After Chancellor Nicholas Dirks announced in August that he would resign at the end of this academic year, UC Berkeley is on the hunt for a new leader — preferably a popular one this time. One possibility floated by a group of faculty is an intellectual prominent on and beyond campus: Robert Reich.
Dirks' resignation was prompted by numerous scandals including accusations that he misused public funds and that he mishandled a variety of sexual harassment incidents. Further, students and faculty complained of a general sense that Dirks was isolated, symbolically as well as physically, from the institution he represented — safe but disconnected behind a $7000 fence commissioned for his residence that, according to critics, was constructed to keep protestors at bay.
Some faculty have urged Dirks to depart sooner rather than later. "Given the critical decisions that need to be made for the campus, I am very worried that having Dirks remain as chancellor for another 10 months is not tenable,” Eric Schickler, chair of the political science department, said later in the month. “We need an interim chancellor — from among the Berkeley faculty — who can help provide real, forward-looking leadership for the campus."
Robert Reich, who served as labor secretary under President Bill Clinton and is widely seen as a leading public intellectual on the left, is one such candidate. Reich teaches at Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy, and his name was put forward for the position this week by the Berkeley Faculty Association, whom the Chronicle characterizes as "a more activist group of professors than the larger Academic Senate."
In a "Statement of Principles" put forward by the Association and originally published in yesterday's issue of the Daily Cal, professors made their case for Reich after enumerating their demands for a chancellor. First explaining the stakes in an introductory paragraph, the Faculty Association wrote that:
Within the university, faculty, staff, and students have suffered severe erosions of local control and local workforces; in their place have emerged expensive and inept experts, inefficient services, temporary managers and outsourcing. Never have university management and provision of services been more expensive; never in recent decades has the university been run more poorly, featured more unequal access and compensation, or suffered a worse public reputation.
Their letter closes with an endorsement of Reich:
We propose Robert Reich as an excellent candidate for chancellor. Reich is the Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy in the Goldman School at Berkeley, former Secretary of Labor in the Clinton Administration, distinguished public intellectual and commentator, author of best-selling books on the economy, politics and education, inspiration for the film, Inequality for All, and a firm believer in public education and the public interest.
Berkeley's next chancellor faces daunting challenges including a budget deficit of $150 million. But more difficult still may be uniting a campus divided by scandal and the mistrust that has attended it. “[Reich] symbolizes all that is good and great about Berkeley,” sociology Professor Michael Burawoy and co-chair of the faculty association tells the Chronicle. “He represents an alternative vision of the university, away from the treacherous path of the last two decades.”
Reich hasn't addressed the endorsement, instead devoting his tweets and blog to criticisms of the Republican party and its presidential candidate Donald Trump.