In some of his first statements as president of the University of Virginia, Jim Ryan on Wednesday said he supported the Miller Center’s decision to hire ex-Trump adviser Marc Short.
In a news conference, Ryan fielded questions about current UVa controversies and preparations for the upcoming Aug. 11 and 12 weekend. He also offered first glimpses at his priorities for community engagement, research and teaching in the upcoming months.
“I recognize that higher education is facing some challenging times, and UVa is no exception,” he said. “But having been a first-generation student myself, I know firsthand the transformative power of education — and continuing education and of higher education in particular — and I think institutions of higher learning can and should work through that.”
In response to a question about Short, Ryan said he’d heard from people with multiple opinions about whether the Miller Center, which studies the American presidency, should have hired the former director of legislative affairs for President Donald Trump.
“I have friends on both sides of the issue; I understand how and why they disagree, but I agree with the center’s decision,” Ryan said.
Two historians resigned positions at the center this week in protest of Short’s hiring. Short began his one-year fellowship Wednesday.
Ryan also responded to questions about preparations for the anniversary of the torch-lit march on Grounds and the deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. He said he’d been briefed throughout the transition on preparations and had confidence in Gloria Graham, the vice president of safety and security.
“Like everyone else, I was horrified by the scenes of violence,” Ryan said. “I do think that events like this can open up conversations that weren’t happening earlier.”
Ryan said a student protest on Aug. 11 was still in flux following the university’s decision to block the area where the protest would be held. He also said he had not yet issued no-trespass orders to Richard Spencer or other white supremacists present on the Lawn last year, and he had not yet studied the issue.
Administrators have spoken highly about Ryan in the lead-up to his first day.
“We have our challenges like everyone and reflect the world around us,” said Rusty Conner, rector of the university. “But I think we’re all really excited to have Jim with us.”
Ryan will have the chance to shape administrative appointments at the university — a new chief operating officer and provost are expected soon. He’ll also need to pick a new chief diversity officer and a bevy of deans at various schools.
He also said he hopes to move UVa’s efforts to recruit minority students from conversations about simply diversity to greater inclusivity.
“Higher education has become fairly good at assembling a diverse group of students, but we’re still working on integrating them,” Ryan said. “You lose the benefits of diversity if, once a diverse group is assembled, they’re not interacting.”
Ryan said he’d also like to work on integrating the university with the surrounding city. He’s asked a staff member to assemble a list of the ways the university is already doing so and then think through ways to institutionalize that cooperation into a community council or team.
Part of that effort kicked off Wednesday with an #OursToShape campaign, which asks for feedback about UVa’s community relations, research and service efforts.
Ryan also said he’d like to reinforce the university’s priority to support faculty so they can do research; he said one way to do that was to encourage more funding from the Strategic Investment Fund. He’d like to encourage cross-department collaboration and support efforts to give professors additional teaching and classroom skills.
Asked if he will return to the classroom himself, the former law school professor said he’d like to guest lecture and eventually teach, “if anyone will have me.”
Ryan will move into Pavilion VIII while the president’s house on Carr’s Hill is renovated. He will be officially inaugurated on Oct. 19.