UC Berkeley has chosen one of its most experienced administrators and scholars to serve as interim provost and help lead the campus amid turmoil over sexual harassment cases and a budget crisis.
Carol T. Christ, a scholar of Victorian literature who joined Berkeley in 1970 and served as its provost and executive vice chancellor for six years until 2000, will replace Claude Steele as the university’s chief academic officer. Steele, who was widely criticized for his handling of sexual misconduct cases, announced his resignation this month to spend more time with his ill wife.
Christ also served as president of Smith College in Massachusetts for more than a decade before returning to Berkeley. In 2015, she became director of the Center for Studies in Higher Education.
Chancellor Nicholas Dirks hailed Christ as an energetic and innovative leader who is known as a champion of diversity and women’s issues. She was Berkeley’s first Title IX officer to oversee discrimination claims and also served as an assistant to the chancellor, focusing on women’s issues.
“Her extensive experience on this campus coupled with her significant career accomplishments position her to provide exemplary leadership for Berkeley’s academic enterprise,” Dirks said in a statement.
Michael Burawoy, a sociology professor and co-chair of the Berkeley Faculty Assn., said he hoped Christ would bring “equilibrium” to a campus he said has been struggling under Dirks’ administration.
“She’s as good a replacement as one can possibly imagine — experienced and admired as a scholar and administrator,” Burawoy said. “It’s a brave and devoted person who is willing to be second-in-command when the captain has lost his way.”
Celeste Langan, an associate professor of English who also co-chairs the Berkeley Faculty Assn., said Christ’s long familiarity with the campus will prove essential in helping confront key challenges, such as how to close a budget deficit estimated at $150 million this year. Many faculty members have criticized Dirks and Steele for failing to adequately include them in decision-making, with some noting that both men worked in private universities until just a few years ago and are less familiar with a public university culture.
“We’re lucky that Carol Christ returned to Berkeley, since part of the problem has been the failure of various administrators to know Berkeley — its culture, its faculty — adequately before launching ‘initiatives,’” Langan said. “Her historical perspective may be essential as we try to differentiate between good and bad changes.”
Christ earned a doctorate at Yale University. She then joined the English department at Berkeley, serving as professor and chair. She was subsequently named dean of the Division of Humanities, as it was then called, and provost for the College of Letters and Science.
“I love Berkeley, and am ready to do whatever I can at this crucial moment in the university’s life,” Christ said in a statement.
A search committee for a permanent provost is being formed this week.
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