James E. Ryan

  • President, University of Virginia
  • George M. Kaufman Presidential Professor
  • Professor of Law
  • Professor of Education

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. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Ryan received his A.B. summa cum laude from Yale University and his J.D. 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.



  • J.D.
    University of Virginia School of Law
  • A.B.
    Yale University


Wait, What? And Life's Other Essential Questions, HarperCollins Publishers (2017).
Educational Policy and the Law (with Kristi L. Bowman et al.), Wadsworth Cengage Learning (5 ed. 2011).

Book Chapters

Legal Perspective on Teacher Compensation Reform, in Performance Incentives: Their Growing Impact on American K-12 Education, Brookings Institution Press, 43–66 (2009).
The Real Lessons of School Desegregation, in From Schoolhouse to Courthouse: The Judiciary’s Role in American Education, Brookings Institution Press, 73–95 (2009).
Federalism as Libertarian Fantasy, in Redefining Federalism: Listening to the States in Shaping “Our Federalism”, Environmental Law Institute, 31–49 (2004).
The Tenth Amendment and Other Paper Tigers: The Legal Boundaries of Education Governance, in Who’s in Charge Here: The Tangled Web of School Governance and Policy, Brookings Institution Press, 42–74 (2004).

Articles & Reviews

Poverty as Disability and the Future of Special Education Law, 101 Georgia Law Review 1455–1503 (2013).
Laying Claim to the Constitution: The Promise of New Textualism, 97 Virginia Law Review 1523–1572 (2011).
Race and Response-to-Intervention in Special Education (with Angela A. Ciolfi), 54 Howard Law Journal 303–341 (2011).
Charter Schools and Public Education, 4 Stanford Journal of Civil Rights & Civil Liberties 393–410 (2008).
Standards, Testing, and School Finance Litigation, 86 Texas Law Review 1223–1262 (2008).
The Supreme Court and Voluntary Integration, 121 Harvard Law Review 131–157 (2007).
A Constitutional Right to Preschool?, 94 California Law Review 49–99 (2006).
Does it Take a Theory?: Originalism, Active Liberty, and Minimalism, 58 Stanford Law Review 1623–1660 (2006).
Voluntary Integration: Asking the Right Questions, 67 Ohio State Law Journal 327–345 (2006).
Brown, School Choice, and the Suburban Veto, 90 Virginia Law Review 1635–1647 (2004).
Foreword to Symposium on School Finance Litigation: Emerging Trends or New Dead Ends? (with Thomas Saunders), 22 Yale Law & Policy Review 463–480 (2004).
The Perverse Incentives of the No Child Left Behind Act, 79 NYU Law Review 932–989 (2004).
Race Discrimination in Education: A Legal Perspective, 105 Teachers College Record 1087–1118 (2003).
The Limited Influence of Social Science Evidence in Modern Desegregation Cases, 81 North Carolina Law Review 1659–1702 (2003).
The Political Economy of School Choice (with Michael Heise), 111 Yale Law Journal 2043–2136 (2002).
A Political History of the Establishment Clause (with John C. Jeffries Jr.), 100 Michigan Law Review 279–370 (2001).
The Supreme Court and Public Schools, 86 Virginia Law Review 1335–1433 (2000).
Schools, Race, and Money, 109 Yale Law Journal 249–316 (1999).
Sheff, Segregation, and School Finance Litigation, 74 NYU Law Review 529–573 (1999).
The Influence of Race in School Finance Reform, 98 Michigan Law Review 432–481 (1999).
School Choice and the Suburbs, 14 Journal of Law & Politics 459–468 (1998).
"Paying" for the Change: Using Eminent Domain to Secure Exactions and Sidestep Nollan and Dolan (with Douglas T. Kendall), 81 Virginia Law Review 1801–1880 (1995).

Op-Eds, Blogs, Shorter Works

Why “Fisher” Means More Work for Colleges (with Thomas J. Kane), Chronicle of Higher Education A56 (August 2, 2013).
Romney’s School Surprise, New York Times 23 (May 30, 2012).
The Case for New Textualism (with Doug Kendall), Democracy 66–72; 74 (2011).
Remembering Green: New Kent’s Civil Rights Milestone, Richmond Times-Dispatch (November 7, 2010).
Do Kagan, Roberts Actually Agree? (with Doug Kendall), Politico (August 4, 2010).
What Kagan Should Say (with Doug Kendall), Slate (June 8, 2010).
Socioeconomic Integration: It’s Legal, and It Makes Sense (with Angela A. Ciolfi), Education Week 28 (June 18, 2008).
Fixing education policy, Slate.com (April 1, 2008).
Say Something!: College Presidents and Public Education, Education Week 28, 36 (January 23, 2008).
Liberal Reading: Taking Back the Constitution (with Doug Kendall), New Republic 14, 16–17 (August 6, 2007).
Originalist Sins: The Faux Originalism of Justice Clarence Thomas (with Doug Kendall), Slate (August 1, 2007).
The Chief as Teacher, 58 Stanford Law Review 1687–1690 (2006).
State Must Better Prepare Its Students, Richmond Times-Dispatch A-13 (January 21, 2004).
The Neutrality Principle, Education Next 28–35 (2003).
Sit In for School Equality, Washington Post A19 (May 19, 2003).
Taking School Choice to the Suburbs (with Michael Heise), Washington Post (July 3, 2002).

Current Courses

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