James E. Ryan today begins his term as the ninth president of the University of Virginia.
A first-generation college graduate, Ryan takes office with an ambition to help UVA move into its third century as a service-oriented public institution by building on its fundamental values and strengths.
“By focusing on what has always made the University of Virginia great, I believe we can make it the very best version of itself: a vibrant and diverse community of trust dedicated to discovery in service of the public good,” he said. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to begin this journey together with the many members of the University community who share my love for this place.”
Ryan said his experiences from elementary school through his time as a university student, faculty member and academic dean cemented his appreciation for, and belief in, the transformative power of education to improve lives and strengthen democracy.
“I am honored and thrilled to serve as president of the University of Virginia,” he said.
Ryan succeeds President Emerita Teresa A. Sullivan, who led UVA for eight years and was the University’s first woman president. Sullivan will take a research leave in Texas before returning to the UVA faculty.
An accomplished educator and legal scholar, Ryan earned his law degree from UVA and previously served on the UVA School of Law faculty. Since 2013, he served as dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education and the Charles William Eliot Professor of Education.
University Rector Frank M. “Rusty” Conner III said Ryan brings a compelling blend of talent, experience and energy to the role of president. The Board of Visitors unanimously appointed Ryan as UVA’s ninth president last September.
“Jim Ryan holds values that will distinguish his time as president and strengthen the University’s leadership role in higher education as it enters its third century,” Conner said. “He has great integrity and a passion for service. He is committed to expanding opportunities on Grounds and beyond and to ensuring that UVA is diverse, inclusive and welcoming. And he embraces the University’s role and responsibility as a partner in our community – locally and globally.”
Ryan rejoins the University as president as UVA continues commemorating the bicentennial of its founding and charts a course for the years ahead. The new president said he intends to lead collaboratively, inviting students, faculty, staff, alumni and supporters to offer insights and suggestions as he begins consideration of a strategic vision for the future.
“In my view, a vision is only compelling if it is a shared vision,” Ryan said.
During his first day in office, Ryan will launch “Ours to Shape,” an initiative that asks for community input on questions about three thematic areas that define the University: community, discovery and service.
“It is certainly important that we understand our past, but I believe the most critical question we face is this: What should our University look like in the future?” Ryan said.
Ryan, who initially will take up residence in Pavilion VIII as long-planned renovations continue at Carr’s Hill, said he looks forward to reuniting with friends and familiar places in Charlottesville – from his favorite running routes to having lunch at Bodo’s and enjoying UVA athletics.
“Returning to UVA feels like coming home,” Ryan said. “My children grew up here. I met my wife here, and the University represents so many of the things that I have committed my professional life to pursuing.”
Raised in Midland Park, New Jersey, Ryan was adopted as a child and credits his adoptive father with instilling in him a deep sense of responsibility to give back. His parents also believed strongly in the power of education to improve lives – a belief Ryan adopted himself through his experiences.
Ryan, 51, earned his bachelor’s degree in American studies summa cum laude from Yale University in 1988, becoming the second member of his family, after his sister, to graduate from college. He earned his J.D. from the UVA School of Law in 1992, attending on a full scholarship and graduating first in his class.
In 1998, Ryan joined the School of Law faculty after finishing a fellowship and clerking for the chief judge of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and for then-U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist. During his time at the Law School, Ryan served as the Matheson and Morgenthau Distinguished Professor of Law and as the academic associate dean. In a harbinger of his determination to see UVA as a public-service institution in its third century, Ryan, in 2009 founded the Program in Law and Public Service, which gives law students training and mentoring for public service careers.
In 2010, he was named recipient of an All-University Teaching Award. That year, Ryan also argued before the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of a client of the School of Law’s Supreme Court Litigation Clinic in a case dealing with federal firearms laws. He also has written about Supreme Court litigation, education law and policy and constitutional law.
In 2011, Ryan was the recipient of an Outstanding Faculty Award from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia. Previously, he received the McFarland Prize for Outstanding Scholarship and the Black Law Students Association’s Outstanding Service Award.
Ryan’s writing often focuses on the intersection of education and law, including topics such as school finance, school choice, desegregation and education standards. He is author of the acclaimed book “Five Miles Away, A World Apart,” which examines the modern history of how law has shaped educational opportunities, using two Richmond-area schools to illustrate the story.
The U.S. Secretary of Education appointed him in 2011 to the Department of Education Equity and Excellence Commission. He previously served on the boards of The Tapestry Project in New York, the Maya Angelou Public Charter School in Washington and the Legal Aid Justice Society in Charlottesville. Ryan also has volunteered with Special Olympics and as a youth sports coach.
Last year, he unexpectedly became the author of a New York Times best-seller. After a YouTube video of his 2016 Harvard Education School commencement speech went viral, Ryan was encouraged to write about its message. The resulting book – “Wait, What? And Life’s Other Essential Questions” – has been celebrated as an entertaining and insightful exploration of how asking good questions is at the heart of strengthening connections with others.
Ryan is married to Katie Homer Ryan, a staff attorney for the Education Law Clinic and Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative at Harvard Law School and an adjunct lecturer in education. Katie Ryan is a 1987 graduate of Dartmouth College and, like Jim, earned a J.D. from the UVA School of Law in 1992. The Ryans have four children: Will, age 21; Sam, 19; Ben, 17; and Phebe, 12.
Jim and Katie Ryan are accomplished runners, both having completed the Boston Marathon in each of the last eight years. Jim’s other interests include skiing, mountain biking, fly-fishing, surfing, cooking and photography.
Ryan’s presidential inauguration ceremony will be held Oct. 19.