Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Three Things To Remember About IU President John Ryan (1929-2011)

John Ryan, fourteenth president of IU, died Saturday at 81.


John Ryan, fourteenth president of IU, died Saturday at 81.

Former Indiana University president John Ryan had lived all over the world. He was born in Chicago, graduated from high school in Minnesota and college in Utah, did doctoral work in Thailand, and held administrative and teaching posts across the U.S.

But it was in Bloomington, Indiana — a place he came to consider home after a career as a professor and administrator in Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Maryland, New York, and Arizona — where Ryan passed away early Saturday. He was 81.

Here’s what to remember about Ryan’s time as IU president, a post he held from 1971 to 1987:

His longevity. Ryan’s 16-year tenure was the fourth-longest of any president, exceeded only by Andrew Wylie (IU’s first president), William Lowe Bryan, and the beloved Herman B Wells.

His financial acumen. State appropriations for IU more than tripled during his tenure as enrollment jumped by 20 percent. After retiring from his post as president, he raised money for IU as part of The Campaign for Indiana — which ultimately exceeded its $203 million goal, raising more than $319 million by 1989.

His focus on internationalizing IU. Ryan opened the IU Office of International Programs, and under his tenure, the university opened programs in Poland, Hungary, Malaysia, Spain. Ryan is a key reason IU teaches more foreign languages than any other university, IU spokesperson Mark Land said Saturday.

As a post-script, one bonus thing to remember about Ryan: He greenlighted production of the Academy Award-winning 1979 film Breaking Away on IU’s campus.

Ryan even had a cameo.


  • Anonymous

    John Ryan was a strong advocate and supporter of The Kinsey Institute during my directorship from 1983 to when he retired in 1987, following in the footsteps of his mentor, the legendary President Herman B Wells, It was the greatest period of growth and accomplishment for the Institute since Dr. Alfred Kinsey’s death. Under his era of support for all creativity and scholarship at IU, he supported the tripling of the Institute’s physical space, the renovation of the research areas, the building of a contemporary library with closed stacks and temperature and humidity controls, gallery and archival space for the unique collections, student and visiting scholar work areas, laboratory space, and archival areas to the level where this unique world resource could be shared with the international academic community. He supported my doubling the staffing and backed aggressive fund-raising efforts. He and his wonderful wife Pat brought all their most eminent guests to visit the Kinsey Institute for tours and lectures. President Ryan was a man of great foresight and scholarly courage who continued the building of Indiana University as a world-class scholarly and academic institution. He had interest and provided support for all aspects of the University that exhibited quality. He will be greatly missed by those who were fortunate enough to work with him and those many thousands who benefit from the investments both intellectual and financial he made in Indiana’s higher educational system. May he be remembered with honor, dignity and love.

    • StateImpact Indiana

      We have noticed in our reporting that Ryan presided over a lot of investments in buildings at IU. Thank you for sharing your remembrance here!

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