Running strong: A few words with UVA’s president at the end of his first year

Photos: Sanjay Suchak Photos: Sanjay Suchak

UVA President Jim Ryan, a law school alum and former faculty member, took office August 1, just before the anniversary of the Unite the Right violence. As the year went on, he announced a new School of Data Science and watched the men’s basketball team take home its first-ever national championship.

A popular presence on Grounds, Ryan garnered a lot of support for raising the minimum hourly wage to $15 for full-time university employees by January 2020. His social media game is very active, especially on Twitter, where he invites the community to join him for regular morning runs.

As his first year draws to a close, we caught up with Ryan to talk about how it’s gone, life in Charlottesville, and what’s ahead.—Gracie Kreth

C-VILLE: What do you feel has been your greatest accomplishment this year?

Jim Ryan: Surviving! I’m kidding. This was an accomplishment by many people, not just me, but I’m proud that we were able to raise the minimum wage for UVA employees to $15 an hour. It was something I had wanted to do since taking office, and something a lot of people had been working towards for a long time. We’ve got more work to do, but the fact that we were able to get this done represents an important first step.

What do you wish you’d done differently?

Perhaps not being so enthusiastic with my costume for our office’s 1970s theme at the Trick-or-Treating on the Lawn. The combination of wig, glasses, and mustache might’ve scared some of the children. Please don’t Google it.

What do you think is the greatest challenge UVA faces in improving its relationship with community?

All good relationships are built on trust, and trust takes time. Our neighbors have heard plenty of promises from UVA over the years but haven’t always seen those promises lead to lasting change. Our challenge is to back up our words with actions, and to do it consistently enough that people begin to trust us when we say we care about something.

What do does a typical Saturday look like for you?

On most Saturdays this year I’ve been home with my family in Massachusetts. They are there for the year so our youngest son could finish his senior year of high school. Those days usually begin with a run in the woods with my wife, Katie, going to one of our kids’ soccer games in the afternoon, cooking dinner with Katie, and watching a movie with our family. It’s almost too glamorous for words, really.   

What’s your best Charlottesville memory?

This is where my kids spent the bulk of their childhoods, so all my favorite memories involve them. My favorite recent memory has to be coming back to Charlottesville after watching the men’s basketball team win the national championship. There was this incredible sense of pride and accomplishment—it felt like we had all won something.

What are you looking forward to this summer?

I will be going to London for a UVA event, which should be fun. Aside from that, spending time with my family, fly fishing, surfing, and reading some things other than email.

What’s your favorite book?

I’m going to focus on fiction here. It’s almost always the most recent one I’ve read, so that would currently be All the Light We Cannot See [by Anthony Doerr]. But Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig is one of the only fictional books—aside from Goodnight Moon—that I’ve read more than once, and The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera is a novel that has stayed with me for a long time.


President Ryan’s Charlottesville picks

Running route

Ridge Road

Bodo’s order

Chicken salad on an everything bagel with horseradish.


The Charlottesville Ten Miler. The course isn’t easy, but it feels like the whole city comes out to either run or support.

Our challenge is to back up our words with actions, and to do it consistently enough that people begin to trust us when we say we care about something.

Gracie Kreth is the editor-in-chief of The Cavalier Daily.

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