You’d be right, technically, if you said today was Nicholas Dirks’ first day on the job as UC Berkeley’s 10th chancellor. But only technically.
For the new chancellor, whose tenure officially began Saturday, today marked his first weekday in his very own office in California Hall. He won’t require the standard new-employee orientation, though. Dirks, confirmed by the UC Board of Regents last Nov. 27, got to work on the transition to his new job almost immediately.
By the 2012 winter break, Dirks had already met with a slew of associate chancellors, vice chancellors, deans and other top campus officials. On five separate trips from New York — where he’s been winding down his tenure as Columbia University’s executive vice president and dean of its faculty of arts and sciences — he’s shared lunches, dinners and conversations with campus stakeholders ranging from student groups, faculty and staff to the governor and first lady of California.
His “partner, spouse and colleague,” history professor Janaki Bakhle, has joined him on two of his California trips.
“I was trying to think, when I was on the flight last night, how many times I’ve sat in 24C on my Delta route from JFK to SFO,” Dirks said Monday, as he grabbed a bite of lunch in the middle of a day he characterized as one of making connections — of both the human and technical varieties.
That’s not even to mention the two-week trip he took on behalf of the campus in April to Mumbai, Delhi, Taipei, Hong Kong and Singapore, where he met with international Berkeley clubs, friends, alumni and other supporters living on the other side of the world.
“The great expression that was used by E.M. Forster in A Passage to India” — one of Dirks’ favorite novels, and one he’s written about as a scholar of South Asian studies — “is, ‘Only connect,’ he said. “So today is ‘Only connect.'”
That meant both getting set up with email accounts, he explained, and moving to a first-name basis with staff in California Hall, many of whom gathered Monday morning in the building’s large conference room for a casual meet-and-greet. “We’ll have fun every day,” he told the assembly. “That’s my motto.”
He also got to connect Monday with the Cal Marching Band, which serenaded him with several selections as he arrived for work.
Dirks pronounced himself happy “to get rid of that ‘designate’ part of my title,” and eager to get down to business as Berkeley’s 10th chancellor.
The long transition was helpful, he said, but “I was ready to move in and get to work.”.
“All I have to do is connect,” he added, “and I’ll be fine.”