Columbia University scholar and leader selected as new chancellor

I am delighted that President Yudof has chosen to recommend Nicholas Dirks as the 10th chancellor of UC Berkeley.

Professor Dirks has a distinguished record as a scholar and teacher as well as broad experience as a senior university administrator. His experience in outstanding public and private universities will have prepared him well for his new leadership position at Berkeley.

I am fully confident that he will uphold Berkeley’s deeply held values of access and excellence. Nicholas Dirks is an inspiring choice for Berkeley, and I congratulate the search committee for its outstanding work in identifying such a fine candidate.

I look forward to working with Nick to effect a smooth transition and to supporting his ongoing success as our new chancellor.

— Robert Birgeneau, UC Berkeley chancellor

I am very pleased that the search committee identified, and the UC president recruited, such an accomplished scholar and administrator as Nicholas B. Dirks. The leadership team and I look forward to welcoming him to Berkeley and to working with him to sustain UC Berkeley’s preeminence as a public university.

— George Breslauer, executive vice chancellor and provost

Nicholas B. Dirks, chancellor-designate of UC Berkeley, says of his appointment, “This is an opportunity I embrace with both excitement and humility.” (Eileen Barroso photo / Columbia University)

UC Berkeley | November 8, 2012

University of California President Mark G. Yudof announced today (Nov. 8) that he has selected Nicholas B. Dirks, Columbia University’s executive vice president and dean of the faculty of  Arts and Sciences, as UC Berkeley’s 10th chancellor.

Dirks, 61, the Franz Boas Professor of Anthropology and History at Columbia and the author of three books on India, emerged as the top candidate after a six-month search. An advisory committee of UC faculty, students, staff, regents, alumni and foundation representatives was involved in screening applicants and conducting interviews.

The UC Board of Regents will vote on terms of the appointment at a special meeting in late November.

Dirks will succeed Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau on June 1, 2013. Birgeneau, who announced last March that he would step down as chancellor at the end of December 2012, has agreed to serve through May.

“Nicholas Dirks is a highly accomplished leader with the sensibilities and knowledge of a humanist, as well as extensive fundraising, academic and administrative expertise,” Yudof said. “I’m confident he will be a great fit for UC Berkeley. His global perspective, leadership of diversity efforts at Columbia and experience with both public and private universities will serve him and the campus well.”

As executive vice president for Arts and Sciences at Columbia since 2004, Dirks has overseen the academic administration, operational and financial management, long-term academic and financial planning, and overall direction of 29 departments for the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences and six schools. The schools he oversees are Columbia College, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, the School of International and Public Affairs, the School of the Arts, the School of General Studies and the School of Continuing Education.

At Columbia, he led a major diversity initiative for the Arts and Sciences and helped build academic programs in areas ranging from economics and statistics to sustainable development and nano-science; he also supported and expanded programs in international, ethnic, African American and gender studies.

“This is an opportunity I embrace with both excitement and humility,” Dirks said. “I have immense respect for the countless accomplishments of faculty, students and staff at what I consider to be the premier public research university in the world. I look forward to becoming part of the UC community and to contributing all that I can to the further evolution of a campus that is a beacon of excellence, innovation and aspiration for California, the nation and the world.”

Before going to Columbia to chair and rebuild the Department of Anthropology in 1997, Dirks taught history and anthropology at the University of Michigan, where he co-founded the interdepartmental Ph.D. program in anthropology and history and directed the Center for South and Southeast Asian Studies. He taught Asian history at the California Institute of Technology for nine years before moving to Michigan. Dirks has family connections to California as well. His late father served as the vice chancellor and dean for humanities at UC Santa Cruz in the 1970s, and his mother is a longtime resident of California.

Dirks has done extensive archival and field research in India and Britain. His major works include The Hollow Crown: Ethnohistory of an Indian Kingdom (Cambridge University Press, 1987), Castes of Mind: Colonialism and the Making of Modern India (Princeton University Press, 2001) and The Scandal of Empire: India and the Creation of Imperial Britain (Harvard University Press, 2006). Castes of Mind was honored with Columbia’s Lionel Trilling Award for Best Book in 2002.

After graduating from Wesleyan University in 1972 with a bachelor’s degree in African and Asian studies, Dirks earned a master’s degree in 1974 and a Ph.D. in 1981 from the University of Chicago in the Department of History, focusing on South Asian history.

He was born in Illinois but grew up in North Haven, Conn. He and his wife, Columbia history professor Janaki Bakhle, have a 13-year-old son, and Dirks also has a grown daughter from a previous marriage.

Yudof and Dirks said they will have no further comment until the Board of Regents acts on the proposed appointment.