RICHMOND, Va. — James E. Ryan, a Harvard dean known for his writing on racial inequality in public education, was named Friday as the next president of the University of Virginia.

Ryan, dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, will succeed UVA President Teresa Sullivan, who announced in January that she intended to retire.

Ryan, 50, has deep ties to UVA. He graduated first in his class at UVA’s law school in 1992 and spent 15 years as a law professor there before joining Harvard in 2013.

Ryan explored educational opportunities in an urban school in Richmond and a nearby suburban school in his 2010 book, “Five Miles Away, A World Apart: One City, Two Schools, and the Story of Educational Opportunity in Modern America.”

His appointment comes as UVA faces pressure to address its complicated racial history following a deadly white nationalist rally last month in Charlottesville.

“He’s clearly the right person for this position at this time,” said UVA law professor Anne Coughlin, who worked with Ryan. “He’s someone who’s thought deeply about the ways in which structural racism has affected public education.”

Ryan’s speech at the Harvard Graduate School of Education commencement last year went viral after he suggested five questions to regularly ask: “Wait, what?” ”I wonder why/if?” ”Couldn’t we at least?” ”How can I help?” and “What really matters?”

“I would urge you to resist the temptation to have answers at the ready and to spend more time thinking about the right questions to ask,” he said.

Ryan was approved unanimously by UVA’s Board of Visitors. His term will begin in October 2018.

“The University of Virginia has occupied a special place in my heart since the day I first stepped on grounds. Returning here to continue playing a role in the extraordinary work of this university community is deeply humbling, and an opportunity that I will strive every day to honor,” Ryan said in a statement released by UVA.

Sullivan, the school’s first female president, asked the board to begin the search when she announced her plan to retire.