Nicholas Dirks

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.

Nicholas Dirks
10th Chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley
In office
June 1, 2013  June 1, 2017
Preceded byRobert J. Birgeneau
Succeeded byCarol T. Christ
Personal details
Spouse(s)Janaki Bakhle
ProfessionProfessor, historian, university administrator
Academic background
ThesisLittle kingdoms of South India: Political authority and social relations in the southern Tamil countryside (1981)
Doctoral advisorBernard Cohn
Academic work
DisciplineHistorical anthropology
Sub-disciplineSouth Asian history and culture
Main interestsBritish colonial rule
Notable worksThe Scandal of Empire (2006)

Early life

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 completed his undergraduate education at Wesleyan University, where he received a B.A. in African and Asian studies in 1972.[1] Thereafter, he attended the University of Chicago, where he earned an M.A. in history in 1974 and a Ph.D. in history and anthropology in 1981.[2] 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 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.[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 announced his resignation from the position on August 16, 2016 following controversy related to a longstanding budget deficit, improper spending, and his handling of sexual harassment claims at the campus.[8] He remains a full professor of history and anthropology at the institution.[9]

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.[10]

Berkeley Chancellorship

During his tenure, Dirks aspired to enhance the undergraduate experience, including the formation of a new undergraduate residential college,[11] the creation of an undergraduate program in data science,[12] the formation of a task force examining student housing,[13] and efforts to improve the experiences of intercollegiate athletes at Berkeley.[14] Dirks spearheaded new interdisciplinary programs including the Berkeley Arts + Design Initiative,[15] and regional multi-institution research efforts such as the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative,[16] and global research and exchange partnerships.[17][18]

Dirks was also a highly successful fundraiser,[19] including overseeing the completion of the Campaign for Berkeley.[20]

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 astronomer Geoffrey Marcy and then-incumbent Boalt Hall dean Sujit Choudhry.[21]

Dirks was also the subject of intense criticism for his handling of UC Berkeley's budget.[22] Other contentious matters were the size of the fence around the on-campus mansion provided for him by the university,[23] an emergency door installed in California Hall at university expense,[24][25] an investigation for use of public funds for a personal trainer,[26] and a wrongful termination claim filed by the former manager of University House.[27]

On August 16, 2016, he announced his intent to resign after less than four years as chancellor.[28][29]

In 2017, Dirks and his chief of staff, Nils Gilman, dealt with the aftermath of the Trump election, and various political clashes on the university's campus.[30]

Academic Board and Advisory Positions

University of the People (Member of President's Council)[31]


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.[32]

Selected works

  • The Hollow Crown: Ethnohistory of an Indian Kingdom, Cambridge University Press, 1988, ISBN 978-0-521-05372-3
  • Castes of Mind: Colonialism and the Making of Modern India, Princeton University Press, 2001, ISBN 0-691-08895-0
  • The Scandal of Empire: India and the Creation of Imperial Britain, Harvard University Press, 2006, ISBN 978-0-674-02724-4


  1. Dirks ’72, Chancellor-Designate, U.C. Berkeley, “Embraces Opportunity”, The Wesleyan Connecticut. By Cynthia Rockwell. November 15, 2012. Retrieved 19 November 2012.
  2. Dirks, Nicholas Bernard (1981). Little kingdoms of South India: Political authority and social relations in the southern Tamil countryside (Ph.D.). The University of Chicago. OCLC 28781512 via ProQuest.
  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. Staley, Oliver (March 28, 2013). "Berkeley Sees Dirks Claiming Place as Ivy With Public Mandate". Businessweek. Retrieved March 28, 2013.
  8. Public Affairs (2016-08-16). "Chancellor Dirks announces he will step down". Berkeley News. University of California, Berkeley. Retrieved 2016-08-21.
  10. "Former UC Berkeley chancellor finds new position in global school system". The Daily Californian. 2018-02-13. Retrieved 2018-07-12.
  11. "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.
  12. "UC Berkeley pilots data science class | The Daily Californian". The Daily Californian. 2015-09-02. Retrieved 2017-10-11.
  13. "UC identifies 9 potential sites for student housing in Berkeley". Berkeleyside. 2017-01-31. Retrieved 2017-10-11.
  14. "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.
  15. "Exposure to arts central to undergraduate experience | The Daily Californian". The Daily Californian. 2015-11-20. Retrieved 2017-11-01.
  16. "UC Berkeley to collaborate with UCSF, Stanford in Chan Zuckerberg Biohub | The Daily Californian". The Daily Californian. 2016-09-22. Retrieved 2017-11-01.
  17. "Campus establishes exchange programs with Peking University, Free University of Berlin | The Daily Californian". The Daily Californian. 2016-10-04. Retrieved 2017-11-01.
  18. "Berkeley-Tsinghua Joint Research Center receives $5 million donation | The Daily Californian". The Daily Californian. 2017-01-19. Retrieved 2017-11-01.
  19. "Campus sets new records for fundraising". Berkeley News. 2016-07-14. Retrieved 2017-11-01.
  20. "Campus, donors celebrate success of Campaign for Berkeley | The Daily Californian". The Daily Californian. 2014-04-13. Retrieved 2017-11-01.
  21. "UC Berkeley has history of tolerating sexual harassment". San Francisco Chronicle.
  22. "UC Berkeley chancellor faces skeptical Academic Senate". San Francisco Chronicle.
  23. "Fence and its costs rising at UC Berkeley chancellor's home". San Francisco Chronicle.
  24. 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.
  25. Staff, Haruka Senju | Senior (29 July 2016). "Campus builds escape hatch for Dirks' office in California Hall". The Daily Californian.
  26. "UC Berkeley chancellor under investigation for alleged misuse of public funds, personal use of campus fitness trainer". Los Angeles Times.
  28. "After 4 years in the spotlight, Dirks leaves the stage". The Daily Californian. 2017-05-01. Retrieved 2018-02-08.
  29. "UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks announces resignation". San Francisco Chronicle.
  32. Bakhle, Janaki (2005). Two Men and Music: Nationalism in the Making of an Indian Classical Tradition. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0195166118.
Academic offices
Preceded by
Robert J. Birgeneau
Chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley
2013 – 2017
Succeeded by
Carol T. Christ
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