Q&A: President Ryan’s Outlook on a New Year at UVA

August 30, 2023 By Brian Coy, btc6r@virginia.edu Brian Coy, btc6r@virginia.edu

As a new academic year begins at the University of Virginia, students, faculty and staff are back on Grounds and ready to hit the ground running. This year, as in previous years, UVA President Jim Ryan took that literally, hosting a “Run with Jim” around Grounds that was attended by more than 800 first-year students.

The president also teamed up with members of the UVA football team to help students move into residence halls, welcomed parents and families in an address at Old Cabell Hall, and spoke to first-year and transfer students at UVA’s Opening Convocation

Following a successful move-in and the first week of fall classes, Ryan sat down with UVA Today for a Q&A about his hopes and expectations for the coming year.

Q. Before we get started, what was the biggest highlight of your summer?

A. I think the highlight for me was traveling to Ireland for a reunion of my extended family, many of whom live there. I was thrilled to spend some time in the area where my biological mother grew up before she emigrated to New York, and to meet so many members of my family for the first time, including 45 first cousins.   

Q. What is your favorite part of the start of a new year here at UVA?

A. There’s so much to like about this time of year. The energy and optimism students bring when they return in August is palpable and infectious, and I am grateful to all the faculty and staff who make such a smooth return to Grounds possible every year.

If I had to pick one moment, it would probably be the annual Opening Convocation and Honor Induction Ceremony. Welcoming a new class and inducting them into the community of trust that is a central element of everything we do is one of the highlights of every academic year. I also love the symmetry of our first-year and transfer students singing the “Good Old Song” together on the Lawn in the same way they will when they return for Final Exercises in a few years’ time.

Q. In your Convocation remarks, you urged students to “be curious, not judgmental.” Why did you emphasize that advice?

A. Encouraging our students, as well as our faculty and staff, to “be curious, not judgmental” is not just an excuse to quote Ted Lasso, one of my favorite TV characters. It’s also a way to remind members of this community that everyone has a story that might not be obvious at first - and that if you’re curious, you’ll benefit a great deal from listening to those stories and perspectives.

UVA is full of people from different places and backgrounds. I believe learning happens outside the classroom as well as inside it. By staying curious, you can learn both inside the classroom and out.

Q. What is your view about how last November’s shooting on Grounds will influence life at the University this year and beyond?

A. Many people in our community are still coping with their experiences of the shooting, including perhaps the loss of a friend or loved one. Others, like many first-year students or new employees, were not on Grounds during the shooting or its aftermath. Our goal this year will be to meet people where they are and make sure everyone has the support and resources they need to continue to have a successful year.

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We have also spent the past few months working on plans to honor and remember D’Sean Perry, Devin Chandler and Lavel Davis Jr., including a memorial tree planting on Grounds on Sept. 8 and additional tributes at first home football game on Sept. 9. We plan to mark the day on Nov. 13 with a solemn tolling of the bells and a University-wide moment of silence. We will share additional information about these activities soon.

We should all expect that events like the opening of the football season and the upcoming anniversary of the tragedy will affect each of us in different ways. We are also awaiting the conclusion of the external review into the events leading up to the shooting as well as next phase of the criminal prosecution of the suspected shooter. I have no doubt that members of this community will show the same resilience and care for each other that has sustained all of us since last November, and we will do our part as an institution to offer the support people need as they experience this year in their own ways.   

Q. Another recent development is the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on the consideration of race in admissions. What impact do you expect it to have on UVA?

A. Every institution in the country is in the process of evaluating the court’s opinion in this case and applying it to their own policies and practices. Here at UVA, we have already made some changes to our admissions practices in response to the ruling, and we are continuing to assess the implications of the decision for our university. Building a community that is diverse by every measure is a core value of this institution, and we intend to do everything within our legal authority to uphold that value in our admissions practices.

As we begin the year, we are as focused as ever on creating an environment where every student can feel a sense of belonging.

Q. What should students expect on Grounds this year?  

A. First and foremost, our students can expect to spend their time on Grounds surrounded by people from all over the world who come here ready to learn from each other and to make their unique contributions to this vibrant and exciting community. They can expect to feel the support from world-class faculty and staff all over Grounds who are committed to their successes.

They can also expect a year full of amazing things happening all around them. From the arts to visiting speakers and service opportunities, there are countless ways to get involved and to be a part of the intellectual and extracurricular life of this place.

Looking at just the fall semester, we have the Virginia Film Festival coming up, a big event on democracy hosted by the Karsh Institute alongside several partners across Grounds and, of course, a full slate of competitions for fall sports. Later, we’ll see the opening of the new School of Data Science building, the Contemplative Commons and the renovation of Alderman Library. And of course Trick-or-Treating on the Lawn and the annual Lighting of the Lawn, two of UVA’s most important fall traditions, are just around the corner.

For my part, I’ll be doing as many “Runs with Jim” as I can, which are a great opportunity to meet new people and get to see different parts of our Grounds as we run or walk together. We have already held one student open house on Carr’s Hill and are planning more, and we will also resume our Arts on the Hill series where we invite different artists and performers around Grounds to showcase their talents up at Carr’s Hill.

All in all, I hope and expect that this year will offer our students, faculty and staff many ways to meet new people, try new things and create new memories here together.

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