A Great Person with a Great Mind and a Gentle Soul: Remembering IU President Emeritus John Ryan

Whittenberger Auditorium
Indiana Memorial Union
IU Bloomington
Bloomington, Indiana
October 28, 2011


Within hours of President Ryan’s passing in August, friends and colleagues from around the world sent words of praise and remembrance about him.  Former Ambassador Robert Gosende wrote that “With the passing yesterday of John W. Ryan, President Emeritus of Indiana University and Chancellor Emeritus of the State University of New York, our country lost one of its pre-eminent international educators.”1

Today, we gather to celebrate that pre-eminent international educator, but we also gather to celebrate John’s other qualities:  his intellect, his kindness, his generosity, and his dedication to strengthening higher education across the country and around the world.

John Ryan’s Tenure as IU President

As many of you know, Indiana University is most fortunate to have counted John Ryan among our finest graduates and administrators.  He earned both his master’s and doctoral degrees here and held positions at the University of Wisconsin, the University of Massachusetts, and Arizona State before returning to IU in 1968 as Vice President and Chancellor for Regional Campuses.  Three years later, in 1971, John Ryan was named the fourteenth president of Indiana University, a position in which he served until 1987.

In this role, he spearheaded a period of tremendous positive growth and change for the university.  During his tenure, 37 faculty members were named Guggenheim Fellows and three were named MacArthur Fellows. The IU Southeast campus at New Albany opened as did IU East in Richmond.

Numerous programs and schools were created, including the School of Public and Environmental Affairs, the School of Journalism, and the School of Optometry, among others.

The cultural life of the university expanded dramatically during his tenure with the addition of the Black Culture Center, the Latino Culture Center, and the magnificent new home for the IU Art Museum, designed by I.M. Pei and completed in 1981.

A Local, National, and International Leader in Higher Education

John was also recognized as a state leader in higher education.  He worked with other university leaders throughout the state, including Father Ted Hesburgh from Notre Dame, to advance higher education for the state of Indiana and beyond. And he was considered a friend by many governors and legislators alike. 

John also had a broader vision for the university, seeing the possibilities for IU as a great state university operating on an international stage at a time when few others were thinking in such terms. He was instrumental in formalizing IU's Office for International Affairs and under his leadership the university forged important relationships in Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe. It is testimony to the deep institutional and personal connections he forged around the world that colleagues from as far away as Turkey and Poland responded with tributes to him when he passed away.

Dr. Peter Fischer-Appelt, former president of the University of Hamburg, captured the depth of John’s commitment in a note he sent to me upon learning of John’s passing.  In it he wrote that “in the traces of Herman Wells, as a true citizen of the world, [John] gave the best of his talent to climb over the wall and reconcile the broken pieces of the academic globe [in the aftermath of World War II], there in Warsaw, there in Budapest, and even there in Moscow, there in Dubrovnik at the Inter-University Center as the meeting place between East and West.”2

Even after his retirement as IU president in 1987, President Ryan’s great administrative skills were in high demand.  He served as interim president of Florida Atlantic University then as interim president of the University of Maryland at Baltimore, and from 1996 to 2000, he served first as interim chancellor then as chancellor of the State University of New York System. 

Recognizing John Ryan

For his efforts, and I only have time to highlight a few of the many, he has been awarded 16 honorary degrees, has received the Hungarian People’s Republic Order of the Star; was named Knight Grand Cross by the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem; and was distinguished as Commander, Order of Merit by the Polish People’s Republic, among many other honors.  In addition, he was named a Sagamore of the Wabash twice, by Indiana Governors Otis Bowen and Robert Orr. It seems fitting that John received the Indiana University Medal in 2009 since he, himself, established that award nearly thirty years prior, and I had the honor of bestowing that recognition on him.

We might also measure John’s achievements by the number of awards that have been named in his honor.  The State University of New York honored him by establishing the Chancellor John W. Ryan Fellowship in International Education. Since 1991, IU has awarded the John W. Ryan Award for Distinguished Contributions to International Programs and Studies to faculty members across the university who have advanced our international education and engagement efforts. In 2006, Indiana University honored him by establishing the John W. Ryan Fellowships designed to recruit students from around the world to IU’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs, where President Ryan held a faculty appointment. The University has matched all previous gifts to the John W. Ryan Fellowships.  I am announcing today that we will extend this match and cover gifts up to a total of $1 million to continue to establish and award fellowships in honor of John Ryan.

IU First Lady Pat Ryan

This afternoon, as we pay our respects to John’s memory and reflect on the ways that he changed Indiana University, we cannot forget his beloved wife Pat, who brought a sense of  graciousness and dignity as Indiana University’s first lady.  She juggled many roles during John’s tenure, not only serving as hostess to over ten thousand Hoosiers a year, mother of three teenagers, fundraiser, public speaker, but also earning her bachelor’s degree in psychology and sociology from IU in 1979. 

Pat, on behalf of Indiana University, let me express our deepest condolences to you and your family.  But let me also say how grateful we are that you have remained such an important presence at the university, offering your insight, your service, and your great connection to this institution’s history. 

Ending on a Personal Note

Let me close by turning to a personal note from another one of John’s international friends and colleagues.  Kemal Gürüz, former president of the Council of Higher Education of Turkey, wrote that “getting to know Jack and Pat and making their friendship was an educational and spiritual experience both for me and my wife Güniz. We have met few people who are as kind, gentle and intellectually sophisticated as Jack and Pat.

Both Güniz and I bow with love and deep respect before the memory of a very dear friend, a great person with a great mind and a gentle soul.”3

I think all of us here share that sentiment. 

Source Notes

  1. Gosende, Robert. Personal Correspondence with the Office of the President.  7 August 2011.
  2. Fischer-Appelt, Peter. Personal Correspondence between Dr. Fischer-Appelt and President Michael McRobbie.  10 August 2011.
  3. Gürüz, Kemal.  Personal Correspondence with the Office of the President.   9 August 2011.