Nicholas Dirks

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Nicholas Dirks
Nicholas Dirks before taking Ice Bucket Challenge.png
10th Chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley
In office
June 1, 2013 – June 1, 2017
Preceded by Robert J. Birgeneau
Succeeded by Carol T. Christ
Personal details
Born Illinois
Nationality American
Spouse(s) Janaki Bakhle
Alma mater
Profession Professor, historian, university administrator

Nicholas B. Dirks is an American academic and the former Chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley. Dirks is the author of numerous books on South Asian history and culture, primarily concerned with the impact of British colonial rule.

Early life[edit]

Dirks was born in Illinois but grew up in New Haven, Connecticut, where his father, J. Edward Dirks was a professor at Yale University. When the latter received a Fulbright Scholarship in 1963 to teach at the Madras Christian College, the Dirks family relocated to Madras, where Nicholas's interest in Indian culture first formed. He attended Wesleyan University, where he received a BA in 1972 (College of Social Studies),[1] and the University of Chicago, where he earned a PhD in 1981. At the University of Chicago, he came under the influence of historical anthropologist Bernard Cohn. During this period, he frequently returned to South India for research.


After teaching at the California Institute of Technology and the University of Michigan, Dirks moved to Columbia in 1997, where he dramatically altered the direction of the anthropology department, championing postcolonial and multidisciplinary approaches, and making a variety of strategic appointments. He was named vice president in charge of Columbia's Faculty of Arts and Sciences as of September 2004.[2]

Dirks is the author of numerous books on South Asian history and culture, primarily concerned with the impact of British colonial rule. His most famous works include The Hollow Crown: Ethnohistory of an Indian Kingdom (1987), Castes of Mind (2001), and The Scandal of Empire (2006). In these works, Dirks advanced the research on how British rule shaped the culture of the Indian subcontinent, as well as how Britain became influenced by its colonies.

In November 2012, Dirks was selected as the Chancellor-Designate of the University of California, Berkeley.[3] On November 27, 2012, the Regents of the University of California confirmed Dirks as UC Berkeley's next Chancellor.[4] He took office on June 1, 2013.[5][6] Dirks announced his resignation from the university on August 16, 2016 following controversy related to a long-standing budget deficit, improper spending, and his handling of sexual harassment claims at the campus.[7]

Dirks currently serves on the Council of Presidents for the University of the People. His work has helped develop the world's first non-profit, tuition-free, online academic institution, seeking to revolutionize higher education by making college-level studies accessible to students worldwide.

In February 2018, Dirks was named chancellor and vice-chairman of Whittle School & Studios, a global network of independent schools serving children from 3 to 18.[8]

Berkeley Chancellorship[edit]

During his tenure, Dirks aspired to enhance the undergraduate experience, including the formation of a new undergraduate college,[9] the creation of an undergraduate program in data science,[10] the formation of a task force examining student housing,[11] and efforts to improve the experiences of intercollegiate athletes at Berkeley.[12] Dirks spearheaded new interdisciplinary programs including the Berkeley Arts + Design Initiative,[13] and regional multi-institution research efforts such as the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative,[14] and global research and exchange partnerships.[15][16]

Dirks was also a highly successful fundraiser,[17] including overseeing the completion of the Campaign for Berkeley.[18]

Under Dirks's leadership, the UC Berkeley administration was severely criticized. The most vocal criticism focused on decisions regarding sexual harassment by faculty and administrators. In particular, he presided over decisions to punish Professor of Astronomy Emeritus Geoffrey Marcy and then Dean of Berkeley Law Sujit Choudhry.[19]

Dirks was also the subject of intense criticism for his handling of UC Berkeley's budget.[20] Other contentious matters were the size of the fence around the on-campus mansion provided for him by the university,[21] an emergency door installed in California Hall at university expense,[22][23] a 2016 investigation for misuse of public funds,[24][25] and a wrongful termination claim filed by the former manager of University House.[26]

On August 16, 2016, he announced his intent to resign after less than four years as chancellor.[27]

In 2017, Dirks and his chief of staff, Nils Gilman, dealt with the aftermath of the Trump election, and various political clashes on the UC Berkeley campus.[28]


Dirks is married to Janaki Bakhle, also an alum of Columbia, an associate professor of history at UC Berkeley. She is the former director of the South Asia Institute at Columbia University.[29]

Representations in popular media[edit]

Dirks served as the inspiration for Gregory Ecks, the main character in the short story "99," part of the collection Publish and Perish by James Hynes.[30]

Selected works[edit]


  1. ^ Dirks ’72, Chancellor-Designate, U.C. Berkeley, “Embraces Opportunity”, The Wesleyan Connecticut. By Cynthia Rockwell. November 15, 2012. Retrieved 19 November 2012.
  2. ^ Laura Butchy (May–June 2006). "Master Multitasker". Columbia College Today. 
  3. ^ "UC Berkeley to Pick Columbia Dean as New Chancellor". KQED. November 9, 2012. Retrieved 2012-11-27. 
  4. ^ Gautham Thomas (November 27, 2012). "Dirks Confirmed as UC Berkeley's Next Chancellor". The Daily Californian. Retrieved 2012-11-27. 
  5. ^ Dan Kwak (November 8, 2012). "Newly selected UC Berkeley chancellor described as strong academic". Daily Californian. Retrieved 2012-11-27. 
  6. ^ Staley, Oliver (March 28, 2013). "Berkeley Sees Dirks Claiming Place as Ivy With Public Mandate". Businessweek. Retrieved March 28, 2013. 
  7. ^ Public Affairs (2016-08-16). "Chancellor Dirks announces he will step down". Berkeley News. University of California, Berkeley. Retrieved 2016-08-21. 
  8. ^ "Former UC Berkeley chancellor finds new position in global school system". The Daily Californian. 2018-02-13. Retrieved 2018-07-12. 
  9. ^ "UC Berkeley's Bowles Hall 'castle' reopens as select dorm, for $19,000 a year". The Mercury News. 2016-08-23. Retrieved 2017-10-11. 
  10. ^ "UC Berkeley pilots data science class | The Daily Californian". The Daily Californian. 2015-09-02. Retrieved 2017-10-11. 
  11. ^ "UC identifies 9 potential sites for student housing in Berkeley". Berkeleyside. 2017-01-31. Retrieved 2017-10-11. 
  12. ^ "Task Force on Academics and Athletics report details recommendations to address student-athlete challenges | The Daily Californian". The Daily Californian. 2014-09-26. Retrieved 2017-10-11. 
  13. ^ "Exposure to arts central to undergraduate experience | The Daily Californian". The Daily Californian. 2015-11-20. Retrieved 2017-11-01. 
  14. ^ "UC Berkeley to collaborate with UCSF, Stanford in Chan Zuckerberg Biohub | The Daily Californian". The Daily Californian. 2016-09-22. Retrieved 2017-11-01. 
  15. ^ "Campus establishes exchange programs with Peking University, Free University of Berlin | The Daily Californian". The Daily Californian. 2016-10-04. Retrieved 2017-11-01. 
  16. ^ "Berkeley-Tsinghua Joint Research Center receives $5 million donation | The Daily Californian". The Daily Californian. 2017-01-19. Retrieved 2017-11-01. 
  17. ^ "Campus sets new records for fundraising". Berkeley News. 2016-07-14. Retrieved 2017-11-01. 
  18. ^ "Campus, donors celebrate success of Campaign for Berkeley | The Daily Californian". The Daily Californian. 2014-04-13. Retrieved 2017-11-01. 
  19. ^ "UC Berkeley has history of tolerating sexual harassment". San Francisco Chronicle. 
  20. ^ "UC Berkeley chancellor faces skeptical Academic Senate". San Francisco Chronicle. 
  21. ^ "Fence and its costs rising at UC Berkeley chancellor's home". San Francisco Chronicle. 
  22. ^ Wong, Julia Carrie (2016-08-03). "UC Berkeley denies chancellor built an 'escape hatch' to flee student protests". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2017-10-11. 
  23. ^ Staff, Haruka Senju | Senior (29 July 2016). "Campus builds escape hatch for Dirks' office in California Hall". The Daily Californian. 
  24. ^ "UC Berkeley chancellor under investigation for alleged misuse of public funds, personal use of campus fitness trainer". Los Angeles Times. 
  25. ^ "After 4 years in the spotlight, Dirks leaves the stage". The Daily Californian. 2017-05-01. Retrieved 2018-02-08. 
  26. ^
  27. ^ "UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks announces resignation". San Francisco Chronicle. 
  28. ^
  29. ^ Bakhle, Janaki (2005). Two Men and Music: Nationalism in the Making of an Indian Classical Tradition. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0195166118. 
  30. ^

External links[edit]