About the President
James E. Ryan serves as the ninth president of the University of Virginia. Since starting in August 2018, Ryan, working with dedicated colleagues across Grounds, has helped craft and secure approval of a new strategic plan for the University; secured funding and approval for a new School of Data Science; secured lead gifts for the Karsh Institute of Democracy and a new Performing Arts Center; and publicly launched a $5 billion capital campaign that has raised more than $4 billion in philanthropy with three years remaining in the campaign, including nearly $1 billion in scholarships and professorships. In the fall of 2018, he announced that students from Virginia families earning less than $80,000 a year would be able to attend tuition-free, and those from families earning less than $30,000 would have tuition, room, and board covered. Ryan also helped secure approval for a new sustainability plan and raised the minimum wage for full-time UVA employees to $15 an hour. In 2021, he commissioned a University-wide Committee on Free Expression and Free Inquiry, which released a Statement on Free Expression and Inquiry endorsed by the Board of Visitors.
An elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a leading expert on law and education, Ryan has written extensively about the ways in which law structures educational opportunity. His articles and essays address such topics as school desegregation, school finance, school choice, and the intersection of special education and neuroscience. Ryan is also the coauthor of the textbook Educational Policy and the Law and the author of Five Miles Away, A World Apart, which was published in 2010 by Oxford University Press. Ryan’s most recent book, Wait, What? And Life’s Other Essential Questions, based on his viral Harvard Commencement speech, was published in 2017 by HarperOne and was a New York Times bestseller. In addition, Ryan has authored articles on constitutional law and theory and has argued before the United States Supreme Court.
Before coming to UVA to serve as president, Ryan served as the Charles William Eliot professor and dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education. In this role, Ryan increased the size, strength, and diversity of the faculty; oversaw an expansion of professional education; and began a school-wide effort to redesign its master’s degree programs. He also helped lead a capital campaign that surpassed its goal of $250 million a year ahead of schedule, including the largest gift in school history at that time.
Before his Harvard deanship, Ryan was the Matheson & Morgenthau Distinguished Professor at the University of Virginia School of Law. He also served as academic associate dean from 2005 to 2009 and founded and directed the school’s Program in Law and Public Service. During his fifteen years on the Virginia faculty, Ryan received an All-University Teaching Award, an Outstanding Faculty Award from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, and several awards for his scholarship. Ryan has also been a visiting professor at Harvard and Yale Law Schools.
A first-generation college student, Ryan received his AB in American Studies, with distinction, from Yale University. He graduated summa cum laude and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. Ryan earned his JD from the University of Virginia, which he attended on a full scholarship and from which he graduated first in his class. While a law student, he was elected to the Raven Society and the Omicron Delta Kappa Honor Society. After law school, Ryan clerked for William H. Rehnquist, the late Chief Justice of the United States, and then worked in Newark, N.J., as a public interest lawyer before joining the law faculty at UVA.
A life-long athlete, Ryan discovered rugby in college and continued to play in law school, earning spots along the way on All-Ivy League, All-New England, and All-Virginia select sides. In more recent years, he has become an avid runner and has completed 11 consecutive Boston Marathons. Ryan and his wife, Katie, who is also a graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law and a special education attorney, have four children—Will, Sam, Ben, and Phebe.