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UC Berkeley chancellor improperly accepted free fitness benefits, probe finds

By By Teresa Watanabe | Los Angeles Times (TNS)

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University of California, Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks improperly accepted free benefits, including membership to the campus fitness center, personal training sessions and the unauthorized transfer of exercise equipment from the public gym to his private residence, a university investigation has found.

Overall, Dirks failed to pay $4,990 in fees for the gym membership and personal training, and enjoyed the private use of a Precor Cross Trainer elliptical exercise machine worth $3,500 to $4,000, according to findings of the heavily redacted report released Friday.

UC ethics rules bar employees from the unauthorized use of campus resources or facilities or the “entanglement” of private interests with UC obligations. The investigation — which was sparked in April by a whistle-blower complaint and performed for the UC Office of the President by an outside company, Public Interest Investigations Inc. — concluded that Dirks violated those rules.

The chancellor, through a spokesman, declined to comment Friday.

UC spokeswoman Dianne Klein said Dirks had apologized and repaid the money owed even before the investigation was completed in September.

Allegations about the chancellor’s fitness benefits were widely circulated on campus last summer and further fueled dissatisfaction with his leadership. Dirks already was under fire over his handling of sexual misconduct cases, faculty relations and budget problems. The chancellor, who joined Berkeley in 2013, announced his resignation in August and will step down June 30.

Carol T. Christ, UC Berkeley’s interim executive vice chancellor and provost, will succeed him July 1.

According to the report, Dirks was a self-described “workout nut” who was offered a free membership to Berkeley’s 100,000-square-foot Recreational Sports Facility after a tour in 2013. He also began workout sessions with Devin Wicks, the facility’s assistant director for fitness operations.

The name of the person who approved the free membership and training was redacted. But Mike Weinberger, who headed the recreational facility until his retirement in February 2016, told the Los Angeles Times last year he had approved the services for Dirks to promote his fitness programs and did not believe it violated university policy to do so.

Wicks and Dirks told investigators that their workouts were not personal training sessions; rather, they were exercising together as friends. But investigators concluded otherwise _ citing references to personal training in email exchanges, personal calendar notations and the recollections of witnesses interviewed. Investigators found that Dirks had accepted 48 sessions valued at $3,120 between 2014 and February 2016, and that his four-year gym membership was valued at $1,870.

The report also found that Wicks, Dirks and a third person whose name was redacted told different stories about who requested the transfer of the elliptical exercise machine to the chancellor’s home. Investigators concluded that the account from the third person, who said Dirks asked Wicks for the equipment, was most credible.

Investigators also concluded that Wicks, who was placed on leave during the investigation but has since returned to work, had improperly provided services to Dirks and attempted to interfere with the investigation.

He could not be reached for comment Friday.
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UC Berkeley chancellor improperly accepted free fitness benefits, probe finds