September 12, 2022 By McGregor McCance,

Portrait of James Ryan

Q&A: Jim Ryan Assesses ‘Great and Good’ Progress and the Road Ahead

UVA’s president said much work lies ahead as the University strives to become one of the best in service to the community, state and world.

Three years have passed since the University of Virginia Board of Visitors approved UVA’s freshly minted strategic plan. A glance at the timeline of accomplishments from the past 36 months confirms that UVA has maintained a brisk pace when it comes to accomplishing strategic priorities.

The “Great and Good” plan, of course, is a 10-year roadmap designed to make UVA the best public university in the country by 2030, and one of the best anywhere, public or private. So there’s lots of work ahead, even with early momentum that hardly slowed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

UVA Today recently caught up with Ryan to find out how he thinks things are going so far, and what’s to come.

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Q. What’s your evaluation of how the plan is progressing so far?

A. I’m really pleased with the volume and quality of what we have been able to accomplish. We have made progress across each of the strategic plan’s foundational goals and key initiatives, in the Health System and the Academic Division, here in Charlottesville and in Wise, and we have benefitted tremendously from the contributions of faculty, staff, students, alumni and community members, all of whom are committed to making UVA both great and good.

This would be admirable even on its own, but when you consider that shortly after the release of the strategic plan, we faced a global pandemic that has presented major challenges to every facet of our mission, it’s remarkable.

One of the most important steps we’ve taken is to establish an easily accessible dashboard and an implementation timeline, so that everyone can stay up to date on our progress at a glance. The timeline is regularly updated with headlines about accomplishments toward each key initiative, and the dashboard shows how far along we are on elements of each key initiative, so everyone can get a sense of what we’ve done and what’s left to do.

It’s been quite
to me to engage
with our community as
true partners
in service

to a common goal – to
make our community as
strong and

as possible.

Jim Ryan

Q. Has anything really surprised you in the three years since the launch?

A. I’m a little surprised, but mostly delighted, that the title of the plan, “Great and Good,” has seemed to resonate so much with the community. I hear people using it as a guidepost and a way to evaluate decisions and initiatives at the institutional level, but also at the personal level, which I think is terrific. It is the kind of thinking that feels right at home in the culture of UVA: How do we strive, in our personal and professional lives, to be both outstanding and ethical, or not just excellent, but excellent for the purpose of serving others and advancing the common good?

Q. Where are you looking to see progress over the next year or two?

A. Second-year housing is part of our Citizen-Leaders for the 21st Century initiative, which aims to prepare students to be productive servant-leaders in a diverse, globally connected world, regardless of their careers or professions. The idea behind creating new residential opportunities for second-years is that giving students more opportunities to live and learn together will help prepare them to live and lead in the increasingly diverse world they will enter when they graduate. We’ve now completed a pilot, hired a consulting group to work with us on planning and potential financing structures, and are expecting a report in the fall – so we will have more to share on that front soon.

Another area I’m looking forward to is our continued expansion in Northern Virginia through the UVA NOVA campus. We’re already offering several programs that matriculate more than 500 students per year, including professional and degree programs run by the Darden School of Business, the School of Education and Human Development, the McIntire School of Commerce, the School of Continuing and Professional Studies, and the School of Data Science. But we’re planning to expand those offerings with new online, in-person and hybrid programs in a variety of subjects. We think this will be an effective way to increase our reach and meet growing demand in the area.

‘Great and Good’

Q. You’ve noted that we continued to make progress even during the pandemic, which posed enormous challenges. What lessons did you learn about managing the unexpected alongside longer-term planning?

A. What’s great about a strategic plan – especially one that reflects community input and priorities, as ours does – is that it can serve as a North Star when unanticipated challenges arise, or as circumstances change over time. Our vision and goals remain the same, but new opportunities can arise that weren’t originally in the plan, and we may even discover that some of our initial ideas, which were meant to be tested and modified if necessary, just won’t work.

And I think you also have to keep your eyes open for opportunities. To cite one example, we have been in conversation with the governor’s office and legislators, as well as private philanthropists, about the construction and programming for a new Institute for Biotechnology, which would be a state-of-the-art and first-of-its-kind translational research program in the commonwealth designed to accelerate discoveries and translate them from the research laboratory to clinical care – so that patients have access to the most promising treatments available. This specific institute wasn’t articulated in the original strategic plan, per se, but it clearly aligns with one of the five major interdisciplinary research investment areas in the plan – precision medicine – so it’s an opportunity we have been actively pursuing.

Scientific discovery can also present new avenues for growth. For example, our Grand Challenges investments in the brain and neuroscience and in environmental resilience and sustainability include new interdisciplinary faculty, support for postdoctoral students and practitioners, funding for projects currently underway or just getting started, and data analytics. It’s exciting to think about what new avenues those investments may open – but hard to predict.

It’s fitting that our
is to be the very
best public

in the country, and to
be a university that is
both great
and good.

Jim Ryan

Q. The Emmet-Ivy corridor is an excellent visual marker for progress. You can see the work as it happens. What are some parts of the plan being executed that aren’t as obvious, but are just as important?

A. Emmet-Ivy is incredibly exciting for a number of reasons, even beyond the idea that the corridor will physically bridge Central and North Grounds and the Athletics Precinct. It will be the home of the new Karsh Institute of Democracy, which will synthesize our existing efforts to study and strengthen democracies around the world, and which will make UVA a hub of this work. It will house a new performing arts center, drawing talent from around the world to the Charlottesville-Albemarle region, and enriching the arts landscape for all of us on Grounds.

We’ve already broken ground on the School of Data Science, which will extend far beyond the walls of its physical home there – schools across the University will work with data scientists to realize the promise of data to improve society. And to make sure that Emmet-Ivy becomes a welcoming destination for visitors, we are building a state-of-the-art hotel and conference center along the Ivy Road entrance corridor. In addition to a restaurant, café, and a visitors’ center, the ground floor will become a spacious “living room,” intended to be a place for people to gather, meet, or study.

But there are other markers of progress that are just as important, even if they feel a little more abstract. I think at the top of that list is our progress toward our Honor the Future campaign, which has been quite successful and has raised more than $4 billion for top priorities, including more than $1 billion for scholarships and faculty chairs, a key component of the strategic plan. UVA Health has launched new partnerships and opened a new orthopedics center. We’ve expanded educational opportunities, both in person and online, for working adults in the commonwealth and beyond through programs like UVA Edge and our expansion into Northern Virginia with the UVA NOVA campus. We’ve invested in our staff, creating new awards like Hoos Building Bridges, and looking at the future of work. And we’ve assisted UVA Wise with a major new strategic planning effort.

Q. The Great and Good Plan aims to tackle complex issues, not the least of which is UVA’s relationship and partnership with the Charlottesville community. What have you learned about this part of the work during the first few years?

A. This has honestly been some of my favorite work. It’s been quite meaningful to me to engage with our community as true partners in service to a common goal – to make our community as strong and equitable as possible. The pandemic reminded us that Charlottesville and Albemarle are not separate from UVA – our futures and fortunes are intertwined – and we are fortunate to have wonderful community leaders willing to give their time and expertise to this goal.

I’m looking forward to more great work from the President’s Council on UVA-Community Partnerships, which met throughout the pandemic. We opened the Center for Community Partnerships in downtown Charlottesville during November of 2020, and have seen progress accelerate since then, including on affordable housing and creating more employment opportunities for residents of Charlottesville. We’ll be working on education initiatives and public health in the months ahead, as working groups deliver their final reports and recommendations.

To be great and good in all we do. Find out more.
To be great and good in all we do. Find out more.

Q. When the Great and Good Plan was announced, you stated your belief that universities would be judged differently in the future. Is that already happening?

A. I think it is. Just to take a few examples, Forbes has changed the way it ranks college and universities, now taking into greater account how well they serve low-income students. Multiple publications now produce rankings for “best value” schools, and I’m happy to report that UVA scores very highly on these measures. Even U.S. News & World Report has added measures of “social mobility” to their annual rankings.

But beyond the rankings, I think you can see students and families judging colleges differently. UVA, for example, set a record this year for applications – 51,000 for just 4,000 seats. If you look at UVA’s incoming class this year, it is our most diverse in history, with a record number of first-generation students. We remain one of only two public universities to meet 100% of financial need, and we were ranked by Princeton Review as having the single best financial aid program for any public university in the country. Other rankings put UVA at or near the top in terms of the return on investment to students and families. Our strategic plan has prioritized access and affordability, diversity along every dimension, and an outstanding residential experience, and I think you can see the fruits of those efforts in our incoming class.

Q. Has the experience so far influenced how you think about the role of the University or its potential to do more to serve society in the future?

A. I knew this in theory, but I’ve been fortunate to see this in practice: We are a key public good for the Commonwealth of Virginia. UVA recruits and develops talent for Virginia’s workforce; it is a driver of social mobility; it employs more than 28,000 Virginians; it cares for tens of thousands of patients through its Health System; and its researchers produce scientific breakthroughs in fields as diverse as biotechnology, cancer care, environmental sustainability, and public health. So it’s fitting that our aspiration is to be the very best public university in the country, and to be a university that is both great and good. Which means a university that is not just excellent, but excellent for the purpose of serving others – our communities, our commonwealth, and our nation – through our teaching, our research, and our medical care.

But I’ve increasingly come to think that we should also aspire to be the university that our country needs right now. And to do that, we need, among other things, to help our students learn to engage productively with those who have different views. We have been hosting and supporting numerous events and classes that are designed to meet that aspiration, which is especially important as we prepare students to be citizen-leaders in an increasingly polarized world. Indeed, it is among the most important work we are doing. Universities represent some of the most diverse communities in the country, and if we cannot help our students learn how to benefit from being in the midst of this diversity, we will have failed them, our nation and our democracy.

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