Nicholas Dirks

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Nicholas Dirks
Nicholas Dirks before taking Ice Bucket Challenge.png
10th Chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley
Assumed office
June 1, 2013
Preceded by Robert J. Birgeneau
Personal details
Born (1950-02-15) February 15, 1950 (age 66)
Nationality American
Spouse(s) Janaki Bakhle
Alma mater University of Chicago
Wesleyan University
Profession Professor, historian, university administrator

Nicholas B. Dirks is an American academic administrator currently serving as the 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. Dirks announced his resignation from the university on 16 August, 2016 following controversy related to a long-standing budget deficit, improper spending, and his handling of sexual harassment claims at the campus.[1]

Early life[edit]

Dirks was born in Illinois but grew up in New Haven, 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 B.A. in 1972 (College of Social Studies),[2] and the University of Chicago, where he earned a Ph.D. 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.[3]

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 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.[4] On November 27, 2012, the Regents of the University of California confirmed Dirks as UC Berkeley's next Chancellor.[5] He took office on June 1, 2013.[6][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.


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 that were claimed to insufficiently punish Professor of Astronomy Emeritus Geoffrey Marcy, who was found to have harassed students over many years, and then Dean of Berkeley Law Sujit Choudhry, who admitted to frequently hugging, kissing, and squeezing his executive assistant. [8]

Dirks has also been the subject of intense criticism for his handling of UC Berkeley's budget.[9] Yet another contentious matter has been the massive fence he had built around the on-campus mansion provided for him by the university.[10] And he had an escape hatch installed from his office in California Hall, again at university expense, to enable him to evade protestors.[11]

In 2016, Dirks was placed under investigation for misuse of public funds. The investigation allegedly uncovered the diversion of university funds to provide a personal trip for his wife to India that included an accompanying personal trainer.[12]

On August 16, 2016, he announced his intent to resign after less than four years as chancellor.[13] Presiding over an administration rife with scandal, he became one of the shortest serving chancellors in the university's history.[14] Soon after Dirks announced his resignation, some UC Berkeley faculty members organized an effort to oust the chancellor from his post immediately, rather than wait until a new chancellor can be chosen. Writing in the San Francisco Chronicle, Nanette Asimov listed several reasons behind this effort, such as concern that a forthcoming investigation of Dirks could further embarrass the university and that his $532,000 salary is a waste of public funds.[15] In addition, several high-level university posts are vacant and some faculty members feel it is inappropriate that they be filled by a chancellor who has resigned amidst controversy.[15]


Dirks is married to Janaki Bakhle, an associate professor of history at UC Berkeley. She is the former director of the South Asia Institute at Columbia University.[16]

Selected works[edit]


  1. ^ Public Affairs (2016-08-16). "Chancellor Dirks announces he will step down". Berkeley News. University of California, Berkeley. Retrieved 2016-08-21. 
  2. ^ Dirks ’72, Chancellor-Designate, U.C. Berkeley, “Embraces Opportunity”, The Wesleyan Connecticut. By Cynthia Rockwell. November 15, 2012. Retrieved 19 November 2012.
  3. ^ Laura Butchy (May–June 2006). "Master Multitasker". Columbia College Today. 
  4. ^ "UC Berkeley to Pick Columbia Dean as New Chancellor". KQED. November 9, 2012. Retrieved 2012-11-27. 
  5. ^ Gautham Thomas (November 27, 2012). "Dirks Confirmed as UC Berkeley's Next Chancellor". The Daily Californian. Retrieved 2012-11-27. 
  6. ^ Dan Kwak (November 8, 2012). "Newly selected UC Berkeley chancellor described as strong academic". Daily Californian. Retrieved 2012-11-27. 
  7. ^ Berkeley Sees Dirks Claiming Place as Ivy With Public Mandate, Businessweek. By Oliver Staley. March 28, 2013. Retrieved March 28, 2013.
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  15. ^ a b Asimov, Nanette (2016-08-20). "Many on UC Berkeley faculty don't want leader to linger". San Francisco Chronicle: Education. San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2016-08-21. 
  16. ^ Bakhle, Janaki. 2005. Two Men and Music: Nationalism in the Making of an Indian Classical Tradition, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0195166118

External links[edit]