Thursday, July 14, 2016

Nicholas Dirks, UC Berkeley Chancellor, under investigation for "alleged misuse of public funds, personal use of campus fitness trainer"

The University of California rolls through scandals like a great battleship being assaulted by BB guns. Nothing seems to scathe it.

The University of California: The Teflon University System

Or--to switch my metaphor--the University of California might be called the ultimate teflon university system. Scandal slides right off it like a burned fried egg in a teflon-coated pan. Remember the UC Davis pepper-spray incident when campus police officers assaulted passive students with pepper spray--a weapon the officers weren't even authorized to use?

No big deal. UC simply got out its checkbook as if it were a middle-class householder paying the monthly bills. Around 20 or so assaulted students sued, but UC settled with them for a million bucks-mere pocket change. It even paid off one of the assaulting police officers who filed a disability claim, based on the stress he said he experienced from pepper spraying students.

Hey, that's only fair. If UC is going to pay off the victims of violence, it should compensate the perpetrators as well.

Then the Sacramento Bee reported that no fewer than nine UC campus chancellors were getting outside money from sitting on various corporate boards. Did anyone get fired for that embarrassment? Naah.

And then Sujit Choudhry, the Dean of the Berkeley Law School, was accused of sexually harassing a subordinate.  He stepped down from his deanship but retained his tenured professor's salary--more than a quarter of a million dollars a year.

Space doesn't permit a review of UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi's various scandals. She is apparently on paid leave as the University sorts out nepotism allegations. But she's still getting paid, God bless her.

Allegations Against UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks: A Nonstarter

And now Nicholas Dirks, Chancellor of UC's flagship Berkeley campus, is being investigated for allegedly misusing public funds. As the Los Angeles Times reported it, a whistleblower accused Chancellor Dirks of getting free services from a campus fitness trainer. In addition, Dirks's wife, a tenured history professor, took the trainer with her on a trip to India. There are also questions about a $700,000 fence constructed around Dirks's residence--installed to protect him from student protesters.

In my view, the allegations against Dirks are a tempest in a teapot. Getting free use of a campus fitness trainer is no big deal. The director of the UC Berkeley recreational center approved the arrangement, which the director compared to getting free tickets to a varsity football game.

The same trainer accompanied Dirks's wife on a trip to India, but apparently the Berkeley Alumni Association paid for this perk, so no public funds were involved.

As for spending 700 grand to build a fence around Chancellor Dirks's house, I say what the hell. If the project complied with University spending regulations--and it probably did--no wrongdoing occurred. I doubt any of the allegations against Chancellor Dirks are serious enough to get him fired.

UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks: University President as Potentate

On the other hand, Chancellor Dirks is very well paid. He makes a half million a year, gets free housing and a generous car allowance. Can't the guy pay the cost of a personal fitness trainer?

Likewise, why is someone picking up the tab for Janaki Bakhle, Dirks's wife, to take Dirks's personal trainer with her on a trip to India? After all, Bakhle is a humble history professor. Where does she get off traveling the globe with a personal trainer paid for by the alumni association?

And let's face it; $700,000 is a lot of money to put a security fence around Dirks's personal residence. Berkeley's campus police defended the expense as a money saver. According to the UC cops, having a fence around the chancellor's house saves the university $360,000 a year in security costs.

But that defense is laughable. Was UC Berkeley really spending more than a third of a million dollars a year to protect Dirks's house?

The allegations against Dirks are a window into the world of a mega university president. These people no longer serve primarily as academic leaders. In their new role, they are more like a viceroy overseeing a British colony.  They get paid extravagant salaries, which are often padded with outside income and special perks like life insurance, car allowances, and palatial housing. They travel the world in private jets, hobnobbing with the global elites.

Meanwhile, if recent news reports are to be believed, a large number of college students aren't getting enough to eat.  Students borrow more and more every year to attend college and then graduate into a job market that puts nearly half of new graduates into jobs that do not even require a college degree. No wonder a large percentage of them regret ever going to college.

But Chancellor Dirks and his tenured wife are doing fine, thank you very much. And if the students get restless and protest escalating college costs, Dirks knows he can rest secure behind his $700,000 security fence.



Image result for "nicholas dirks images
Nicholas Dirks: Potentate of UC Berkeley
References

Nanette Aimov. UC Berkely law dean Choudhry resigns amid harassment scandal. San Francisco Chronicle, March 20, 2016. Accessible at http://www.sfgate.com/education/article/UC-Berkeley-law-dean-resigns-amid-harassment-6882570.php

Jessica Dickler. College costs are out of control. CNBC, July 13, 2016. Accessible at http://www.cnbc.com/2016/07/12/college-costs-are-out-of-control.html

Conor Friedersdorf. A costly suspension for UC Dav's embatled chancellor. Atlantic, April 28, 2016. http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/04/a-100k-suspension-for-uc-davis-embattled-chancellor/480300/

Larry Gordon (2012, September 13). UC to pay settlement in Davis pepper spray caseLos Angeles Times (online edition). http://articles.latimes.com/2012/sep/13/local/la-me-uc-pepper-spray-20120914

Steve Gorman. University of California cop who pepper sprayed student protesters awarded $38,000. Reuters, October 23. Accessible at: http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/10/23/21105239-university-of-california-cop-who-pepper-sprayed-student-protesters-awarded-38000

Diana Lambert and Alexei Koseff. UC Davis chancellor apologizes, will donate textbook stock to student scholarshipsSacramento Bee, March 4, 2016. Accessible at http://www.sacbee.com/news/investigations/the-public-eye/article64041327.html

Teresa Watanabe. UC Berkeley chancellor under investigation for alleged misuse of public funds, personal use of campus fitness trainer. Los Angeles Times, July 14, 2016. Accessible at http://www.latimes.com/local/education/la-me-ln-berkeley-chancellor-probe-20160712-snap-story.html



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