UC Berkeley faculty speculate about reason for Dirks’ resignation

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As rumors swirl about factors that may have contributed to UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks’ decision to resign, campus faculty are scrambling to make sense of the announcement and what it portends for a campus already mired in controversy.

Embroiled in a UC investigation into allegations of misused funds, multiple sexual misconduct incidents at UC Berkeley and a $150 million annual structural deficit, Dirks announced his resignation Tuesday via email, telling the campus that “the time is right” for him to step down “and allow someone else to take up the financial and institutional challenges ahead.”

The resignation comes as a petition — currently signed by 47 UC Berkeley faculty — circulates, calling on the campus’s division of the Academic Senate to consider a vote of no confidence in Dirks, according to campus sociology professor Michael Burawoy.

“There has been a lot of pressure from the campus community, but particularly faculty, that he stand down based on poor judgments over the last year,” Burawoy said, referencing projects such as the nearly $700,000 fence built around Dirks’ campus residence and a more than $200,000 strategy to improve his image globally.

The chancellor also has inherited problems he did not create, Burawoy acknowledged, including an expensive renovation of Memorial Stadium totaling about $321 million.

But former UC Berkeley chancellor and current physics professor Robert Birgeneau, who himself faced backlash during his tenure, said in an email that the chancellor’s multiple responsibilities — compounded by outside pressure from the UC Board of Regents, the UC president, professors, union leaders and politicians, among others — make the job “impossible.”

“There are too many forces operating on the Chancellor coming from too many directions,” he said in the email. “Further, the Berkeley Chancellor does not have control over enough of the basic variables like student tuition, faculty and staff salaries, the make up of the undergraduate student body.”

The embattled chancellor had thought about the decision throughout the summer, said campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof, though he declined to comment on the specifics of Dirks’ personal reasons for resigning.

He added that Dirks would remain committed to shoring up the campus’s financial situation and working for the public good until his successor is selected.

“It’s understandable that people are speculating,” Mogulof said. “But at the end of the day, this was a personal decision.”

Moving forward, the UC Office of the President will form a committee to search for the next UC Berkeley chancellor, though Mogulof would not comment on the exact date by which Dirks officially will step down and return to teaching. Dirks said in his campuswide email that he will remain in the position until his successor is in place.

As a faculty member, campus political science professor Eric Schickler said that while he was concerned about Dirks remaining on campus as a “figurehead,” he believed that his resignation was a necessary step in light of ongoing problems.

Burawoy agreed, adding that the search for Dirks’ replacement would require a collective effort to ensure that the next chancellor is accountable to the campus community. UC Berkeley could even tap into the wealth of experienced leaders it already has to find an interim chancellor within the institution, he said.

“What’s most important is to have a successor who has shown commitment to Berkeley’s public mission,” Schickler said.

Andrea Platten is the managing editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @andreaplatten.