U-Va. picks 9th pres­i­dent

James E. Ryan’s se­lec­tion comes amid com­bustible times at the univer­sity

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY SU­SAN SVR­LUGA

James E. Ryan, dean of the Har­vard Grad­u­ate School of Ed­u­ca­tion, will re­place Teresa A. Sul­li­van as pres­i­dent of the univer­sity.

James E. Ryan, a scholar of law and ed­u­ca­tion who is dean of the Har­vard Grad­u­ate School of Ed­u­ca­tion, will be the Univer­sity of Vir­ginia’s ninth pres­i­dent, school of­fi­cials an­nounced Friday.

His se­lec­tion comes at a fraught mo­ment for the state flag­ship school, just a month af­ter white su­prem­a­cists marched on cam­pus dur­ing a week­end that de­scended into deadly vi­o­lence. And it ar­rives at a time when the univer­sity is delv­ing into its com­pli­cated his­tory, even as U-Va. pre­pares to cel­e­brate its bi­cen­ten­nial.

For the 50-year-old Ryan, whose term will of­fi­cially be­gin in Oc­to­ber 2018, his el­e­va­tion to pres­i­dent marks a home­com­ing: He at­tended the U-Va. law school and was on its fac­ulty be­fore go­ing to Har­vard.

“This in many ways is like re­turn­ing home,” he said, de­scrib­ing the place where he met his wife and where his four chil­dren spent much of their child­hoods. “I have been im­pressed by the will­ing­ness of this univer­sity to take a hard look at its past and cel­e­brate not just the achieve­ments but talk about the more dif­fi­cult as­pects and the neg­a­tive as­pects of the past.”

The other pow­er­ful mo­ti­va­tion is his be­lief in the power of ed­u­ca­tion, he said; his dean­ship at Har­vard has been an op­por­tu­nity to work with peo­ple fo­cused on ex-

pand­ing ed­u­ca­tional op­por­tu­nity. “I see be­ing pres­i­dent of U-Va. as a con­tin­u­a­tion of that.”

Har­vard Pres­i­dent Drew Gilpin Faust praised Ryan’s work there.

“Jim Ryan el­e­vated the Har­vard Grad­u­ate School of Ed­u­ca­tion with an ef­fec­tive com­bi­na­tion of aca­demic pas­sion and or­ga­ni­za­tional ex­per­tise,” Faust said. “He ex­cels at de­vel­op­ing in­sti­tu­tional vi­sion, align­ing strate­gies with their re­sources and, most im­por­tantly, in­spir­ing oth­ers to join to­gether to make it hap­pen.”

Stan­ford Law School Dean Liz Mag­ill spec­u­lated that if you had a phone book of all of Ryan’s for­mer col­leagues and class­mates, “you could call any of them ran­domly and they would sing his praises.”

Mag­ill, who started on the U-Va. law school fac­ulty with Ryan in 1997, said Ryan loves U-Va.’s mis­sion as a pub­lic univer­sity. That mis­sion is per­sonal: As the first mem­ber of his fam­ily to go to col­lege, Ryan has a deep con­nec­tion to the pro­found ways that higher ed­u­ca­tion can trans­form lives, she said.

And she said Ryan be­lieves uni­ver­si­ties are pow­er­ful forces for good in the world through their abil­ity to solve prob­lems with re­search and ideas.

“He has thought a lot about op­por­tu­nity and race and class in his think­ing about ed­u­ca­tion,” Mag­ill said, so “some of the chal­lenges that were made very ev­i­dent by the Au­gust events in Char­lottesville and U-Va. are ones he’s deeply com­mit­ted to mak­ing progress on.”

Last month, Char­lottesville be­came a na­tional sym­bol of the threat posed by vi­o­lent ha­tred. It also came to rep­re­sent the strug­gle over how to mark his­tory when white na­tion­al­ists con­verged on the col­lege town to rally around stat­ues of Con­fed­er­ate lead­ers and the univer­sity’s founder, Thomas Jef­fer­son.

A woman was killed and oth­ers were in­jured when a man drove into a crowd of peo­ple protest­ing racism. Two po­lice of­fi­cers died when their he­li­copter crashed.

The school year be­gan with peo­ple ask­ing U-Va.’s pres­i­dent, Teresa Sul­li­van, how white su­prem­a­cists car­ry­ing torches had been al­lowed to march through cam­pus and clash with stu­dents and coun­ter­protesters.

Next month, the univer­sity be­gins its bi­cen­ten­nial year, with an ex­plo­ration of Jef­fer­son’s legacy that will in­clude not only his fun­da­men­tal con­tri­bu­tions to the na­tion’s ideals and the char­ac­ter of U-Va., but his own­er­ship of slaves and an ex­plo­ration of race re­la­tions at the school.

“The univer­sity warmly wel­comes Jim Ryan back to Grounds,” Sul­li­van said in a state­ment Friday. “The Univer­sity of Vir­ginia will be in good hands.”

Sul­li­van an­nounced last win­ter she would step down from the pres­i­dency she has held since 2010.

Dur­ing her ten­ure, she im­ple- mented a strate­gic plan, be­gan an in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the role of slav­ery at the in­sti­tu­tion and com­pleted a $3 bil­lion fundrais­ing cam­paign. But she also held the univer­sity to­gether through sev­eral trau­matic events.

It’s a dif­fi­cult time in Amer­i­can higher ed­u­ca­tion, with po­lit­i­cal and ide­o­log­i­cal at­tacks on the academy, and pub­lic fund­ing cuts, said Siva Vaid­hyanathan, a pro­fes­sor of me­dia stud­ies at U-Va. But it’s an es­pe­cially dif­fi­cult time at U-Va.

“This tran­si­tion is com­ing at a des­per­ately needed time,” he said. “We’re about to start our third cen­tury,” and the hand­off of the pres­i­dency can hap­pen “at the very mo­ment we are look­ing back at our his­tory and mak­ing an hon­est ac­count of our sins and our suc­cesses and look­ing for­ward to ask, ‘How can we not only main­tain our well-earned rep­u­ta­tion, but grow into be­ing the best pos­si­ble univer­sity we can be?’ ”

On Friday, he men­tioned three sub­jects he knows will be chal­lenges for U-Va., as they are for most uni­ver­si­ties: is­sues of ac­cess and af­ford­abil­ity, stu­dent and fac­ulty di­ver­sity, and the evolv­ing use of tech­nol­ogy.

Anne Cough­lin, a pro­fes­sor at U-Va.’s law school, said Friday she was “ab­so­lutely joy­ful” upon learn­ing of Ryan’s ap­point­ment.

“He’s a su­perb scholar, a man of great vi­sion and in­tegrity,” with ad­min­is­tra­tive ex­pe­ri­ence, “thought­ful and bal­anced and de­cent and fair,” Cough­lin said.

Ryan grad­u­ated summa cum laude from Yale Univer­sity and was first in his law-school class at U-Va.

He clerked for Supreme Court Chief Jus­tice Wil­liam H. Rehn­quist, and then worked in Ne­wark, as a pub­lic-in­ter­est lawyer. He joined the U-Va. law school, where he rose quickly, be­com­ing aca­demic as­so­ciate dean, the No. 2 po­si­tion in the school, and found­ing and di­rect­ing the pro­gram in law and pub­lic ser­vice.

He was hon­ored for his teach­ing at U-Va., win­ning a uni­ver­si­ty­wide award in 2010 — the same year he ar­gued a case be­fore the U.S. Supreme Court — and a statewide award in 2011.

One thing that doesn’t come through in his im­pres­sive ré­sumé is his joy, Mag­ill said.

He throws a good sur­prise party, she said, he’s ready to laugh and he plans elab­o­rate (and suc­cess­ful) prac­ti­cal jokes.

His wife, Katie Homer Ryan, is a lawyer for the Ed­u­ca­tion Law Clinic and Trauma and Learn­ing Pol­icy Ini­tia­tive at Har­vard Law School, and an ad­junct lec­turer in ed­u­ca­tion who grad­u­ated from the U-Va. School of Law in 1992 with him.

His in­ter­ests, ac­cord­ing to a U-Va. state­ment, in­clude ski­ing, surf­ing, moun­tain-bik­ing, fly­fish­ing, cook­ing, photography — and run­ning. Both he and his wife have fin­ished the Boston Marathon the past seven years.

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