University of California Chancellor Nicholas Dirks speaks to attendees at a vigil for student Tarishi Jain, in Berkeley, on Tuesday, July 5, 2016. Jain, 18, was among 22 people killed during a suspected-ISIS terror attack at a cafe in Bangladesh. Photo: David Yee ©2016
On July 5, Chancellor Nicholas Dirks spoke to a crowd gathered at a vigil for Tarishi Jain, a UC Berkeley student killed by Bangladeshi terrorists. Photo: David Yee
On July 5, Chancellor Nicholas Dirks spoke to a crowd gathered at a vigil for Tarishi Jain, a UC Berkeley student killed by Bangladeshi terrorists. Photo: David Yee

UC is investigating allegations that UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks misused public funds by working out in the campus gym without paying membership dues, used a personal trainer for free, and sent that trainer on a family trip with money that was not his own.

Rachael Nava, the UC system’s chief operating officer, sent Dirks a letter April 11 informing him that a whistleblower complaint had prompted her to launch an investigation. The news was first reported in the Los Angeles Times and the San Francisco Chronicle.

“This letter is to notify you that a preliminary investigation has been initiated into a reporting party’s allegation of several issues of concern related to your use of University resources. In summary, the reporting party has alleged:

  • that you and/or members of your family have utilized the Recreational Sports Facility without paying corresponding fees;
  • that you and/or members of your family have utilized professional services of Department of Recreational Sports employees or independent contractors without paying corresponding fees; and
  • that you have utilized University resources for a Department of Recreational Sports employee to travel with you, unrelated to University business.”

If any of the allegations are true, it could constitute “improper governmental activities,” according to the letter. (Read the letter in full.)

The accusations against Dirks are another blow at a time when some members of the faculty have lost confidence in his leadership, according to news reports, and other questions have been raised about his spending habits. Dirks and his staff were criticized this spring for how they handled a series of high-profile sexual harassment cases, leading to the resignation of Provost Claude Steele, whom Dirks had hand-picked to be his No. 2. Critics are also concerned that remodeling and erecting a metal fence around the chancellor’s home on campus cost close to $1 million.

Janaki Bakhle. Photo: UC Berkeley
Janaki Bakhle. Photo: UC Berkeley

Dirks and his wife, Janaki Bakhle, an assistant professor of history at Cal, started to work out at the Recreational Sports Facility, the student gym, shortly after Dirks was appointed chancellor in 2013. The couple befriended Devin Wicks, who started to train Dirks without charge, according to news reports. Mike Weinberger, who was the director of the facility until February, told the LA Times he had approved the arrangement. He thought having the chancellor work out at the student facility would elevate its profile.

“To have a chancellor in the building seeing how many students we serve — I was thrilled,” Weinberger told the Times. “It was a strategic political decision by me to enhance our standing on campus. If there was a policy issue I don’t think any of us were aware of it.”

Dirks paid the $420 annual fee after questions were raised, according to the Chronicle.

Wicks is now on administrative leave.

In addition to training Dirks, Wicks apparently accompanied Bakhle on a two-week trip to India in January. The Berkeley Alumni Association paid for Wicks’ trip, according to the Times. The Chronicle reported it was the Cal Alumni Association.

The whistleblower is a former colleague of Wicks’ who had been fired for alleged embezzlement, according to the Chronicle.

Berkeleyside has asked Dirks for comment. Claire Holmes, associate vice chancellor, Communications & Public Affairs, said: “Out of respect for the investigative process, we cannot comment further on this matter until it is concluded.” 

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Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, published in November...