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Nicholas Dirks    

Historian & Anthropologist, CEO of The New York Academy of Sciences

Nicholas Dirks is an internationally renowned historian and anthropologist, and an important leader in higher education. Well-known for his commitment to and advocacy for accessible, high-quality undergraduate education, to the globalization of the university, and to innovation and collaboration across the disciplines and between universities and outside partners, he served as the 10th Chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley.

In June 2020, Dirks assumed leadership of the New York Academy of Sciences (NYAS) as President and Chief Executive Officer. Founded in 1817, the New York Academy is among the oldest scientific organizations in the United States. Throughout its history, the Academy's Membership has featured thinkers and innovators from all walks of life, including U.S. Presidents Jefferson and Monroe, Thomas Edison, Charles Darwin, Margaret Mead, and many more. Today, the Academy numbers over 20,000 Members in 100+ countries, with a President's Council that includes 36 Nobel Laureates, and a distinguished Board of Governors comprised of leaders from business, academia, and philanthropy. The mission of the New York Academy of Sciences is to drive innovative solutions to society’s challenges by advancing scientific research, education, and policy.

Dirks served as chancellor at Berkeley from June 1, 2013 and July 1, 2017. During that time, he launched an undergraduate initiative, which occasioned unprecedented cooperation among the deans of undergraduate colleges and the appointment of the first Vice Chancellor of Undergraduate Education. Dirks convened a group of faculty that developed a new set of courses in data science across the curriculum (and led to the appointment of the first Dean of Data Science). He oversaw the development of the first fully residential college dormitory, and launched an initiative in arts and design. He invested in major research collaborations in neuroscience and genomics, developed a close working relationship with UCSF, and helped negotiate Berkeley’s participation in the $600m Chan Zuckerberg Biohub. Dirks established two important task forces in athletics, one to improve the academic performance and commitment of student athletes, the other to formulate a plan for long-term financial sustainability. He appointed the first campus lead to guide efforts to combat sexual violence and sexual harassment while changing campus level procedures and investing significant additional resources. Dirks established new global partnerships with Cambridge University and the National University of Singapore, while developing the Tsinghua Berkeley Shenzhen Institute and a joint climate institute with the Berkeley Lab and Tsinghua University. Dirks revamped the development operation (Fundraising 2.0) and presided over record breaking fundraising efforts, while spearheading efforts to promote more expansive alumni relations. Dirks took on unprecedented challenges around the financial health of the university, spearheading a campus wide discussion around strategic planning and beginning the process of bringing the budget back into long-term balance. Finally, Dirks maintained the unparalleled excellence of Berkeley as indicated in every major ranking, and did so while focusing on increasing accessibility for low-income and underrepresented students.

Before coming to Berkeley, he was the executive vice president for the arts and sciences and dean of the faculty at Columbia University, where, in addition to his work on behalf of undergraduate programs, he improved and diversified the faculty, putting special emphasis on interdisciplinary and international initiatives. The Franz Boas Professor of Anthropology and History, Dirks joined Columbia in 1997 as chair of the anthropology department. Prior to his appointment at Columbia, he was a professor of history and anthropology at the University of Michigan for 10 years, before which he taught Asian history and civilization at the California Institute of Technology. He received his B.A. from Wesleyan University, and his M.A. and Ph.D. at the University of Chicago. He has published four major books, edited three others, and written numerous essays, articles, and papers. Dirks has held numerous fellowships and scholarships and received several scholarly honors, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, a MacArthur Foundation residential fellowship at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, and the Lionel Trilling Award for his book Castes of Mind. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and has served on numerous national and international bodies while receiving honorary degrees in Beijing, China, and Madras, India. He is a Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Dirks was chancellor and vice-chairman of Whittle School & Studios, a global network of independent schools from 2018 to 2020.

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