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Cambridge University Press
Online publication date:
October 2023
Print publication year:
Online ISBN:
Education policy, strategy and reform, Governance, Education, Management

Book description

During his four years as the tenth Chancellor of Berkeley (2013–17), Nicholas B. Dirks was confronted by crises arguably more challenging than those faced by any other college administrator in the contemporary period. This thoughtfully candid book, emerging from deep reflection on his turbulent time in office, offers not just a gripping insider's account of the febrile politics of his time as Berkeley's leader, but also decades of nuanced reflection on the university's true meaning (at its best, to be an aspirational 'city of intellect'). Dirks wrestles with some of the most urgent questions with which educational leaders are presently having to engage: including topics such as free speech and campus safe spaces, the humanities' contested future, and the real cost and value of liberal arts learning. His visionary intervention – part autobiography, part practical manifesto – is a passionate cri de cœur for structural changes in higher education that are both significant and profound.


‘Dirks' lavish anecdotes about evolving from starry-eyed missionary seeking a utopia of the intellect to tough-love administrator are hugely compelling, and there is no book like it. From his uncomfortable place at the top of two of America's most prestigious universities (Columbia and Berkeley), he gives us a brilliant, questing, at times very vulnerable story of the moral calling of the 'city of intellect' and its oddly conservative defense of old disciplinary pathways. His argument is troubling, invigorating, and impossible to ignore. All in all, a captivating, blow-by-blow account of the university's inner circle.'

Timothy Brennan - Professor of Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature, University of Minnesota

‘City of Intellect is a beautifully written book that combines memoir with well-researched analysis to address the current place and crisis of the American university. Dirks tells the story of his brief and controversial chancellorship at Berkeley, while offering a full-throated defense of his actions and views that will be of deep interest to the many observers who have wondered about the details of the conflict. But the book is about much more than the highly visible and contentious battles at Berkeley. Dirks' long experience in higher education serves as the foundation for thoughtful observations about why universities are in crisis and why they seem so resistant to necessary change. He addresses, among other topics, the future of the humanities, the appropriate role of disciplines, the improvement of decision-making processes, and financial realities and possibilities. It is a call to action with a number of quite specific and useful proposals. It serves at once as a significant primary and secondary source about higher education and has important things to say.'

Drew Gilpin Faust - Arthur Kingsley Porter University Professor and President Emerita (2007–18), Harvard University

‘Professor Dirks possesses both personal and professional experiences that position him to offer a unique perspective on the broad trends shaping higher education in the United States and around the world. He uses these experiences to illustrate, analyze, and address some of the most fundamental questions facing the world's universities, both public and private. And he simultaneously contextualizes the developments he discusses within a masterfully presented history of higher education, a technique that will broaden the appeal of the volume and extend its influence. In short, this is a terrific book about which I am extremely enthusiastic.'

John Sexton - Benjamin F. Butler Professor of Law Emeritus and Emeritus President (2002–15), New York University

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