President of the University of Virginia
James E. Ryan serves as the ninth president of the University of Virginia. 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, standards and testing, pre-K, 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 popular 2016 Commencement speech, was published in 2017 by HarperOne and is 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, Ryan served as dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education. In this role, Ryan increased the size, strength, and diversity of the faculty through new hires and promotions. He established the Harvard Teacher Fellows program, an innovative teacher training program for Harvard College seniors and recent alumni, and began a school-wide effort to reimagine its master’s degree programs. Ryan oversaw an expansion of professional education, including the creation of two new online certificate programs, and launched Usable Knowledge, an online resource designed to broadly disseminate actionable research findings in education. He and colleagues also embarked on an ongoing effort entitled “Fulfilling the Promise of Diversity,” intended to prepare students for careers working in diverse environments, and resulting in new courses, prominent speakers, and teaching workshops related to diversity and inclusion. Under his leadership, the school surpassed its campaign goal of $250 million more than a year ahead of schedule, and raised the largest gift in the school’s history, a $35.5 million gift to establish the Zaentz Early Education Initiative.
Before his 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. While at Virginia, 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 been a visiting professor at Harvard, Yale, and the University of Auckland. He has also served on numerous education boards and commissions, including the U.S. Department of Education’s Equity and Excellence Commission and the board of the Maya Angelou Public Charter School in Washington, D.C.
Ryan received his AB summa cum laude from Yale University and his JD from the University of Virginia, which he attended on a full scholarship and from which he graduated first in his class. 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 entering into teaching. Ryan and his wife, Katie, have four children.