which the matter was handled is emblematic of an administration that is taking every possible step to guard itself from criticism. This aversion to conflict — while understandable on a personal level — is entirely inappropriate for a public institution.

UC Berkeley recently constructed a nearly $700,000 fence around the chancellor’s campus residence amid security concerns. It’s clear that administrators on this campus operate in a near-constant state of fear of its students.

Protests on this campus are commonplace, and they frequently occur around the chancellor’s office and residence. We acknowledge the chancellor’s right to safety and security, but we fear that many of these “safety” measures are coming at the expense of accessibility to students and faculty.

Installation of the door was requested by staff in response to a sit-in and protest outside Dirks’ office where students voiced their criticism of the planned Berkeley Global Campus and its potential effect on the Richmond community. Occasional disruption of administrators’ daily lives is an important tool for students to ensure their voices are heard.

When leaders are too afraid to engage, their ability to lead is significantly diminished. If these trends continue, the chasm between students and administration will become irreparable. An out-of-touch administration cannot be effective.

Students are not Dirks’ only critics: Many faculty members voiced frustration about the administration’s lack of transparency in recent cost-cutting efforts.

The money used to construct the exit, while not substantial relative to other UC construction projects, came from a pool of funding to be allocated toward risk services, including protections for campus employees. It’s concerning that, at a time when campus safety is a national issue and UC Berkeley affiliates are frequently the victims of crimes on and near campus, campus is focusing risk prevention efforts at the uppermost level.

With Dirks under investigation for a potential breach of UC policy, it is clear that many decisions made by his administration have not taken into account issues of ethicality. When students have something to say, administration should open the door, not create new closed ones.

Corrections: A previous version of this editorial incorrectly stated that it was Nicholas Dirks' decision to have the emergency exit installed near his office. In fact, he was unaware of the door until after construction began.
Editorials represent the majority opinion of the Senior Editorial Board as written by the opinion editor.

AUGUST 02, 2016