University of Virginia President James E. Ryan (Law ’92) is a distance runner, an eight-time Boston Marathoner, but he also moves fast.
On his first day in office he took a stand on the political controversy that prompted two history professors to sever ties with the Miller Center.
At the Board of Visitors’ annual August retreat, rounding out Week One on the job, the new president recited a heady to-do list for his first 100 days. It includes delivering a fully baked vision statement on which he wants to build a 10-year strategy.
Informing it will be his “Ours to Shape” listening campaign, for which Ryan had already done enough fact-finding to identify three recurring themes for discussion.
“I had eight months of transition,” he explained at the Board retreat. “I was also on the faculty here for 15 years. So, it seemed to me inappropriate to show up and just ask an open-ended question of, ‘Well, what would you like to see at UVA, and what should we be doing better?’”
Within his first two weeks, Ryan took on last August’s neo-Nazi torch march on the Academical Village. Using the anniversary for his first major address as president, he took two marked departures from past practice. He made a point to acknowledge that two of the organizers were alumni, and he apologized to the students who had been terrorized on the Rotunda’s north terrace without police intervention. Said Ryan, “We do nothing more than recognize our common humanity to say to those who were attacked around the statue last year: I am sorry. We are sorry.”
Getting down to business, Ryan has made a series of personnel moves, accomplishing most of that work, too, before taking office. At the Board retreat he buttoned up hiring approvals for two of the three executive vice presidents who run the University—Mary Elizabeth “Liz” Magill (Law ’95) to be the chief academic officer (the provost) and Jennifer “J.J.” Wagner Davis as chief operating officer.
As provost, Magill will be Ryan’s second in command. The two have lived their adult lives in parallel. Both graduated from Yale in 1988. Both have UVA law degrees, though hers came three years later than his, after she worked on the Hill for her home state’s U.S. Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.). Both clerked at the U.S. Supreme Court, Magill for Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Ryan for William H. Rehnquist, also three years apart.
They spent 14 years together on the UVA law faculty, where Magill had provost-like responsibilities as vice dean. She left in 2012 to become Stanford University’s law dean, one year before Ryan left for his Harvard University deanship. Both were rumored as prospects to succeed UVA President Emerita Teresa A. Sullivan.
Magill will take over for Thomas C. Katsouleas, provost since 2015, next summer.
Davis will start as COO by Jan. 1. She’s wrapping up five-plus years as George Mason University’s senior vice president for administration and finance. She held a similar position at the University of Delaware, following her tenure as director of Delaware’s Office of Management and Budget. She grew up in Virginia and earned undergraduate political science and graduate policy analysis degrees from Pennsylvania State University. She will succeed Patrick D. Hogan, UVA COO since 2012.
Ryan has formed a high-powered support team, starting with Chief of Staff Margaret Grundy (Col ’06, Darden ’15). She left the business world to join the Student Affairs office six years ago, spending the last two as chief of staff to Vice President and Chief Student Affairs Officer Patricia M. Lampkin (Educ ’86). While on staff, the former Jefferson Scholar earned an MBA here and an education doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania.
To see big ideas followed through, Ryan created a post for education consultant Margot M. Rogers (Law ’92, Grad ’92), who takes the title of special presidential adviser for strategic initiatives. Rogers served as chief of staff to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and, before that, was a deputy director at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
To craft his messaging, Ryan recruited Kyle O’Connor (Col ’08), a former speechwriter for President Barack Obama and, more recently, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. For digital communications, Ryan brought with him from the Harvard Graduate School of Education Matt Weber, its Emmy Award-winning multimedia director.
One headline from the organizational changes is that UVA will have its first women as provost and COO. The bigger story may be the ascendance of the law school in University affairs. The University’s board chair (the rector), president, incoming provost and strategy czar all took law degrees here. So did the development chief, following Ryan’s earlier positioning of mentor and former Law Dean John C. Jeffries Jr. (Law ’73) over the Advancement Office and the upcoming capital campaign.
Law school or not, the moves repopulate the leadership ranks with UVA alumni. Until Ryan’s arrival, none of the recent top academic officers—from president to provost to the deans of the schools—had gone to school here, except Dean of Libraries John M. Unsworth (Grad ’88).
Ryan reported some 15 top-level hires at the Board retreat, and he’s only getting started. On that 100-day to-do list are searches to fill previously announced vacancies for Batten School dean, School of Nursing dean and chief diversity officer.
New Chief on Grounds
In August, Tommye S. Sutton became UVA’s chief of police, replacing Mike Gibson, who’d held the title for 13 years. Sutton, 40, came to UVA from Northwestern University, where he was the deputy chief of police. He brings more than a decade of law enforcement experience to Grounds.
Board of Visitors Updates
In mid-June, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam appointed C. Evans Poston Jr. (Darden ’17) to UVA’s Board of Visitors. Poston, who has worked as Norfolk’s commissioner of the revenue since 2014, replaces John G. Macfarlane III (Darden ’79). Gov. Northam also reappointed Rector Frank M. “Rusty” Conner III (Col ’78, Law ’81) as well as members Barbara J. Fried (Grad ’04) and Dr. L.D. Britt (Col ’72).