Nicholas B. Dirks says of his appointment: “This is an opportunity I embrace with both excitement and humility.” Photo: Eileen Barroso | Columbia University

Nicholas B. Dirks, Columbia University’s executive vice president and dean of the faculty of Arts and Sciences, will succeed Robert J. Birgeneau as UC Berkeley’s 10th chancellor, the university announced Thursday.

Dirks is set to begin at Cal on June 1, 2013. Birgeneau announced in March that he would step down in December, but has agreed to serve through May, according to the university.

Dirks was born in Illinois but grew up in Connecticut, according to a statement released by UC Berkeley. He and his wife, Columbia history professor Janaki Bakhle, have a 13-year-old son, and Dirks has a grown daughter from a prior marriage.

Dirks taught in California earlier on his career and has family connections to the state as well; his late father served as vice chancellor and dean for humanities at UC Santa Cruz in the 1970s, and his mother is a longtime California resident.

“This is an opportunity I embrace with both excitement and humility,” Dirks said, via the university statement. “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.”

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

Dirks, 61, is the Franz Boas Professor of Anthropology and History at Columbia and the author of three books on India.

He 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,” according to the university.

“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,” said Birgeneau, via a prepared statement. “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.”

UC President Yudof described Dirks as “a highly accomplished leader with the sensibilities and knowledge of a humanist, as well as extensive fundraising, academic and administrative expertise.”

Academic background

Dirks has overseen the administration and management, as well as the long-term academic and financial planning, of 29 departments for the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences and six schools as executive vice president for Arts and Sciences at Columbia since 2004.

He oversees 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.

Dirks taught history and anthropology at the University of Michigan prior to going to Columbia in 1997 to chair and rebuild the Department of Anthropology. He taught Asian history at the California Institute of Technology for nine years before moving to Michigan.

YouTube video

Dirks has completed “extensive archival and field research in India and Britain” according to the university’s statement. 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 received Columbia’s Lionel Trilling Award for Best Book in 2002.

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

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

“Remarkable job” helps Cal navigate through tough times [08.24.12]
Chancellor Birgeneau announces return to academic career [03.13.12]

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Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist...