Harvard Graduate School of Education Logo

Give back to HGSE and support the next generation of passionate educators and innovative leaders.

Fall 2013

Ryan Named New Dean

James RyanSix months to the day after Harvard President Drew Faust sent an email to the staff of the Ed School announcing that Dean Kathleen McCartney would be leaving to become president of Smith College, she sent another big email announcing McCartney’s successor: James Ryan.

At the time of the announcement, Ryan was a professor at the University of Virginia School of Law, where for the past 15 years he focused much of his teaching on law related to education. Many of his publications, including his two books, Educational Policy and the Law and Five Miles Away, a World Apart: One City, Two Schools, and the Story of Educational Opportunity in Modern America, have focused on education issues, including school choice, school segregation, and inequality. Previously, he taught for a semester at Harvard Law School, provided legal assistance during the Iran-U.S. Claims Tribunal at The Hague, and was a law clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist. Since 2011, he has served as pro bono commissioner for the Equity and Excellence Commission for the U.S. Department of Education.

At an impromptu reception in Gutman on the day the announcement was made, Faust said a former colleague at the University of Virginia had likened Ryan to a superhero. “No pressure there,” Faust said while Ryan, standing off to the side, laughed and shook his head. Later, during his remarks to the community, he continued the joking, saying that while he had big shoes to fill with Kathleen McCartney’s departure, he was “at least as Irish.”

Earlier, during an interview about his appointment with the Harvard Gazette, when asked what he most wanted incoming Ed School students to know about him, Ryan said, “I guess I would want them to know that I am here for one reason, which is that I care deeply about education and I believe that it’s the most important and compelling issue facing society. That’s what draws me to the school, and I assume that’s what draws them to the school, as well.”

Asked what hopes he has for the students’ experience during their studies, Ryan added, “I was told by many people that students come to HGSE because they want to change the world, whether they’re here for a yearlong master’s degree or for a doctorate. My
hope for them is that they leave feeling prepared and inspired to do
just that.”

Learn more about the Ed School's new dean.