Chancellor Nicholas Dirks’ resignation no great mystery

Willow Yang/Staff

In some of the news coverage of the resignation of Chancellor Nicholas Dirks, including an op-ed mistakenly published in The Daily Californian, it has been suggested that a “self-appointed,” secret group of faculty banded together over the summer to force Dirks to resign. Campus professor Judith Butler has been the most vocal proponent of this view, expressing particular concern — including in an interview with the Los Angeles Times — that the resignation occurred without the opportunity for a full and open UC Berkeley Academic Senate debate about Dirks’ status.

We agree with Butler about the importance of open discussion among faculty about matters that affect the entire campus, which is why we worked this summer to help coordinate a petition to call for a special meeting of the Academic Senate to debate a resolution of “no confidence” in Dirks’ leadership. Starting several weeks ago, we reached out to colleagues across departments, first to see if they thought such a meeting was a good idea at this time. In these conversations, we learned that the stream of negative news stories over the summer — added to the many serious concerns raised in three separate special meetings of the Academic Senate last spring — led many faculty to decide that a full discussion and vote on a “no confidence” resolution was in the best interest of the campus and should no longer be avoided.

According to Academic Senate bylaws, any 25 Senate faculty members may call a special meeting of the full Academic Senate by submitting a petition with their signatures to the Senate chair. The petition calling for a meeting to discuss and vote on a “no confidence” resolution in Dirks garnered more than 25 signatures very quickly, and we notified the Senate chair that we planned to submit the petition calling for a special meeting of the Academic Senate sometime before a major meeting of all deans and chairs scheduled for mid-August. Before submitting the official petition to the Senate chair, we made a concerted effort to reach out to colleagues across several divisions and units of campus. We also reached out to both co-chairs of the Berkeley Faculty Association.

Faculty who worked over the summer to circulate, discuss and sign the petition calling for a full meeting of the Senate to debate and vote on a “no confidence” resolution did not claim to represent the faculty. We simply followed the established practice of gathering signatures for a special meeting of the Senate for an open debate and vote.

The petition requesting a special meeting of the Academic Senate to discuss a “no confidence” resolution, signed by 47 senate faculty across 11 academic divisions, colleges and schools on campus, was officially sent to the Senate chair on the afternoon of Aug. 16, before Dirks’ announcement that he would step down. The only reason the names of the signatories were not published is because after the news of Dirks’ resignation came, we asked to withdraw the petition. The signatories to the petition were consulted, and the majority agreed that it would be both unproductive and unkind to call a Senate meeting to discuss and vote on a “no confidence” resolution in a chancellor who had already announced his resignation. 

We have openly described our participation in the process of coordinating the special meeting petition on a faculty LISTSERV and in direct emails to colleagues. Nonetheless, the speculation that a small cabal of faculty worked secretly over the summer to somehow force the chancellor to resign continues to be raised in the media. By presenting this information about the process we followed in The Daily Californian, we hope to help dispel such rumors for the benefit of the broader campus community.

There is no need to conjure specters of elaborate conspiracies to explain Dirks’ resignation; anyone who has been reading the newspapers should not be surprised by this outcome. The notion that it was only a small group of faculty who have concerns about Dirks’ performance is not just absurd — it silences the critical voices of so many students, staff, alumni and faculty, who have made their views clear over several months through letters, editorials and protests. All of these groups are within their rights to express their views and, in so doing, attempt to pressure the administration to change. None of these groups have the power or authority to force the resignation of a chancellor. Dirks faced pressure and criticism on multiple fronts. The decision to resign in the face of these pressures was his.

Dirks’ announced resignation does not resolve the challenges confronting UC Berkeley. Among these is the urgent need to restore traditions of good governance on this campus. The communication and collective action across multiple constituencies that contributed to the dramatic changes in campus leadership over the past several months must now be channeled towards working collaboratively to solve our problems. We must work together as a campus to sustain and revitalize UC Berkeley’s public mission in these times in order to emerge from the present difficulties a stronger campus.

Read more opinion coverage on Dirks’ resignation here.

Mara Loveman is the campus chair of sociology and Eric Schickler is the campus chair of political science.

Editor’s note: The op-ed mentioned in this piece was mistakenly published in the Aug. 22 print edition of The Daily Californian after a miscommunication between its author and an editor. It also was published online and subsequently removed.

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