UC Berkeley Chancellor Probed for Allegedly Improper Use of Campus Gym and Personal Trainer

UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks during a New York Times event in September 2015. (Neilson Barnard/Getty Images)

Over the last year, UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks has been criticized for everything from his administration's handling of sexual harassment cases to the $700,000 the university spent to build a security fence surrounding his campus residence.

Now, the University of California has confirmed, Dirks is under investigation after an anonymous whistleblower accused him of using university facilities -- a personal trainer and gym complex -- without paying for them. The accuser also alleged that Dirks had used university funds to pay for the trainer to accompany his wife on a vacation trip to India.

The accusations, outlined in an April 11, 2016, letter to Dirks from Rachael Nava, UC's systemwide chief operating officer, were reported Tuesday by the Los Angeles Times and the San Francisco Chronicle's Phil Matier and Andy Ross.

Both the Times and Chronicle reported that the trainer involved in the allegations is named Devin Wicks, an employee of UC Berkeley's Recreational Sports Facility. Here's how the Times summarizes Wicks's history with Dirks and his wife, Berkeley history professor Janaki Bakhle:

...Mike Weinberger, who served as director of the recreational facility until his retirement in February, said he approved the free personal training and did not believe it was a violation of university policy. He noted that free tickets to football games and other sports events are routinely given to supporters.

He said the trainer, Devin Wicks, told him that Dirks approached him about fitness training shortly after becoming chancellor in 2013. Weinberger said he suggested offering free sessions for Dirks to boost the standing of the recreational sports department — which often operates in the shadows of the athletic department, with its big-time sports teams.

Weinberger said he did not know how many hours of free training Wicks provided. Wicks has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation.

“To have a chancellor in the building seeing how many students we serve — I was thrilled,” Weinberger said. “It was a strategic political decision by me to enhance our standing on campus. If there was a policy issue I don’t think any of us were aware of it.”

The Chronicle's report adds that Weinberger gave Dirks an annual membership to the Recreational Sports Facility valued at $420, but that Dirks paid for his use of the complex after questions were raised.

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Both the Times and Chronicle report that the Cal Alumni Association, not taxpayer funds, paid for Wicks's January 2016 trip to India with Bakhle. Weinberger told the Times that Wicks used personal vacation days to take the trip.

Dirks spoke to Matier and Ross and explained the trip this way:

Bakhle invited Wicks along on the trip because she was allowed to bring a guest and he was swamped with work. Wicks’ boss said the trainer used his vacation time for the Jan. 2-16 trip. ...

Dirks called Wicks one of the couple’s “oldest and dearest friends” at the university.

The chancellor said he and Wicks have worked out together regularly since they met at a holiday party soon after Dirks arrived at UC Berkeley in 2013.

Wicks and Bakhle spend hours running together, as much as 20 miles at a time, and have run in charity races together, Dirks said.

Matier and Ross, citing unnamed sources, reported "the whistle-blower complaint came from a former colleague of Wicks’ who had been fired for alleged embezzlement."

 

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