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 2017). 
Educational Policy and the Law (Cengage 2011) (co-author).
Five Miles Away, A World Apart: One City, Two Schools, and the Story of Educational Opportunity in Modern America (Oxford University Press 2010) (Honorable mention for the Scribes Book Award, the Herbert Jacob Book Prize, and the Green Bag Exemplary Legal Writing Award)
Articles and Essays:
“Poverty as Disability and the Future of Special Education Law,” 101 Georgetown L.J. 1455 (2013).
“Laying Claim to the Constitution: The Promise of New Textualism,” 97 Va. L. Rev. 1523 (2011).
“Race and Response-to-Intervention in Special Education,” 54 How. L. Rev. 303 (2011) (co-author).
“Standards, Testing, and School Finance Litigation,” 86 Tex. L. Rev. 1223 (2008).
(Recipient of Education Law Association’s Steven S. Goldberg Award for Distinguished Scholarship)
“Charter Schools and Public Education,” 4 Stan. J. C.R. & C.L. 393 (2008).
“The Supreme Court and Voluntary Integration,” 121 Harv. L. Rev. 131 (2007).
“Does It Take a Theory? Originalism, Active Liberty, and Minimalism,” 58 Stan. L. Rev. 1623 (2006).
“A Constitutional Right to Preschool?,” 94 Calif. L. Rev. 49 (2006).
“Voluntary Integration: Asking the Right Questions,” 67 Ohio St. L.J. 328 (2006).
“Brown, School Choice, and the Suburban Veto,” 90 Va. L. Rev. 1635 (2004).
“Foreword to Symposium on School Finance Litigation: Emerging Trends or New Dead Ends?,” 22 Yale L. & Pol’y Rev. 463 (2004) (co-author).
“The Perverse Incentives of the No Child Left Behind Act,” 79 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 932 (2004).
“The Limited Influence of Social Science Evidence in Modern Desegregation Cases,” 81 N.C. L. Rev. 1659 (2003).
“Race Discrimination in Education: A Legal Perspective,” 105 Teachers Coll. Rec. 1087 (2003).
“The Political Economy of School Choice,” 111 Yale L.J. 2043 (2002) (co-author).
“A Political History of the Establishment Clause,” 100 Mich. L. Rev. 279 (2001) (co-author).
“The Supreme Court and Public Schools,” 86 Va. L. Rev. 1335 (2000).
“The Influence of Race in School Finance Reform,” 98 Mich. L. Rev. 432 (1999).
“Schools, Race, and Money,” 109 Yale L.J. 249 (1999).
“Sheff, Segregation, and School Finance Litigation,” 74 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 529 (1999).
“‘Paying’ for the Change: Using Eminent Domain to Secure Exactions and Sidestep Nollan and Dolan,” 81 Va. L. Rev. 1801 (1995) (co-author).
Note, “Smith and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act: An Iconoclastic Assessment,” 78 Va. L. Rev. 1407 (1992).
Book Chapters:
“The Real Lessons of School Desegregation,” in From Schoolhouse to Courthouse: The Judiciary's Role in American Education (Brookings Press, 2009).
“A Legal Perspective on Teacher Compensation Reform,” in Performance Incentives: Their Growing Impact on American K-12 Education (Brookings Press, 2009).
“Federalism as Libertarian Fantasy,” in Redefining Federalism (Environmental Law Institute, 2004).
“The 10th Amendment and Other Paper Tigers: The Legal Boundaries of Educational Governance,” in Who's in Charge Here? The Tangled Web of School Governance and Policy (Brookings Press, 2004).
Newspaper and Magazine Articles:
“Why ‘Fisher’ Means More Work for Colleges,” Chronicle of Higher Education, July 29, 2013 (co-author).
“The Big Picture,” Phi Delta Kappan, June 2009.
“Socioeconomic Integration: It’s Legal, and It Makes Sense,” Educ. Week, June 14, 2008 (co-author).
“Fixing Education Policy,” Slate, April 1, 2008.
“Say Something! College Presidents and Public Education,” Educ. Week, Jan. 23, 2008.
“Originalist Sins: The Faux Originalism of Justice Clarence Thomas,” Slate, Aug. 1, 2007 (co-author).
“Taking Back the Constitution,” The New Republic, Aug. 6, 2007 (co-author).
“State Must Better Prepare Its Students,” Richmond Times-Dispatch, Jan. 21, 2004.
“The Neutrality Principle,” 4 Educ. Next 28 (Fall 2003).
“Taking School Choice to the Suburbs,” Wash. Post, July 3, 2003 (co-author).
“Sit-In For School Equality,” Wash. Post, May 19, 2003.

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