Jim Ryan lays out plan, vision for his term as U.Va.’s ninth President

Ryan said he plans to prioritize the University’s role as a public service institution

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Jim Ryan's formal presidential inauguration ceremony will be held Oct. 19. 

Christina Anton | Cavalier Daily

University President Jim Ryan offered brief remarks about his goals and priorities for his time in office and addressed questions from reporters — including about the one-year anniversary of the white nationalist Unite the Right rally and the controversial hiring of March Short at the Miller Center — at the Rotunda Wednesday on his first day in office. He identified three major themes he said would define his presidency — community, discovery and service.

Ryan was elected by the Board of Visitors in September 2017. He previously served as dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education and succeeds Teresa Sullivan to become the University’s ninth president. 

Ryan has a lengthy history at the University, having graduated from the School of Law in 1992 at the top of his class and taught at the Law School from 1998 to 2013. While there, he was the Matheson and Morgenthau Distinguished Professor of Law, and also founded the school’s Program in Law and Public Service. He served as an academic associate dean from 2005 to 2009.

Ryan said his approach to the presidency would be driven by a commitment to serve others, at the University and beyond — a sentiment he hoped would be carried down through University administration, faculty and ultimately students. 

“I view the job of an academic leader, president included, as enabling others to do their very best work,” Ryan said. “When I think about this job, I honestly think about it as an opportunity to serve others.” 

Ryan said the aim of the University since its founding was maximizing its ability to do good in the world. 

“At that time in those early days, the mission of the University was to prepare citizen leaders to help our new-born democracy,” Ryan said. “That mission has expanded to include cutting edge research and outstanding medical care, but the idea of serving the public good is the theme that runs through the University of Virginia’s history.” 

In response to a question eliciting his view on the Miller Center’s controversial hiring of President Donald Trump’s former director of legislative affairs, Marc Short, Ryan said he stood behind the decision. 

Short’s hiring prompted a strong backlash from the University community in July resulting in a petition signed by students and faculty asking for his appointment ot be revoked. Miller Center Director William Antholis defended Short’s appointment, stating that the goal of the center is analyzing the American presidency in a nonpartisan manner. However, two University history professors in the College — William Hitchcock and Melvyn Leffler —  resigned from their separate professorships at the center in opposition to Short’s appointment. 

“I recognize that there are many in the community who do not support President Trump or his administration and are deeply distressed by what they've seen — and I respect that view,” Ryan said. “But the Miller Center studies the presidency and tries to understand the presidency. The opportunity to have someone who has been on the frontlines of a presidency seems to me consistent with that mission.”

In response to questions about the one year anniversary of the Aug. 12 white nationalist Unite the Right rally in downtown Charlottesville and a torch-lit march through University Grounds the night before, Ryan said he was briefed Tuesday and has been updated throughout the transition process. 

Ryan specifically cited the recent appointment of Gloria Graham as the University’s associate vice president for safety and security as a major step in preparing for the anniversary. Graham has been working with regional and state public safety officials and law enforcement personnel since her appointment in May to plan for the anniversary weekend — which has included joint trainings for University, regional and state police personnel and the establishment of a unified command emergency response structure between University, regional and state officials. 

“There’s been an awful lot of planning around safety and security,” Ryan said. “The University has been working closely with the City of Charlottesville, the County of Albemarle, the state and national law enforcement as well. These events, as was seen last year, are often fairly fluid and fairly dynamic. I feel like the University is as well prepared as it can be, but this is an unfolding situation.” 

During the next six months, Ryan said will spend more time communicating with individuals from across the University, the local Charlottesville community as well as student leaders and organizations to shape the vision of the University for the next ten years. 

“The biggest task to me ahead is articulating a vision, and I think to be compelling that vision has to be a shared one which is why I will spend as much time as I can speaking to people,” Ryan said. 

Ryan said he hoped his residency at Pavilion VIII on the Lawn would help facilitate these interactions by increasing his proximity and accessibility to the University community. He also said he hoped to strengthen the sense of community not only between faculty, students and staff on Grounds but with the Charlottesville community as well. 

In particular, Ryan spoke on the need to improve the relationship between the University and the surrounding local community. He said he has tasked staff in the president’s office with compiling information regarding the current status quo of the University's relationship and interactions with the community. 

“What I would I like to do is work towards having a body … a U.Va. community council or something similar that will work together to identify issues that matter the most to those in the community,” Ryan said. 

However, Ryan added that he did not want to immediately implement a community engagement strategy without seeking extensive feedback from members of both the University and Charlottesville communities. 

On the topic of constructing student housing to alleviate housing costs in the City of Charlottesville, Ryan said such an approach was more complex than it appears. However, he said the issue of affordable housing in the community will likely be a topic of much discussion during his term. 

“I think the economics of it are more complicated than you might think,” Ryan said. “I originally thought that obviously if you have more students housed on Grounds, that would open up housing, and it would take away demand and the price would fall.” 

He added that the housing issue is “more complicated” than he originally thought.

In terms of promoting his belief in service at the University, Ryan said the University should be preparing students for a “lifetime of public service” regardless of the field of study a student pursues. 

“How can we be of real service to the Commonwealth and beyond?,” Ryan said. “The University already contributes a great deal to the Commonwealth and beyond — as a public institution I think it’s core to our mission that we provide service, both locally, nationally and internationally.”

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