Salem State University's Board of Trustees has selected Suffolk University Law School graduate John D. Keenan, JD ’92, to serve as its 14th president. The trustees' choice will go to the state Board of Higher Education for approval next month.

Keenan is the most recent Suffolk alumnus to attain a significant higher education leadership role, joining:

  • Robert L. Caret, BA ’69, chancellor, University of Maryland system
  • Frederick W. Clark, JD ’86, president, Bridgewater State University
  • Ronald K. Machtley, JD ’78, president, Bryant University
  • Marty Meehan, MPA ’81, JD ’86, president, University of Massachusetts system

Keenan serves as Salem State’s general counsel and vice president of administration. He was a state legislator representing the Salem district from 2005 to 2014 and served as the House Chair of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy.

Keenan’s law background includes a stint as assistant district attorney in Essex County, where he served as a member of that office’s first Domestic Violence Unit. Keenan also served as Salem city solicitor in the administrations of Mayors Neil Harrington and Stanley Usovicz.

"Suffolk Law gave me the analytical skills to succeed as a prosecutor, in public service, and in higher education," said Keenan. "I learned to problem-solve in ways that have been invaluable in my legal career and well beyond. I couldn’t be more grateful for the education I received and for the faculty members who inspired, mentored, and guided me.”

The Salem State search committee “sought a candidate who most exemplified the characteristics put forth in our presidential leadership profile at the start of this search,” said Paul Mattera, chair of the university’s Board of Trustees, in a statement. Keenan brings “a strategic focus, a commitment to academic excellence and student success, and the ability to act as a strong external representative.”

Keenan succeeds Patricia Maguire Meservey, who served as Salem State’s president for 10 years and announced her retirement in January. Meservey served as provost of Suffolk University from 2004-2007.

Salem State’s profile of Keenan describes him as one of the lead proponents in gaining university status for the college in 2010 and as “a proud product of Salem Public Schools.” A first-generation college student, Keenan is a cum laude graduate of Harvard College, where he studied Economics. He served as lead articles editor on the Suffolk University Law Review. Suffolk Law faculty recognized Keenan with the prestigious Leo J. Wyman Memorial Award, given to the student who most advanced the civic and professional responsibilities of a lawyer.

As state representative, Keenan developed extensive expertise in public construction projects, helping to deliver $290 million in capital funding for Salem projects including the school’s library and learning commons and judicial center. He also helped fund and complete the school’s Sophia Gordon Center for the Creative and Performing Arts.

Keenan joined Salem State in 2014. As the university’s inaugural general counsel he has been responsible for oversight of all legal matters. With his previous legal background in domestic violence, he helped lead Salem State’s Title IX team, dealing with both the prevention and investigation of sexual assaults on campus. The university credits Keenan with spearheading the National Center for Campus Public Safety’s Training on Trauma-Informed Sexual Assault Investigation and Adjudication held at the school. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey also participated to bring attention to this national problem.

Keenan serves on the Salem Award Foundation and on the advisory board of the Anti-Defamation League. He is past president of the Salem Education Foundation. Keenan has participated in the Pan Mass Challenge for the last 25 years, raising more than $160,000 for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.