Regents OK raise for new UC Berkeley chief

Nicholas B. Dirks is getting a $50,000 raise over his precedessor, but will still earn $14,000 less than he's currently paid at Columbia University.
(Eileen Barroso / Associated Press)

Despite strong opposition from Gov. Jerry Brown, the UC Board of Regents on Tuesday gave the incoming chancellor of UC Berkeley a $50,000 — or 11.4% — pay raise over the current campus head. The extra money will come from private donations, not state funds, the regents said.

Nicholas B. Dirks will be paid $486,000, which officials said is $14,000 less than his current salary as a high-ranking administrator at Columbia University.

Brown, who is a regent, described Dirks as an excellent choice but said he would not vote for the salary given the austerities that the state and the 10-campus UC system still face. The university must look for more efficient ways to teach and operate and “the leaders have to demonstrate that they are also sacrificing,” Brown said.


The $50,000 increase, even though it won’t come from public coffers, “does not fit within the spirit of servant leadership that I think will be required over the next few years,” the governor said.

Brown also cited voters’ recent approval of his Proposition 30 tax increase, which spared UC from deep budget cuts. During the campaign for the measure, the governor said, he promised voters that he would “use their funds judiciously and with prudence.”

Brown, who rarely attended regents meetings before the election, has since become a dramatic presence and voice against UC status quo. Since last summer, he has criticized raises for Cal State executives and suggested that all public colleges promote less expensive insiders instead of shopping for high-priced “hired guns” from across the country.

Besides noting that Dirks will take a pay cut from being Columbia’s executive vice president and dean of its arts and sciences faculty, UC leaders said his UC Berkeley salary will be much lower than that of leaders at many other prestigious public and private universities.

“I try to get the very best person I can in this job to navigate the university through some very complicated times,” UC system President Mark G. Yudof said.

Yudof said he and Brown do not see “exactly eye to eye” on Dirks’ pay, but Yudof said he and the governor agree on nearly all other issues, including efforts to keep tuition from rising.


The regents first debated the issue privately Tuesday in a telephone conference call linking those in Oakland, Sacramento and Los Angeles. After the call went public, three regents voted against the pay increase — Brown, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and Charlene Zettel — and 11 others voted for it. All 14 voted to appoint Dirks.

State Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), a frequent UC critic, issued a statement suggesting that Dirks follow the example of Timothy P. White, who recently asked for a 10% pay cut from the salary paid his Cal State predecessor. Yee said he would reintroduce legislation to limit executive pay raises in public higher education.

When he starts at the 36,000-student UC Berkeley on June 1, Dirks will receive free campus housing, along with $121,700 in relocation fees paid out in installments over four years and other benefits.

An anthropologist and historian who is an expert on India and its British colonial era, he will succeed Robert J. Birgeneau, who has been Berkeley chancellor for eight years. Dirks’ wife, Columbia history professor Janaki Bakhle, is expected to receive a faculty job at UC Berkeley, but officials said her hiring and any possible salary must be reviewed by faculty panels.

After his confirmation, Dirks, who is the son of a former UC Santa Cruz administrator, said he was grateful to lead “one of the greatest universities in the world” and said he would work to boost student financial aid and encourage interdisciplinary research and studies.

He thanked Brown and California voters for passing Proposition 30, which raises the state sales tax a quarter-cent over four years and the income tax on high earners over seven years. Dirks, 61, promised that he would carefully “steward the tax dollars that are being paid by the citizens of this great state.”


The regents unanimously approved an annual $245,600 salary and housing for Jane Close Conoley, who will become acting chancellor at UC Riverside next month until a permanent one is hired. That salary is below the $325,000 pay of the current Riverside campus chief, White, who is leaving to become chancellor of the Cal State system. Conoley is now dean of UC Santa Barbara’s Gervitz Graduate School of Education.