Four years ago, Nicholas Dirks left a top job at Columbia University for the chancellorship of UC Berkeley, the nation’s top public research university. It was not a smooth ride. He faced crisis after crisis: a critical budget deficit, sexual harassment scandals, a free-speech riot, personal controversy and declining faculty confidence in his leadership. He stepped down in 2017.
Now the specialist in South Asian studies is writing a book about the history and future of the university and has returned to the classroom to teach an undergraduate seminar on the subject. He also has joined a venture to create an international school system, starting with campuses in the U.S. and China. Dirks spoke to The Times about his bumpy tenure as chancellor and his feeling that universities and the American Dream are under assault.