U.Va. President Jim Ryan responds to student concerns, issues facing University

The Cavalier Daily interviewed Ryan ahead of the quarterly Board of Visitors meeting

ns-jryan-canton
Jim Ryan sat down with The Cavalier Daily Feb. 27 in Madison Hall for a 30 minute interview to discuss a range of topics. Christina Anton | Cavalier Daily

University President Jim Ryan sat down with The Cavalier Daily Feb. 27 in Madison Hall for a 30 minute interview to discuss a range of topics including the quarterly Board of Visitors meeting, issues of faculty diversity, ongoing developments in on-Grounds housing and recent events of cultural appropriation among Greek Life organizations. This interview coincided with the publishing of the report from Ryan’s community working group, which identified jobs, wages and affordable housing as some of the most pressing issues facing the Charlottesville community. 

Staff members from The Cavalier Daily who were present at the interview were Managing Editor Abby Clukey and News Editors Nafisa Mazumdar and Nik Popli. 

University Deputy Spokesperson Wes Hester, Vice President for Finance Melody Bianchetto and Senior Assistant to the President Kyle O’Connor were also present at the interview.  

Cultural appropriation

Last month, images depicting two members of the University’s chapter of the Kappa Sigma fraternity wearing Native American attire at their bid day event surfaced on social media. That same weekend, images of women from the Zeta Tau Alpha sorority wearing sombreros and holding maracas as part of a chapter-sponsored event were criticized after appearing in a social media post that has since been deleted. 

The University did not provide an official statement in response to these events, and Ryan said this was in part due to the general issue of determining when an administration intervenes in a situation and assists students in self-governance or allows them to address the situation themselves.

“These were examples where the Office of Student Affairs and the Dean's office worked with student groups to help them resolve the issues,” Ryan said.

Ryan continued that he appreciated the culture of student self-governance at the University, and said that he doesn’t believe it would be wise for the administration to step in “anytime something happens that's objectionable.”

“Sometimes the best thing to do is help students resolve the conflict or respond to the issue in one way or another,” Ryan said. “It doesn't mean that the administration should always step back and let students take care of it, but I do think that there's wisdom in working with students. But, I mean, I will tell you these are sometimes hard judgement calls.”

Faculty Diversity

Ryan said that faculty diversity is a key issue and acknowledged that the University needs to employ more measures to make its faculty demographics proportional to the student body. He added that there have been recent steps toward this goal, citing the efforts of the administration before his term officially began.

“If you look at the trend over the last several years, backing diversity has increased fairly significantly,” Ryan said. “It doesn't mean that we're where we want to be ... but I think one of Tom Katsouleas’ best accomplishments as Provost has been increasing the diversity of faculty. Again, there's more work to be done, but he deserves a lot of credit. And this has all preceded my arrival.”

Buildings and Grounds update

Ryan said the University is already in discussions with third party investors to develop and operate a hotel and conference center on the Ivy Road Corridor, which will likely be located next to the Emmet-Ivy parking garage on the 14.5-acre parcel. The $100 million project will include an approximately 220,000-square-foot hotel with 225 guest rooms and 25,000 square feet of conference space. 

According to Ryan, a task force delivered a report earlier in the week recommending a hotel, performing arts center, museum, classrooms and flexible space near the parking garage. Ryan said this is part of a six-year plan and the performing arts center is currently in the pre-planning phase.

“We still have to have conversations … is this exactly the way we want to go?” Ryan said of the performing arts center. “If so, what would be the financing plan and what would be the right sequencing? But I think the report is really smart. I think the ideas in it are really worthwhile. We have to just do a little more digging to make sure it's practical and that these uses work together.”

Ryan also added that the new Student Health and Wellness Center is projected to be finished by April 2021 and be fully operational by fall 2021.

Requiring second-year students to live on Grounds

When asked about his opinion on second-year housing options, Ryan said the University should “definitely be looking into” increasing housing options for second-year students. He suggested the University consider requiring all second-year students to live on-Grounds — which other institutions like Duke University require.

“I do think it would help alleviate some of the housing shortage in Charlottesville more generally, but I also think it's worth considering in terms of the overall educational and residential experience for students,” Ryan said.

He added that first-year students should not be looking for off-Grounds housing in their first semester, though this often happens to students due to the competitive housing market and shortage of apartments near the University. Ryan said requiring students to live on-Grounds until their second year would allow students “to make friends with people whose lives are very different than yours” and increase the residential learning experience of students. 

“I do think it's a potential way to increase the supply of housing for non-U.Va. students if more of them are moving on Grounds,” Ryan said. “The basic reality is if there are fewer U.Va. students living in an off-campus housing that off-campus housing is going to be more available to people who are not U.Va. students, including those who work here.”

Appointment to Innovation and Entrepreneurship Investment Authority Board

Ryan accepted a nomination from Gov. Ralph Northam (D-Va.) to Virginia’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Investment Authority Feb. 15 — two weeks after Ryan released a statement to the University community condemning Northam for the racist photos that emerged on the page of his 1984 medical school yearbook depicting two men — one dressed in a Klu Klux Klan costume and another in blackface.

In his statement, Ryan described Northam as a “decent and kind man, with an admirable record of service to our Commonwealth and the nation” but also added that leadership is contingent on the “trust and support of the people [a leader] represents.”

“If that trust is lost, for whatever reason, it is exceedingly difficult to continue to lead,” Ryan added. “It seems we have reached that point.”

The 17 member IEIA that Ryan joined is an executive agency aimed at promoting economic development in Virginia by attracting and retaining high technology jobs and businesses. The agency consists of the secretaries of technology, commerce and trade and education, two presidents from major research public colleges, one president representing the other public colleges and three non-legislative citizen members who are appointed by the governor.

“I've yet to go to a single meeting, so I'm not entirely sure exactly what this group is going to do,” Ryan said when asked about what he hopes to accomplish through the position. “It's an area that I’m interested in and it seemed to me an opportunity to serve, and I continue to be interested in it and I'm looking forward to it.”

related stories