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Harvard Dean James E. Ryan to be named next University of Virginia President

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The Virginia Law alumnus, and former Virginia Law professor, is finally returning home.

University of Virginia

Reports were confirmed Friday morning as James E. Ryan, dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, was appointed the University of Virginia’s next president.

The Daily Progress reported on Friday morning that the Board of Visitors was expected to appoint Jim Ryan as Teresa Sullivan’s successor. The Board of Visitors confirmed the report with a unanimous vote, making Ryan the ninth President of the University of Virginia. Ryan graduated top of his class at Virginia Law in 1992, and summa cum laude from Yale undergraduate in 1988.

Frank M. “Rusty” Conner III, rector of the Board of Visitors and co-chair of the special committee leading the presidential search, had some strong words in support of the new president.

“Jim Ryan brings an exceptional blend of talent, experience, energy and vision to the University of Virginia at a time when the institution stands ready to chart a course for continued excellence into our third century.”

After graduating from Virginia, he went on to clerk on the 9th Circuit, and then for then-U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist. He also worked for an arbitrator at the Iran-U.S. Claims Tribunal at The Hague.

He returned to the University in 1998, joining the law faculty primarily teaching classes and conducting research in education law and policy. During his time at Virginia, he directed the Program in Law and Public Service, and also served as the academic associate dean. He left the University in 2013 to become the dean of Harvard’s Graduate School of Education.

Throughout the national search process for the University’s ninth president, students, faculty, and alumni have stressed the importance of having someone who has ties to the University and understands the intricacies of Virginia’s unique silo’d governance; who is an academic and who can prioritize the faculty’s needs; and who can be a successful fundraiser as we head into the University’s third century. Ryan appears to hit all of these.

Said Ryan:

“The University of Virginia has occupied a special place in my heart since the day I first stepped on Grounds. Returning here to continue playing a role in the extraordinary work of this University community is deeply humbling, and an opportunity that I will strive every day to honor.”

With Yale, Virginia Law, and Harvard as his background, Ryan doesn’t quite hit the one point that many of you, as readers of a sports website, probably care about — what’s his position on the importance of athletics at a university?

More will come in the early days as Ryan is appointed dean — even though he’s not expected to step into the role until next summer — but consider this. After graduating — again, summa cum laude — from Yale, Ryan took a gap year in between college and law school (he attended Virginia Law on a full merit scholarship, by the way). He spent that time playing rugby on a team made of New England college players who toured New Zealand and Australia. (Lest we mislead you, he also worked as a children’s ski instructor and volunteered in a group home for disabled children through Catholic Charities.)

He continued playing rugby during his time at Virginia Law.

Rugby has nothing to do with Virginia Athletics nor does it give us any indication as to how Ryan might play a role in selecting Virginia’s next athletic director, but it’s a fun story to tell nonetheless.

In order to get to know Jim Ryan better, I encourage you to watch this video on Ryan’s remarks from Harvard Graduate School of Education’s 2016 diploma ceremony and one from UVA.