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UVA Board Extends President Ryan’s Contract for Three Years

By James A. Bacon, this was originally published in Bacon’s Rebellion.

UVA President Jim Ryan
UVA President Jim Ryan

The University of Virginia Board of Visitors voted unanimously Friday to extend President Jim Ryan’s employment agreement for three years to 2028. His existing contract doesn’t expire until 2025.

“Jim Ryan has been a strong and focused leader for this community under extraordinary circumstances,” University Rector Whitt Clement said, as quoted by UVa Today. “We are pleased that he has agreed to this extension and look forward to what the institution will accomplish under his leadership in the coming years.”

UVA Today, the house communications organ of the Ryan administration, provided no explanation of why the Board thought it necessary to act now to extend a contract that lasts another three years, or why, if the Board was pleased with Ryan’s performance, it could not just pay him another bonus already stipulated in his contract. Last year, the Board granted Ryan a $200,000 bonus on top of his $695,000 salary.

The timing suggests that the Board of Visitors, all of whose members were appointed by Democratic governors, were moving to lock in Ryan’s tenure, which could be threatened by new board members appointed by Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin over the next four years. Whether coincidence or not, the Board’s Friday vote occurred the same day that Youngkin delivered a speech at UVa’s law school in which he denounced higher-education “cancel culture” as a toxic threat to American democracy. (Youngkin did not single out UVa or Ryan by name.)

In yet another irony, 4th-year UVa student Emma Camp had an article published in the New York Times this morning, decrying the ideological conformity and student self-censorship at Virginia’s flagship university. Wrote she:

I went to college to learn from my professors and peers. I welcomed an environment that champions intellectual diversity and rigorous disagreement. Instead, my college experience has been defined by strict ideological conformity. Students of all political persuasions hold back — in class discussions, in friendly conversations, on social media — from saying what we really think. Even as a liberal who has attended abortion rights protests and written about standing up to racism, I sometimes feel afraid to fully speak my mind.

The UVA Today article ticked off a list of Ryan accomplishments. He launched the 2030 Plan, a strategic plan advancing the theme of making UVa “great and good,” and has made significant progress implementing it. He has kicked off the Honor the Future, a $5 billion capital campaign to support the plan, and has raised $3.9 billion toward the goal. He has recruited an new executive team, and launched new schools and programs such as the Karsh Institute of Democracy and the School of Data Science. He also presided over the university’s response to the COVID-19 epidemic.

“Even as they guided this University successfully through a global pandemic, Jim Ryan and his team have remained focused on UVA’s core academic, research and patient care missions, on implementing the University’s strategic plan, and on raising the funds necessary to support these important priorities,” Clement said.

While Ryan has been undeniably successful in raising money and building programs, he also has presided over a change in university culture. UVa, like many elite universities, has aggressively moved to institutionalize left-wing social-justice theories under the ideological banner of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). As the older generation of ideologically diverse Baby Boomer faculty retires, it is being replaced by a younger generation thoroughly steeped in leftist ideology. Conformity is enforced by the practice instituted under Ryan of requiring job applicants and employees undergoing annual reviews to write “diversity statements” describing their commitment to DEI principles. Diversity training varies from school to school, but in some instances has indoctrinated employees with left-wing social-justice theory.

As the range of viewpoints propounded by faculty and the administration has narrowed, so has the band of acceptable discourse. Meanwhile, orthodoxy is enforced by ostracism, social-media mobbing, and a hands-off attitude of the administration. While Ryan has made progress in creating greater demographic diversity at UVa, he has presided over a steady contraction of intellectual diversity and a closing of the mind.

Bacon’s bottom line: Governor Youngkin has signaled his attitude toward Diversity, Equity & Inclusion by re-branding DEI as Diversity, Opportunity & Inclusion in state government. The guiding sentiment is to create institutions in Virginia that are welcoming and open to individuals from all walks of life. But the emphasis is on creating “opportunity” — giving Virginians tools to succeed through their own efforts — rather than “equity,” where the emphasis is guaranteeing equal group outcomes.

Ryan’s critics have high expectations that Youngkin will appoint independent-minded members to the UVa Board of Visitors who will add a little intellectual diversity to the university’s governing body.

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