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Next U.C. Chancellor Visits Berkeley Campus

By Steven Finacom
Wednesday November 28, 2012 - 08:38:00 AM

UC Berkeley’s next Chancellor made a brief public appearance on the campus on the afternoon of Tuesday, November 27, 2012, offering informal greetings to some hundreds of campus staff, students, faculty and alumni who had gathered on the steps of Doe Library in response to an open invitation from current Chancellor Robert Birgeneau. 

Earlier in the day the UC Board of Regents, meeting in Oakland, confirmed the appointment of Nicholas Dirks, a Columbia University faculty member and administrator. After a private reception in the Morrison Library, Dirks came outside, to applause, to greet the crowd that had gathered under approaching storm clouds, against the early fall green backdrop of the Berkeley hills and the monumental granite façade of Doe. “I want to thank the weather for postponing the deluge until later”, Dirks joked. 

Dirks was introduced by departing Chancellor Robert Birgeneau who will retire in June 2013, after a transition period to the new administration. Birgeneau said that the day he had announced his retirement as Chancellor, “one of my close friends sent me an e-mail that said, ‘Free at Last! Free at Last!’.” But “this is not about me”, he added. “I’m going to hand it over to Professor Dirks and Janaki, who are going to be your leaders for the indefinite future.” 

“It’s an enormous thrill to be here”, Dirks told the crowd. “An absolute thrill and a great honor.” He talked briefly about time he spent in Southern California at CalTech, and added that even though he loves Columbia and living in New York, “I thought this is the one place I could come to and have absolutely no regrets at all.” 

“I’m deeply committed to working with the faculty, staff and, of course, the students”, he said. He also made a rhetorical nod to Birgeneau’s theme of “excellence and diversity.” Dirks, a professor of anthropology with a specialization in South Asia, also introduced his wife, Janaki Bakhle, who is currently an assistant professor in the department of history at Columbia. She “earns far better rankings and ratings than anything I’ve ever taught”, he said. A faculty appointment for her at Berkeley is under consideration, he added. 

(If Bakhle does join the faculty, she would be the first spouse of a Berkeley Chancellor to also hold a ladder rank faculty position. Dirks, born in 1950, will be the 10th Chancellor of the Berkeley campus. Before 1958, when Clark Kerr was appointed the first Chancellor, the campus was administered directly by the UC President, who traditionally lived in Berkeley. Dirks and his family, which includes a 13-year old son, would be expected to live in University House on campus, which doubles as the Chancellor’s residence and an event center.) 

Dirks has taught at CalTech, Michigan, and Columbia. He said that he “learned at Michigan how a great university is even greater when it’s a great public university,” earning a round of applause from the Berkeley audience. “Thanks so much for being here, and Go Bears!” Dirks concluded. 

When the crowd was invited to come up the Library steps and gather close to the podium, protestors had strategically stationed themselves at either side of the Doe Library entrance, displaying “Occupy Cal” signs and a large banner reading “Make UC Berkeley A Sanctuary Campus”. They remained silent during the event. A few other signs were displayed in the crowd including “Welcome From UC Berkeley Physics Department” written on a manila folder, and a placard opposing new timekeeping regulations—“Respect, NOT Time Clocks for UC Staff”—held up by a library staffer. Uniformed UC police officers were scattered here and there around the perimeter of the crowd. 

A contingent of the Cal Band briefly performed, then the gathering ended. There was a moment of uncertainty in the crowd, unsure if the presentations were over. Birgeneau returned to the podium to say “Thank you everyone, that’s it!” 

The event broke up into small, conversational, groups and part of the crowd swarmed a table set up on the terrace with refreshments. Cookies disappeared in an instant, and people picked through the cheese and crackers. 

A few minutes later after the dignitaries had filtered back into Doe Library, one of the “Occupy” protestors climbed up on a wall and exhorted the crowd to go to Eshleman Hall, where a demonstration / sit-in apparently began as evening descended. 

There’s University coverage of the Dirks confirmation and event here: