After Chancellor Nicholas Dirks announced his plans to resign amid controversy Tuesday, the students and faculty of UC Berkeley have expressed their sentiments regarding his tumultuous tenure.
Dirks is currently under investigation by the UC system for alleged misuse of campus funds and athletic services and was criticized for his handling of sexual harassment cases and the university’s ongoing financial challenges.
“I can’t say that I’m necessarily surprised,” said Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Harry LeGrande. “If I was in his position, I would be questioning myself on whether I could lead this anymore.”
“Unsurprising” was a common adjective to describe the resignation, at least among those employed by UC Berkeley. A lecturer in the Boalt School of Law, Barbara Bryant, called Dirks’ resignation “timely” and said she was “happy to see it happen.”
Bryant, who specializes in sexual harassment law, emphasized Dirks’ less-than-stellar response to various sexual harassment controversies and accusations that plagued the campus in the last year. According to Bryant, the leader of an organization must prioritize sexual assault policy before any real changes can be implemented.
“There were long periods of time where things went unaddressed, and that’s insulting to people who were harassed,” Bryant said. “The chancellor needs to make it clear that (sexual harassment) will be taken seriously and he failed in that regard.”
The president of the Graduate Assembly, Iman Sylvain, said she was surprised at the length of Dirks’ tenure, calling it “a very short run.” Sylvain said she was also surprised by his change of heart, given that he seemed very determined to remain the chancellor of UC Berkeley when she last met with him in the beginning of summer.
Sylvain believes the search for a new chancellor is an opportunity to address a variety of issues, especially sexual assault. She is also concerned that the search will focus too much on a chancellor who can balance UC Berkeley’s budget, rather than someone who can address the culture issues the campus is struggling with.
“In general, campus leadership is very difficult,” Sylvain said. “In the upcoming search, we should look to hire from inside, like a faculty member or vice chancellor, because Berkeley has a very unique culture and it’s hard to learn that and be expected to make decisions for all these people.”
Though ASUC President Will Morrow declined to comment on his personal reaction to Dirks’ resignation, he expressed that the search for a new chancellor was a unique chance for the campus to self-evaluate and look at its principles and priorities going forward. In the search for a new chancellor, Morrow stressed the importance of including students in the selection of the campus’s next leader as well as focusing on finding a chancellor who is accessible and dedicated to the public character of UC Berkeley.
“The next person needs to be someone who understands the importance of having an equitable and inclusive campus community,” Morrow said. “Someone who understands social justice and the complex intersectionalities of the people who attend the university.”
Sylvain appreciated Dirks’ fireside chats, gatherings in which he sat down with UC Berkeley students and listened to their complaints and ideas, but said she wished those conversations resulted in some sort of action from the chancellor. LeGrande said Dirks was able deal with the financial problems he inherited by throwing himself into fundraising efforts, but as a result was not involved enough in campus life.
“I admire him for doing what he thinks is best for the campus,” LeGrande said. “He gave an assessment to himself and decided maybe it was time for a change.”