John D. Keenan, JD, approved by Mass. Board of Higher Education as Salem State University’s 14th President | Salem State University Skip to main content

John D. Keenan, JD, approved by Mass. Board of Higher Education as Salem State University’s 14th President

Wednesday, November 8, 2017 4:08pm

At a meeting of the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education (BHE) today, John Keenan, JD, was unanimously approved as Salem State University’s 14th president.

Mr. Keenan was recommended to the BHE by Salem State University’s Board of Trustees in May. He will begin his role in early August of 2017.

“I’m deeply honored to be given the opportunity to lead an institution that inspires me every day,” said Keenan. “The talent and dedication of our faculty, staff and students drive my passion for Salem State’s work and mission. I’m eager to collaborate with the entire campus community and advocate tirelessly for our shared goal: ensuring opportunity and success for those who dream of a college education.”

“In John Keenan, trustees saw a candidate with a record of advocacy for public higher education, meaningful experience as a strategic leader, effective fundraising skills, deep knowledge of the campus and community, and an ability to build needed partnerships with organizations most likely to employ Salem State students in the future,” said Paul Mattera, chair of Salem State University’s Board of Trustees. “We are confident in Mr. Keenan’s ability to advance the university’s goals of academic excellence and student success.”

A lifelong resident of Salem, Mr. Keenan is a proud product of Salem Public Schools. He was in the first generation of his family to attend college, something he shares with 35 percent of Salem State students. He received his bachelor’s degree from Harvard College and his JD from Suffolk University.

Mr. Keenan currently serves as general counsel and vice president for administration at Salem State University, a role in which he is responsible for the university’s day-to-day operations in support of its academic mission, overseeing human resources and equal opportunity, capital planning and facilities, information technology, risk and asset management, and university police. Prior to that, he represented the Seventh Essex District in the Massachusetts State Legislature from 2005 to 2014. He was a leading proponent of gaining university status for Salem State in 2010 and the lead sponsor of the bill providing benefits equity to all state university faculty. 

Mr. Keenan was recommended by Salem State University’s Board of Trustees following a five-month search. The search was guided by the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education’s Guidelines and Procedures for the Search, Selection, Appointment and Removal of State University and Community College Presidents. The finalists were identified by a 14-member presidential search committee that included representatives of various constituencies on campus and throughout the Salem State community, as well as the BHE. The committee retained Witt/Kieffer, an executive search firm that specializes in higher education, to assist with the search. The search was launched in January after President Patricia Maguire Meservey announced her plans to retire after a decade of leadership. 

A presidential leadership profile developed by the search committee and search firm earlier this year, based on input from the campus community, identified five presidential priorities, including: strategic focus, academic excellence and student success, university advancement, community and team building, and a modern, safe and sustainable campus environment.

The search yielded 106 candidates from 37 states and the District of Columbia, as well as three international applicants. Four finalists were named in early May, and three took part in extensive meetings and open forums with the campus community (one candidate withdrew prior to visiting campus).

“Choosing a president is the most important decision a Board makes, and we are confident that John Keenan will provide the strategic direction needed to build on Salem State’s tremendous momentum,” said Mattera. “I could not be more grateful to the members of the search committee and campus community who committed time and counsel to this crucial search. I look forward to turning our collective efforts toward ensuring Salem State’s continued success.”

About John D. Keenan, JD

John D. Keenan, JD, has been named as the 14th president of Salem State University, a role he will assume in early August of 2017.

Mr. Keenan currently serves as general counsel and vice president for administration at Salem State University. He is responsible for the university’s day-to-day operations in support of its academic mission, overseeing human resources and equal opportunity, capital planning and facilities, information technology, risk and asset management, and university police.

A lifelong Salem resident, Mr. Keenan is a proud product of Salem Public Schools. Like 35 percent of Salem State students, he is in the first generation of his family to attend college. Mr. Keenan received his bachelor’s degree from Harvard College and his JD from Suffolk University.

Prior to joining Salem State, Mr. Keenan represented the Seventh Essex District in the Massachusetts State Legislature from 2005 to 2014. He was a leading proponent of gaining university status for Salem State in 2010, the lead sponsor of a bill providing benefits equity for all state university faculty, and an advocate for increased funding for state universities. He also moved a number of significant public projects forward, including the building of the J. Michael Ruane Judicial Center, the Salem MBTA Station, and the Thaddeus Buczko Probate Court. He was the leading proponent of the $1 billion Footprint Power redevelopment of Salem Harbor Station, the largest project in Salem’s almost 400-year history. At Salem State, he utilized this expertise to help fund and recently complete the Sophia Gordon Center for Creative and Performing Arts. 

In addition to his strong commitment to public higher education, Mr. Keenan’s time in the state legislature allowed him to be lead on issues of social justice. He voted to preserve marriage equality, address schoolyard bullying, and protect transgendered employees in the work place. While the bill ultimately did not pass, one of his proudest votes was in support of the DREAM Act, to provide in-state tuition for undocumented students. 

Before serving as a legislator, Mr. Keenan was an assistant district attorney in Essex County and a member of that office’s first ever Domestic Violence Unit. This experience positioned him to help lead Salem State’s Title IX team, focusing on both the prevention and investigation of sexual assaults on campus. As a result of his efforts, Salem State hosted the National Center for Campus Public Safety’s Trauma-Informed Sexual Assault Investigation and Adjudication Institute on campus in January of 2017. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey spoke at the institute to bring attention to this national problem. Mr. Keenan also served in the administrations of Mayor Neil Harrington and Mayor Stanley Usovicz as Salem city solicitor. 

Mr. Keenan’s leadership of the North Shore’s only public, four-year institution comes after more than 300 years of family history in Salem. He is a direct descendent of Rebecca Nurse, who was executed in the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. This tragedy shapes his commitment to social justice and human rights. He serves on the board of the Salem Award Foundation for Human Rights & Social Justice and on the North Shore Advisory Board of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

Mr. Keenan resides in Salem with his wife, Kara McLaughlin, and their two children, Aidan and Erin. An avid bike rider, he has participated in the Pan Mass Challenge for the past quarter century, raising over $160,000 for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.

Contact
Nicole Giambusso
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